Ontario Government Announces Housing Market Measures

Housing market

It’s been coming for weeks: The news that the provincial government is moving to cool the Ontario housing market is no surprise, but speculation as to what changes would be made is finally at an end. Plans for specific measures to take control of Southern Ontario’s skyrocketing housing market—and the squeeze it’s put on both buyers and renters—were announced by the Ministry of Finance Thursday morning, under the banner of an Ontario Fair Housing Plan.

While the legislation has yet to be introduced at Queen’s Park—which means there’s a long process of consultation and implementation ahead before yesterday’s announcement makes it into law—here are the highlights of what landlords can potentially expect going forward for property ownership and rental in Ontario.

The highlights

While all eyes are on the proposed 15% Non-Resident Speculation tax on home purchases—not unlike Vancouver’s—which would look to discourage non-citizens, corporations, or non-permanent residents who aren’t resident in the properties they purchase in the GTA, the measures that will likely impact renters, landlords, and hopeful owners of investment units are a slew of smaller ones designed to more closely enforce standards in the rental system.

The major change will be a move to expand the existing rent control system, which currently applies only to units built before 1991, to all units in Ontario regardless of age—that means rent increases would be legally required to fall under the provincial guideline for that year unless paperwork is filed for an above-guideline increase. The increase will be capped at 2.5%.

Combined with a proposal to develop a standard lease across the province, allow cities to enact a vacant homes tax, close the loophole that allows evictions for the landlord’s own use of the property, prioritize elevator work orders in high-rises, and change process at the Landlord and Tenant Board, the announced initiatives add up to a significant rise in regulation of property rental in the province of Ontario. Add in developer incentives to increase housing stock, specifically targeted at rental-directed, low- and middle-income housing, and there will be enough competition coming online to create a market incentive, as well as a regulatory one, for landlords to double down on responsible practices.

For investors looking to enter the property rental market, a ban on “assignment flipping”—selling the title to pre-construction units before building completion, to make a profit on their deposit—is both an incentive to make considered decisions before putting down that deposit and a safeguard against paying twice the price for a pre-construction unit. Combined with new rules that would require buyers to disclose whether a unit was purchased for investment purposes, deliberation will be a definite plus when looking to buy a first—or new—investment unit.

The impact

Ultimately, analysis of yesterday morning’s announcement is premature: All legislation changes somewhat in the process of debate, consultation, and committee hearings, and with so many interests affected—renters, owners, landlords, developers, municipalities, and more—the consultation process will likely be busy, with the government paying close attention.

However, taken as a snapshot of what the provincial government is hoping to accomplish in shaping housing accessibility, the clear winners are going to be responsible landlords. While a drive toward purpose-built rental housing is likely to change the condo rental market over time, this push toward regulation doesn’t do much but legally formalize best practices in the rental industry: timely repairs, good-faith dealing, reasonable rent increases that a stable long-term tenant can pay, and working with a good knowledge of the Residential Tenancies Act.

There’s also significant protection for landlords built into these regulatory moves: a standard province-wide lease—a measure already in use in Quebec—will go a long way to keeping new or inexperienced landlords from writing leases that aren’t legal or leaving out important provisions that could protect them and their property, and significantly cut down on the amount of disputes that make it all the way to the Board.

Know your best practices

Treating the job of a landlord lightly has never been a winning play: between replacing unhappy tenants year after year, repairing damage, the time lost on misunderstandings, and—in the most serious cases—paying legal fees and fines after being brought up before the Landlord and Tenant Board, it’s always cost more to be a disinterested landlord than an active and responsible one.

With yesterday’s Fair Housing Plan, Ontario’s housing laws seem set to make the cost of disinterested property management that much higher—and to provide a formal financial boost to landlords who treat their investment properties with professionalism and care.

If you’re just entering the investment rental market or aren’t sure that your life allows you to put in the kind of commitment it will take to run your rental unit to the standards the Fair Housing Plan lays out, it’s a good idea to treat the legislation period as a head start. With a clear plan as to how you’ll meet those standards, a financial plan that takes rent increase guidelines into account, and a clear idea of what you want your property to do for you, it’s more than possible to treat tighter condo rental regulation as a chance to up your game—and build a better business in the process.


Four Great Tips for Downsizing to a Condo

Four Great Tips for Downsizing to a CondoIt’s an option that more and more Toronto seniors are taking: Selling that house while the market is hot and downsizing to a more accessible, more centrally located condominium unit, with enough capital left over to keep your retirement comfortable. But downsizing means weighing what to do with all that stuff—furniture and mementoes that won’t fit into a more efficient space but are legitimately hard to part with.

Here are four tips for making it through the household cull—and coming out feeling lighter.

