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Tenant Protection Act should do just that

Toronto Star - September 5, 2002

Remember the soaring cost of natural gas that sent heating bills through the roof last year? Thousands of tenants in Toronto and across Ontario sure do. They're still paying for it and will be forever.

A loophole in the ill-named Tenant Protection Act allowed landlords to permanently hike rents based on fluctuating energy costs.

The result? Gas prices have come down but the rents haven't.

Tenants had long argued about the unfairness of that provision and Queen's Park had ignored them.

But now that a panel of Ontario judges has echoed those complaints, the province can ill-afford to ignore the issue any longer.

A group of renters had appealed a decision by the Ontario Rental Housing Tribunal granting their landlord a rent increase based on last year's spike in energy costs.

The Divisional Court last week upheld the 10 per cent hike. But the judges also expressed sympathy for the tenants' case.

"We are of the view that this area may well merit a second look," the judges said in their decision.

That welcome missive from the bench finally jolted Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Chris Hodgson into action. Sort of. He's promised to review this flawed clause.

If the government had acted sooner to eliminate this loophole, it could have spared thousands of tenants from big increases.

The best thing Hodgson can do now is order a rollback of the rent hikes granted for higher energy prices. With natural gas prices back to normal levels, why should tenants be stuck paying unfairly inflated rents?

Unfortunately, ministry officials have already said that's not going to happen, even though their review of the issue has barely begun. The best that tenants can hope for now is a change in the legislation to protect them from such cash grabs in the future. One solution is to put a time limit on the rent hikes granted for above-average energy costs, a year perhaps.

But the review shouldn't stop there. The legislation also forces tenants to pay for repairs and improvements to their apartment buildings through higher rents long after the construction bills have been paid.

The same logic applies. Once the bills that justified the rent increase are paid, the rent should be rolled back.

Landlords have enjoyed a cash windfall courtesy of the provincial government. And it's been tenants who've paid the price, especially the low-income earners and the seniors struggling to get by on a fixed income.

It's time Hodgson levelled the playing field and ensured his legislation lived up to its name protecting tenants.

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