Breaking Bylaws: If your apartment’s temperature is wonky, your landlord could be breaking the law

Breaking Bylaws: If your apartment’s temperature is wonky, your landlord could be breaking the law
By Melissa Wilson
OpenBlog Toronto (Blog)
April 23, 2012

For Torontonians, the spring of 2011 saw a level of rain and gloominess not seen since the days of Sylvia Plath, but while we’ve had less rain so far in 2012, the temperature has yo-yoed up and down so often that it’s like the Toronto climate has taken on the personality of a teenager, slamming doors, sobbing tears and changing its mood on a dime.

The past week saw both highs in the early 20s and — gasp! — snow. Toronto, it seems, can’t make up its mind, and while it may be getting warmer, it’s not yet warm enough — or consistently warm enough — to turn off the heat permanently, and yet it doesn’t seem to be uncommon for landlords across the city to have done just that, which is in direct violation of the City of Toronto Municipal Code.

According to Chapter 497 of the Municipal Code: “A landlord shall provide heat to a dwelling unit that is normally heated at the landlord’s expense so that a minimum air temperature of 21 degrees Celsius is maintained in all areas of the dwelling unit from the 15th day of September in each year to the 1st day of June in the following year.”

This bylaw is similar to the overarching provision set forth by the province in the Residential Tenancies Act.

That means that if you own your own place, or you control the temperature in your rental, you can turn your apartment into an ice hotel and the City won’t care, but if you’re shivering today in a heat-inclusive rental, you have every right to lodge a complaint. (You can do so by calling 311.)

“We’re in a climate where, in the winter months, it gets very cold,” says Lance Cumberbatch, director of investigation services with the City of Toronto. “There had to be a standard and timelines for maintaining the temperature that were thought to be reasonable.”

Cumberbatch’s department runs by way of complaints. If a tenant notices his apartment is too chilly to be reasonably comfortable, Cumberbatch will send someone in to test the unit. In 2011, his team performed 1,404 inspections.

Often, he says, the team will find that the unit is warm enough to meet the code and the tenant was simply overly sensitive to the cold. If the unit is found to be too cold, he’ll issue an order to maintain the minimum temperature. “Our expectation is that they’ll comply with the order,” he says. If they don’t comply, Cumberbatch’s team can either issue a ticket on the spot, or lay a charge

The fine for a ticket is $305, and if a charge is set under the Provincial Offenses Act, a judge will set the fine, not to exceed $5,000, though Cumberbatch says for a first offense, it “wouldn’t be anywhere close to the maximum.”

These fines do seem somewhat inconsequential when regarding something as crucial as heat in a Toronto winter, so it’s easy for the jaded tenant to speculate that for the manager of a poorly run high-rise apartment building, it might be cheaper to eat the fine than to heat the building to code. (Cumberbatch says he’s “rarely experienced a situation where a person would deliberately do this.”) As a tenant, you must be your own advocate, so if your landlord isn’t keeping your unit comfortable enough for you, make sure to keep calling until something changes.

The important thing, stresses Cumberbatch, is not to ignore the problem, or try to deal with it yourself with space heaters (or advice that is offered surprisingly often: turning the oven on high and leaving the door open). It’s unlikely that anyone would actually freeze to death in a Toronto apartment, but if a building gets too cold, water pipes could freeze and burst, causing significant damage, and space heaters can represent a fire hazard (especially if you’re using used motor oil to heat them, which is specifically addressed in Chapter 497.)

And for those of you who continue shivering in over-air-conditioned buildings in the summer months, we haven’t forgotten about you. According to Chapter 629 of the Municipal Code, regarding landlord-controlled AC: “All air-conditioning systems shall be operated from June 2 to September 14 so as to maintain an indoor temperature of not more than 26 degrees Celsius.” So if your building is chillier than that, toss aside your third sweater and “desk blanket” and say something. The environment — and your health — will thank you.

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