Give yourself permission to struggle

Yes, ultimately, they are just things—and that’s the attitude many people will take when whittling down their possessions for a leaner, cleaner life. But for every person who finds it easy to let go, there’s another who picks up that tablecloth and remembers the friend who gifted it, and every wonderful family dinner that started with putting it on the table.

Sometimes this can be hard. And it’s okay if it’s hard. For some of us, it’s hard to feel like losing the touchstone we’ve attached all those good memories to is losing the memories. You’ll still have that friend, and you’ll still have those family dinners, but if you need to grieve a little when passing that tablecloth on to a new home, don’t let anyone tell you that’s wrong, or unnecessary.

Evaluate the usefulness of everything

Old closet-cleaning tips can really come in handy when downsizing to a new space: If you haven’t used it in a few years, you’re very unlikely to use it again.

While it’s important to set reasonable time boundaries for yourself, pick a boundary and keep it firm: If you haven’t worn that jacket, played those old board games, used those office supplies, or read those books inside your chosen time span, hold yourself to finding them a new home.

Likewise, think about quantity. It’s easy to accumulate multiples of things when you have the storage space to keep them, but downsizing inevitably means choosing fewer things to keep, which are used more often. Decide on how many coffee mugs you will realistically ever need at one time, and cull down the ones you’ve got until you hit your target. Don’t worry about the what-if: In the sheer eventuality you need one more, you can always go and get it once you’ve figured out what your new space will accommodate.

Send it to a good home

Downsizing for a move doesn’t have to mean never seeing those items again. Children, siblings, and close friends might be happy to give the items you don’t want to take home—especially if they have their own sentimental attachments to a favourite teapot or family heirloom. If you have grandchildren or other relatives just starting out on their own, they may be happy—or may not, depending on whether they’ve got a strong sense of personal style—to take in that set of dishes as they begin their own household.

The rule of thumb here is to make sure that offering items to friends and family members will alleviate a burden—in time or money—rather than create one in storage space or obligation. Respect a no, but check within your close circles in case someone will give you an enthusiastic yes.

At its best, passing on items to willing friends or family members can make them feel considered and loved as do your downsizing, and make sure the possessions that have served you well can have a second life.

Do good with the things you shed

One of the hangups that often comes with downsizing is the idea that anything you can’t repurpose in your own networks, you have to keep. Unfortunately, like many major cities, Toronto is a city that has a lot of need—and rather than keeping those things friends and family don’t want, but you can’t throw out—you can help alleviate that need by donating them.

The City of Toronto has great listings for social service agencies seeking housewares, furniture, books, clothing, and more on its ReUseIt program website. Each listing clearly states what an organization currently needs, their contact information, and enough background to get you started on supporting causes that matter to you with a donation of the things you no longer use.

Best of luck!

How to Choose a Roommate: A Quick Guide

How to Choose a Roommate
You’ve found that dream condo—but it’s a little expensive for your budget, and now buddying up with a friend and sharing the place seems like a really attractive option. But finding a roommate who fits just right is just as finicky as finding a good romantic relationship, and the emotional and financial cost can be just as huge when you break up with your roommate.

So before you take the plunge, here are a few tips to consider when looking for your perfect roommate.

Think about your systems

We have systems with the people in our lives: How we make plans, how we interact together, how we solve problems when something goes wrong in the friendship or relationship. The first thing to ask when you’re eyeing a friend to potentially be a roommate is your systems of interaction: How developed are they, how solid are they, and how do they work?

In short: Can you solve problems well together, and not hate each other after you do it?

The best roommate relationships aren’t ones where you never disagree, but where you respect each other’s needs and boundaries enough—and trust each other enough—to work together to repair the issues that come up and build better systems going forward. Live with someone who you can forgive and who forgives you; live with someone you’ll sincerely do better for next time, and vice versa. But if you can’t mutually compromise or work forward with that particular friend, don’t live with them.

Talk about your respective habits

What’s the shape of your day? What’s the shape of your potential roommate’s, and are they compatible?

Sharing a space can mean a lot of different things to a lot of people: Some will want a family-style arrangement where you pool the grocery money, eat dinner together, and spend quality time, like any other household does. Some people look at roommate relationships as two people sharing a space, period, and won’t be aiming to interact with you more than any other part of their life. If you’ve got different concepts or goals for a roommate relationship, that can be very hard and put a great deal of strain on the relationship—and on your feeling of a comfortable home.

In less big-picture terms, quiz each other on your day-to-day lives. How much time is each of you at work, and when are you working? Do you have opposite shifts? Do you like to have friends over a lot and entertain, or are you more into meeting people elsewhere and keeping your home as a private space? How clean do you like a kitchen? When do you pay bills? What annoys you? What are you allergic to? If one of you is in a relationship, or gets into a relationship, what ground rules do you want to set on how their SO moves in your shared space? (No naked parts on the communal couch is a perfectly cromulent house rule.)

