Tenants need protection from extreme heat

Everyone should have the right to a comfortable and healthy home. Unfortunately, the City of Toronto’s bylaws do not protect that right for tenants suffering from extreme heat.

The city’s current bylaw directs landlords to maintain a temperature of at least 21 degrees Celsius in apartment units between Sept. 15 and June 1. The bylaw, however, does not prescribe a maximum heat. 

Nor does the bylaw provide any provision to ensure that heat is turned off prior to June 1 or after Sept. 15 if the temperatures start climbing. 

As a result, I see midtown tenants boiling in their apartments almost every fall and spring. During the heatwaves we experienced just this May and last September, some residents reported temperature readings of over 30 degrees Celsius in their units as a result of their landlords turning on heat and/or not turning on air conditioning to reflect the reality of the weather outside.

The health impacts of extreme heat include heat stress, heat stroke, morbidity and mortality. We must be especially mindful of older adults, those who are chronically ill, or those who are socially isolated as they tend to be the most sensitive to high temperatures and are most likely to be exposed to those temperatures for longer durations. The danger of prolonged heat events is also increased by the fact that indoor temperatures tend to climb with each hot day, in the absence of a mechanical cooling system. This is significant because heat-related mortality increases with the duration of heat waves, and when night time temperatures are high. 

Through the city’s new RentSafe program to provide greater protections for tenants, the Municipal Licensing and Standards Division sent a letter prior to May’s heatwave to let landlords know that they can exercise discretion as to when the heat is turned off and the air conditioning is turned on in their buildings between Sept. 15 and June 1Unfortunately, too many property owners did not act to protect their tenants.

Since 2012, I have been strongly advocating for the City of Toronto to protect tenants from extreme heat. Despite motions that I moved in 2012, 201320142017, no substantive action has been implemented by the Medical Officer of Health or the Municipal Licensing, and Standards Division. No solutions were presented to Tenant Issues Committee earlier this year and the report to Licensing and Standards Committee last month shamefully pushes back substantial action till the end of 2019. 

In fact, in April of this year, I moved a motion to grant the City’s Medical Officer of Health the authority to request landlords to establish Heat Alert Days on which landlords can be requested to turn off heat and, if applicable, turn on air conditioning. Despite this current heat wave, the Medical Officer of Health did not Act. 

That simply isn’t good enough.

I will continue to work to advocate so that the City of Toronto moves forward with bylaws that protect tenants from extreme heat.

Meanwhile, I’m asking landlords to use common sense. If it’s hot outside, and if you have air conditioning, turn it on to protect the health and well-being of your tenants. You will not be subject to enforcement, and it’s the right thing to do.