Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Renters are getting a raw deal as governments focus on homeowners

The endless government fretting about home ownership should rightfully leave renters resentful, writes Matt Elliott.
The endless government fretting about home ownership should rightfully leave renters resentful, writes Matt Elliott.

Last week, the provincial government did what governments often do when they’re concerned about their popularity: they announced a tax break for home buyers.

People buying their first home in our hot housing market — where a half-million dollars maybe gets you a shoebox with a window — will now be eligible for an increased rebate of up to $4,000 on the provincial land transfer tax. Woo.

Announcing policies like this benefitting homebuyers or homeowners is a tried and tested political move. We’ve got special homeowner tax credits. There are a slew of programs designed to help people get and keep mortgages. And there’s the constant drive to limit residential tax increases, even as transit fares and other fees go up.

And while all this attention is nice for homeowners like me, the endless government fretting about home ownership should leave renters wondering, hey, what about us?

Because, renters, you’re getting screwed.

Even the provincial government seems aware that current policies are unfair to renters. In a footnote to last week’s tax break announcement, they announced they would be temporarily freezing municipal property taxes on apartment buildings.

The reason? Apartment buildings pay a much higher property tax rate than single family homes. In Toronto, the multi-residential rate is more than twice as high as the residential rate. In virtually all cases, that extra tax gets passed on to tenants in the form of rent.

And the hits don’t stop there. Ontario ostensibly has rent controls to limit how much landlords can increase rents each year, but those controls don’t apply to buildings occupied after 1991.

Why 1991? Literally no reason! It’s arbitrary, based on a piece a legislation implemented by Premier Mike Harris designed to encourage new construction.

That means if you live in a newish building, your landlord can, once a year, raise your rent by any amount.

This is alarming because renters are poorer than homeowners. According to the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the median 2011 after-tax income for a homeowner in Toronto was almost double that of a renter.

Meanwhile, vacancy rates for the city are lower than two per cent, rents are rising, and deadbeat landlords are common enough that the city is looking at landlord licensing.

But still it’s those who buy their homes who get the lion’s share of government attention.

If you talk to most politicians about this, they’ll eventually admit it’s because they believe renters don’t engage in the political process. Thankfully this is an easy stereotype to bust.

Start by calling your local representatives. Tell them you’re mad. Tell them you rent. And tell them you vote.

This post was originally published at on 2016-11-21T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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