While you don’t need to have 100% agreement on what the proper habits for a upright and just person should be, you should have a solid base of commonality—and the ability to flex for each other on the disagreements without those disagreements being total deal-breakers.

Be clear about money

The money talk is one of the most awkward ones to have, period, but if you’re looking at living with someone, have it. Moving in with someone means forming a household, and you can’t make functional decisions without knowing what your household finances are.

Set clear guidelines together about what you can afford in rent and utilities, how you’d like to handle bills, and what your bill-paying habits are. Which utilities can you live without? Which ones are necessities? How much of a cushion do each of you have if everything goes south and you have to look for new work contracts, and are you comfortable with each other’s cushion?

Decide how the money will go, and you’ll spare yourself potential bad surprises—up to and including finding yourself on the hook for your roommate’s rent.

Check out their current space

How people live how they’re going to live later. Or, alternately, there’s what people say they want and what people do right now.

Habit’s a really strong force, and no matter how much someone says they want to change, if there are dirty dishes in the sink when you’re over at their current place, those dishes will be hanging out in your sink in a roommate situation. If someone’s current living situation makes you itch—or they’re always complaining about it, and looking at you with beseeching eyes—they’re probably not a good candidate to take on as a roommate, because sometimes “I hate all these dirty dishes” means they’d love it if you did theirs.

Keep your standards high

If you find yourself going, “Well, maybe that endless dirty sock collection won’t be too bad. It’s only a year,” remember: Yes, it will.

Just like with dating, anything that already annoys you will be magnified by ten thousand when this person is the person you come home to. It’s tempting to try to let things slide—especially because we’re told that certain kinds of forbearance with other people’s tics is what makes us Good People—but again, just like dating, roommate relationships are a question of fit. The socks will drive you crazy. You’ll drive your roommate crazy grinding your teeth about the socks. Just hold out for someone you’re more compatible with and save the friendship.

Best of luck!

Share and Save: Four Sharing Programs That Get the Heart of Condo Living


Condominium living is, in a lot of ways, living in the heart of our modern sharing economy (share and save). Tenants and owners in every condo building across Toronto pool what they’ve got to turn it into more: an exercise room instead of a hundred gym memberships, or a theatre room instead of a hundred movie tickets.

That ethic isn’t just about living space, though. There are multiple programs across Toronto dedicated to helping you save storage space, reduce the sheer spread of stuff, and expand your ability to hammer, cook, grow, and learn without having to shell out so much cash to do it.

Today, we’ll highlight places in Toronto you can extend your sharing ethic and pay a little to get access to a lot more—including and especially the communities they’ve built.

The Toronto Tool Library

Started out of a basement in Parkdale, the Toronto Tool Library was born from the same common-sense approach that realized two people might not maintain and use a pool, but two hundred could do it just fine: two friends realizing that most of the tools people spend money on—and genuinely need about once or twice a year—spend the other 363 days sitting idle.

Four years in, the Tool Library has over 1,200 members—and 13,000 loans—between their four locations, which encompass a maker space, laser cutters, a full wood shop, and 3D printers, as well as the paint, screwdrivers, garden trowels, and bike pumps they started out with.

A standard individual membership only sets you back $50 plus HST, and gives you access to TTL’s huge tool inventory, a range of workshops from 3D printing to drywall, and their community nights and parties, where you can meet other people who are really into fixing, building, and making things new.

The Kitchen Library

Spun off of the Tool Library, Toronto’s Kitchen Library is a haven for home cooks with small storage spaces—or a small budget. Even if you can’t afford a Vitamix, stand mixer, or espresso maker, the Kitchen Library has them, and it has your back.

With an inventory of over 50 appliances, you can borrow the kinds of tools you’ll need once in a while: to throw a holiday dinner, cater a party, or just play around at home. The library stocks cake pop makers, canning pots, dehydrators, 36-cup coffee urns, tomato strainers, crepe makers, and more, right down to a cookbook swap where you can trade out your already-loved recipes for a brand new set of challenges.

With one location on Eglinton east of Yonge, and one in Regent Park, the Kitchen Library’s accessible whether you’re downtown, midtown, or uptown, and runs you an almost ridiculously affordable $9/month—or $15 for a one-time, week-long loan—including advance reservations and discounts on Kitchen Library workshops, which range from practical meal planning on a budget and meal planning for teens to topics like making homemade pet treats and freezer cooking.

The Toronto Seed Library

Unlike the tool-based libraries, the Toronto Seed Library is absolutely free.

Run on donations, the Seed Library is all about spreading the love of gardening, seed saving, and urban agricultural skills across the city. So there’s no membership requirement beyond a mailing list signup, no check-out limits—although they ask that you take only what you will definitely use—and no stringent requirements except that you use the resource in good faith.

To help you potentially contribute and pay it forward, the Seed Library holds workshops on seed saving and gardening events, seed literacy classes, and offers guidance in getting your own garden to sustain itself indefinitely rather than buying seeds every season.

With a focus on open-pollinated and organic seeds, food plants, and heritage varieties, the Toronto Seed Library can be your gateway to that balcony garden—and cutting down your grocery bill while catching some sun this summer.

Bike Share Toronto

Though it’s growing increasingly common, not every condo building has a bike room, and management companies are understandably a little gun-shy about tracking road dirt through the hallways so you can store your ride in your unit. The answer? Toronto’s Bike Share program.

Bike Share has dozens of stations around the downtown area—Dufferin to the DVP, and Bloor to the lake—and multiple plans, depending on how you ride. Winter warriors can take advantage of a year-round pass that only costs $90, while cyclists who stick to the summer months can ride with the weather at $18 a month. If you’re just pulling out a bike for an occasional ride, or to do a few errands, a daily pass is only $7—just a touch more than two TTC fares.

Bike Share’s model is very much geared to short-term trips, errands, and commutes—there’s a usage fee as well, with each trip under 30 minutes free and a small, escalating charge for every half hour beyond that—which makes it ideal for riders who need a bike here and there, and don’t want to buy their own just to watch it gather dust.

Five Advantages of Renting a Condo Over a Purpose-Built Apartment

Advantages to renting a Toronto condo

If you’ve rented in Toronto this winter and spring, the buzz has been about one thing: purpose-built rentals.  With developers switching no less than three in-progress buildings originally slated for condos to rental units after a nearly 20-year drought, the concept of the apartment building is undergoing a cautious renaissance.

It’s left many renters weighing their options in a market where what matters is what you get for your rent.  To help navigate the landscape, here are five solid advantages to renting a Toronto condo.

1) Ensuite laundry

It’s one of the most overlooked—and most time-saving—aspects of condominium life: Instead of hauling that laundry basket down to a laundromat or basement laundry room full of paid machines, all you have to do is open the laundry closet door, start your load, and go about your day.  No hoarding quarters or keeping track of a building-issued chip card; no need to set a timer to switch loads or camp out with a book; no showing up after hauling the laundry bag out to find zero free machines.  And no running into your Modern Lit professor in the elevator with a basketful of very visible underwear balanced on your knee (true story).

The small convenience of ensuite laundry adds up to a lot of saved time and comfort, and if you have a small child, a sick partner, or a flood that uses up every towel in the house, having that washer and dryer in your unit becomes a lifesaver.

2) Air conditioning, guaranteed

Climate control isn’t always a given in an apartment rental: to economize, most purpose-built rentals in Toronto were built with a central system, and no thermostat to adjust the heat or cool air in each unit—which is why half the renters you know have a window AC unit, or know where to get one.  But with condominium units built for owner occupation, there’s a practical guarantee you’ll have AC during those three muggy weeks in August—and that, amortized into the condo fees, it won’t cost you your whole August paycheque.

3) Upkeep that’s aimed at the long term

Common area upkeep is another of the subtle—but crucial—elements of living in a high- or mid-rise building.  If the lights in the lobby don’t always work, if the elevators are frequently out of service, if the hallways are never really clean, there’s an impact on your day-to-day life that adds up.

While the quality of rental building property management companies runs the spectrum, there’s unfortunately less of a built-in incentive for a corporate landlord to keep the place sparkling.  That lobby is an investment rather than a home for the people with the chequebooks, and the less permanent nature of purpose-built renting means it’s harder for tenants to mount a successful defense on state of good repair complaints when the attitude boils down to “If you don’t like it, I’ll rent to someone who does.”

Condo buildings, who put that upkeep in the hands of the residents—and fire property management companies that don’t meet those day-to-day standards—have a lot of reasons to be exceptionally conscientious about their state of good repair: any faults or major issues that start with slack upkeep will be showing up on the condo board’s bills—and the people who live there will be the ones putting up with the repair.

4) The ever-present amenities

It’s the most harped-on point when it comes to discussing the condominium decision, but it’s a valid one: Renting in a condo building isn’t just renting your unit, it’s renting a party room, a swimming pool, a workout room, a rooftop space, and more, up to and including meeting rooms, dog wash stations, cinema-style home theatres, rock-climbing walls, and urban gardens.

Taking full advantage of the amenities in your building can save you a bucket of money and time compared to searching them out in the city while living in a rental-geared apartment.  What you save on the commute to the gym alone is worth a second look at condominium living.

5) Security

Good building security is an investment: It means decent pay for the security staff so that desk isn’t a revolving door of uniforms, a good coverage of operating hours, building relationships with the people living in the building, and having a strong awareness of what issues the neighbourhood around the building faces, and how they change.

It’s an investment that’s harder to find in purpose-built rental, especially at reasonable price points.  With most rental units in the city not having any security presence at all, and many rental buildings opting to confine security to weekends, the 24/7 security that’s just standard in most Toronto condo buildings is a major advantage.  Just the act of having someone there can be enough to keep most funny business out, and for a security officer, understanding the building’s daily routine helps spot anything that’s out of place and nip that stuff in the bud.

Not to mention that a stable security presence is a great way to keep arguments inside the building from getting too far.  A concierge or security officer knocking on your neighbour’s door to ask them to keep it down past midnight is a problem solved—one without noise wars, bad blood, and stress for everyone involved.

As ever, everyone’s deal-breakers when it comes to renting their new home are different—and they should be!  Weigh the advantages and disadvantages carefully, and if these five factors are important ones for you, a condo rental might be the best way to set up your new home.

Emergency Preparedness for Condo Dwellers: A Quick Guide


Sure, some emergencies we can’t do a thing about: If Godzilla decides he really likes the look of the CN Tower, well, the monster wants what the monster wants.  But most emergencies in Toronto are simple to prepare for, and getting ready for the worst isn’t paranoid: it’s banking your thinking ahead of time for when you might need it most.

So in the event of a fire in your building, a multi-day power outage like the 2013 ice storm, or other mundane, non-monster emergencies, here’s a quick guide for being prepared.

Make sure you have the right supplies

Do you have enough towels to block the seams of your front door in case there’s a fire in the hall?  Think about what you might need in the event that your power goes off, in a case of a fire or flood, during a water cut, or to ride out a winter storm—and then go get it.

Candles or flashlights with a backup stock of batteries are great for power outages.  A first-aid kit—not necessarily a formal packaged one, but the basics you need to treat an injury—is always an important thing to have.  Portable battery chargers have come down in price enough that they’re currently quite cheap and can keep your cellphone running for days even if there’s no power in your unit to charge it—which means keeping up with friends, relatives, and the news.

If you use regular medications, try to habitually refill your prescriptions with a few days’ buffer, to make sure you don’t run out of important pills during the kind of weather emergency that makes staying in a much better idea.  And try to keep a few days’ worth of food that can be eaten without refrigeration or stove cooking on hand.

If you have hardwired C02 and carbon monoxide detectors, great—but they won’t work if the power’s down.  Make sure you have enough of the right batteries to keep the battery backup option working and check them regularly to make sure those batteries are still working away inside.

Also important: A few large jugs that will hold drinking water.  If you’re living in a high-rise condo unit, the pumps that bring your tap water up to the twenty-first floor will likely be affected by a power outage.  If the weather’s looking bad, get your pioneer on and fill the bathtub, your water jugs, and a pot or two, and you’ll save yourself the bad-weather trip for bottled water.

Know your condo’s emergency plan

Does your condo have an emergency plan?  Find out, and if so, get your hands on a copy of it.  Not all buildings have comprehensive emergency responses—they’re set by the individual condo boards rather than required by law—but knowing what the procedure puts you one step ahead.

If your condo does have a plan, participate in any practice drills, fire drills, or other events they hold, and know your floor warden by sight.  It’s kind of easy to be too-cool-for-school when it comes to fire drills and alarm testing, especially if you’re in the middle of something, but: Take them seriously.  It’s five minutes of your time, and in the event, you wake up at three a.m. smelling smoke, it’ll be a great help to have those reflexes baked in.

Build your own emergency plan

If your condo building doesn’t have an emergency plan—and you’re not inclined to pitch one to them, which is always a great idea—it’s not too hard to build your own.

Start with routes: If you need to get out of your unit during that Godzilla attack, how would you do it?  Since elevators require power to operate—and units on high floors can’t rely on them during heavy weather—locate the stairwells, emergency exits, and alternate routes to get from your unit to the ground.  Figure out two to three routes from your door to the outdoors, in case one is blocked in the event of a fire.  The Ministry of Community Safety rather strongly discourages using an elevator if the fire alarm’s ringing, and for good reasons, so assume you’ll be taking the stairs.

Secondly, make a list—if your building doesn’t provide one—of important emergency numbers, or property managers’ numbers to contact in case something goes wrong.  Tack that up in a highly visible place—your fridge is a great choice—so that if problems arise, you can get in touch with emergency services, your concierge desk, your property manager’s emergency maintenance line, or whoever else might be appropriate to the task.

Inside your unit, important things to locate for your emergency plan are your fire extinguisher, your water shutoff valve—if it’s in your unit—and your electrical panel.  Being able to go right to one of these can short-circuit an emergency before it has a chance to, well, emerge.

If you do have to head out

In case you do have to bail on your unit for a while so that an emergency can be contained, make sure you have the following:

  • A kit with any important medications, toiletries, and a change of clothes;
  • Your important documents, such as passports, health cards, photo ID, birth certificates, and so forth;
  • Your cell phone and a portable battery or charger;
  • Ready cash, in the case of credit cards, are a no-go.

Turn off any appliances or lights before leaving your unit, and make sure your door is locked.

Best of luck, and remember: One small preparedness adventure might be goofy, but it also might save your life.

Analysis: Planning for a Potential Toronto Vacancy Tax

Vacancy Tax Toronto

Toronto’s housing market is on fire—and drawing the concern of governments, experts, and real estate associations alike as prices and sales rates keep on growing month after month after month. With Queen’s Park actively considering a slew of measures to cool Toronto’s tumultuous housing market—including a tax on vacant units and homes—we’re going to focus in on some of the regulatory changes on the table for tenants and homeowners, and talk about their potential impact for investment condo owners.

This week, we’ll outline what a vacancy tax has meant for investment condo owners and landlords in Vancouver—and what it might mean if introduced in the City of Toronto.

The view from Vancouver

Vancouver’s Empty Homes Tax was approved in November as part of the city strategy to help buyers and renters get into its increasingly closed-off housing market. Coming online in December of this year, the tax will require all owners of empty homes to make a status declaration every year, and based on that, will levy an annual tax of 1% of the home’s assessed value to owners who fall under its conditions: homes that are vacant six months or more in the last calendar year.

The goal: to match Vancouverites desperate for housing in a tight market to the thousands of empty condos and apartments dotted around the city.

As an incentive, that 1% might not sound like much, but with the benchmark price—the predicted sale price—of a condo unit in Vancouver at $537,400 as of March, that 1% adds up to over $5,000 a year. With Vancouver condo prices still rising, as bidding wars move over from the detached housing market to condo units, the penalty for keeping units empty in the housing-crunched city is likely to get even higher.

Vancouver’s law has reasonable exemptions: for homes under construction, homes bought or sold that year, or homes in condominiums where the condo board—or, out west, strata council—restricts renting units, the Empty Homes Tax doesn’t apply.

It’s hard right now to gauge the impact that the Empty Homes Tax will have on Vancouver’s housing problem. With the first declarations taking place this December—requiring people to have tenants in their empty units by July 1st at the latest to avoid paying the tax—the real proof as to whether the Empty Homes Tax has worked will likely show in May and June, with the number of new leases signed for July occupancy.

The Toronto situation

The discussion around a Toronto vacancy tax is based primarily on numbers: Statistics Canada’s 2016 census numbers, to be specific, where 65,000 Toronto homes were listed in the category of “unoccupied by usual residents” while 100,000 people move to the Toronto area every year.

It’s important to break that number down. While it’s simple to picture tens of thousands of neglected units locking their doors to desperate new Torontonians, Statistics Canada’s definition of usual residents is more about who considers a space their primary residence and lives there year-round or close to it, not whether a space is housing anyone at all. With the census conducted in the summer, unoccupied by usual residents can mean anything from a student rental that will fill up again in September to a space that’s been sublet while the usual resident travels or visits family in another country. Mayor John Tory’s office isn’t troubled by that distinction, saying to the Toronto Star that if even half those units were unaffected by a vacancy tax, the gap the other half represented is still “worrying”.

The decision to bring in a vacancy tax does rest with the City of Toronto specifically, and City Hall has proven much warmer to the idea than they have a foreign buyers’ tax—at least so far. Efforts are already underway to use Toronto Hydro and Water data to winnow down those 65,000 units to a more realistic picture of vacancies, and turn that data into a feasibility report.

In the meantime, Ontario’s Finance Minister, Charles Sousa, has hinted that this year’s provincial budget is going to bring in cooling measures for the Toronto real estate market. With the budget being unveiled at the end of April, it’s not too long a wait to see which conditions will be on the table for landlords and tenants.

All in all, the impact, if a similar vacancy tax were put through in Toronto, could be significant to smaller investment owners. Vancouver’s 1% tax rate would likely be used as a model—legislation is much more easily drawn up when there’s a working model in the country—and even if a Toronto vacancy tax had its differences, it’s not a bad model to use when making your own decisions.

In Toronto, where home prices have skyrocketed a record 33% in just one year, the average condo price hit $550,299 last month with no real signs of stopping—which puts Toronto condo owners in an even tighter situation than Vancouver’s in the event of a vacancy tax. Paired with other proposals such as increasing the rent control guidelines to buildings built post-1991 and discussions around heavily regulating AirBnB in Toronto, it’s plausible that renting investment property in Toronto could quickly become an environment where making smart, deliberate choices really matters—and attention to property management becomes the core of your small rental business.

Consider why your property is empty—and make a plan

Our advice, in this shifting landscape? It’s not always a sign of failure if a property sits empty, even in a hot housing market like Toronto’s, but if your investment condo has been housing nothing but dust bunnies and air more often than it’s been housing people, it’s worth examining why—and setting a good long-term plan for that investment.

Think back: What were your goals when you signed the paperwork to buy the unit, and have you realized them? If not, what’s kept you from realizing them? A vacancy tax is meant not as a punishment, but a spur: Would your plans change if a vacancy tax came into effect in Toronto this year?

In real estate—as in most of life—it’s always best to have planned ahead. Rather than being caught in the scramble for tenants that would occur in Toronto in the months before that vacancy window closes—our own personal May and June in the City of Vancouver—building a solid divestment or rental plan now means not having to settle for a lower rent than you need to carry your mortgage or condo fees or tenants that you aren’t actually sure you can build a cooperative relationship with.

It also means time to get on top of your property management game so you can keep those good tenants year over year—or to recognize your time or skills limitations and bring a professional rental and property management firm on board. While hiring the experts does also cost money, it’s significantly less than paying a vacancy tax and the mortgage and condo fees on an empty unit.

There are very few guarantees about what the Toronto private rentals market is going to hold by this time next year, but the core principles always do stay the same: attention to detail, informed and honest business practices, and knowing what you want out of your investment property over the short and long term are usually guaranteed to get you through interesting times like these without taking a loss—or finding yourself scrambling to fill your unit on June 30th of next year.

Neighbourhood Focus: Queen and Spadina

Spadina and Queen


Once the heart of Toronto’s indie culture scene, Queen and Spadina absorbed a wave of high-end retail in the early 2000s and turned from the place you went to get band bootlegs into the destination for designer boots. But once the hot new businesses chased the cool factor west to Ossington and beyond, Queen and Spadina emerged with its own unique identity: a low-key, comfortable neighbourhood in the heart of downtown, minutes to the more frantic traffic of University, Yonge, or the King Street corridor, with all the modern conveniences and self-assured personality anyone could want.

With projects like SQ at Alexandra Park ready to open and select new rentals becoming available for May 2017, we’re bringing back our neighbourhood focus series and checking out the living at Queen and Spadina.

The Essentials

A downtown neighbourhood is either drowning in choices for grocery shopping or desperate for them, but Queen and Spadina hits the balance with ease. For the more one-stop-shopping oriented among us, the Loblaws at Queen and Portland provides the local megalopolis of food, alongside a pharmacy counter, coffee bar, bakery, cheese wall, seafood counter, and a non-trivial organics section.

Those looking for a higher end dinner can hit the Fresh & Wild at King and Spadina, which offers an organic produce section, fresh sushi rolls, deli and cheese counters, and a selection of the high-end green grocery products you’d normally find at a Trader Joe’s. With the office crowd hitting it for lunches every day, a significant chunk of Fresh & Wild is given over to ready-to-eat food, but if you’re looking for that very nice fair trade bottle of vanilla extract, they’re guaranteed to have it—and both stores deliver for a small fee.

However, Queen and Spadina is also literal minutes’ walk away from Chinatown and Kensington Market, both neighbourhoods packed with small grocers, butchers, fishmongers, bakeries, and cheese specialists—and not limited to a gourmet price point.

Being a Chinatown or Kensington regular is half preference and half voyage of discovery: Everyone who shops there has their own map of the neighbourhood, their own favourites and spots they’ve never tried before even after a decade of weekly grocery runs (and we’ll regularly throw down about which produce store has the best deals or freshest Ataulfo mangoes). Recommendations here are less about objective quality than the kind of fandom usually reserved for the Leafs or your favourite Star Trek captain. But there are a few objective bests in the neighbourhood, both old-school and new: Queen and Portland’s branch of The Healthy Butcher, which offers butchering and kitchen skills classes alongside their selection of organic-raised meat, charcuterie, and cheeses; Sanagan’s Meat Locker, a small-and-local-focused butcher shop with some of the best sausages, small-batch condiments, and staff expertise in the city; and Global Cheese, whose huge counter stock is only matched by their no-nonsense, big-family practicality and willingness to have you try something new today.

Finding a drug store is also a simple matter at Queen and Spadina: the large Shoppers Drug Mart at Queen and Ryerson includes a passport photo service and an all-important Canada Post location, and is open until 10:00 pm nightly. The equidistant Shoppers at Queen and Beverley has all the same features, but makes it until midnight. Rexall partisans have a short walk east to Queen and University, where the store closes at midnight every night.


Queen and Spadina used to be a bar and club neighbourhood, and you can tell from its food offerings: there’s a huge emphasis on the kind of quick, filling, delicious snacks you want before or after a night of dancing and beers—but grown up into an art form.

Banh Mi Boys and Fresh Off the Boat both specialize in portable-yet-decadent sandwiches, tacos, and fries with an Asian feel. While the first brought Vietnamese subs back into the popular eye with ridiculously delicious ideas like five spice pork belly steamed bao, the second takes the concept and goes straight for the seafood: snow crab fries are a house favourite. Add in a local branch of The Burger’s Priest right across the street and the eat-it-with-your-hands box is well and truly checked.

Up Spadina, though, there are the entire riches of Chinatown, including pho, dumplings, and the dinner most like a combat sport, hot pot. Celebrity Hot Pot on Spadina, just south of Dundas, offers a huge selection of meats, veggies, and broths to dip them in, as well as a station to mix your own dipping sauces and top up drinks without having to flag down a server.

For the more tea-and-pastry-oriented crowd, Butter Avenue, one of the city’s nicest patisseries, is perched comfortably just west of Queen and Cameron. While it’s their macarons they’re known for—and they are very pleasant macarons—take time to try the tarts and cakes too.

Get some culture

While it’s been a few years since Queen and Spadina was where you went for a blurry night of up-and-coming bands, beers, and warehouse movie theatres, turning residential didn’t wipe its creative community away.

Some of the most venerable bar venues in the city—The Horseshoe Tavern and The Cameron House—host live music every night of the week, with the former focusing on rock and the latter on folk and roots. Farther east, at University, The Rex offers daily jazz sets; west of Spadina, Velvet Underground has reinvented itself from the goth-rock haven of the early 2000s to a DJ and alt-rock concert venue.

The books world hasn’t moved too far from the intersection either. While it’s been years since the street in lit festival Word on the Street’s name meant Queen West, edges of that reader’s culture still linger in some Queen and Spadina institutions: local café-slash-institution Tequila Bookworm, just west of Spadina, lovingly maintains its wall of bookshelves alongside a craft beer and cider menu. Type Books is still selling frontlist a little west along Queen, at Bellwoods, with a focus on art, design, and literary fiction.

But Queen and Spadina was always—and still is—a quiet centre for another creative culture: fashion. Alongside the ‘zines and music venues, Queen and Spadina was, not too long ago, home to a hotbed of independent designers—who set up shop right next to the fabric and fiber crafting stores that supplied them. Though some of the fabric and costume stores have shut down or moved online, the craft community still has some significant mainstays in the neighbourhood.

Affordable Textiles and Queen Textiles are the granddaddies still standing of the Queen West fabric store strip, with piles of fabric and notions stacked high and a line on everything you’d need for a sewing project, whether it’s your first homemade pillowcase or a full-on ballgown. On the other side of the fiber arts spectrum, Romni Wools, just a short walk west past Queen and Bathurst, has all the yarn, knitting, and crochet tools you could ever dream of, and a healthy magazine, book, and how-to section besides.

Queen and Spadina is still cheerfully reinventing itself, from punk paradise to fashion strip to outdoor mall to its current incarnation: a curious, liveable, creative neighbourhood that’s found a balance between all the lifestyles Toronto throws out there. With SQ at Alexandra Park opening this spring, it’s a great time to take a walk through the Queen and Spadina neighbourhood, and to see if you’re going where it’s going next.

Four Reasons to Rent a Condo in Scarborough

Rent a condo in Scarborough

Scarborough’s got to be the town with the most mixed-up, contentious rep in the GTA: it’s some people’s fiercely-loved hometown, some people’s ground zero for the Toronto music scene, and some people’s wilds of Scarberia (neighbours, we’ve got to stop the hate here). Whatever you’ve heard about Scarborough, it’s definitely mixed up in myth, pushback, and politics.

So why check Scarborough out when you’re looking for your next home? Well, there are lots of reasons—and they aren’t always the ones the stories talk about.

Scarborough has more communities per square inch

Scarborough was—and still is—the destination for decades of new immigrants to settle down in Canada, and those multiple waves of immigration have built an area that has more community in it than anywhere in TO. There are solid Chinese, African, Tamil, Indian, and Caribbean communities thriving in the borders of Scarborough, just for starters. No matter how you look or who you are, you’re never going to be alone in a crowd when you’re in Scarborough, and you’ll be less likely to have to explain where you’re from for the thirtieth time that week.

And Scarborough has the community resources to back that up. If you want to cook your grandmother’s recipes and need that one special ingredient, there’ll be three grocery stores that have it; if you’re looking for a place of worship for your religious community, it’ll be there; if you’re looking for the true heart of multicultural Toronto, this is it. Scarborough has always been the place to build a stable home in a supportive community, whatever your background may be, while getting exposure to a whole bucketful of other cultures.

Scarborough is ridiculously safe

It’s front and centre every time Scarborough gets bad press: the idea that Scarborough’s a hotspot for violent crime. The myth of Scarborough as dangerous is one that’s persisted for decades, and there are more than a few theories about who—or what prejudices—are to blame for that one.

Dig into the facts, though, and it’s pretty clear, pretty fast, that Scarborough’s violent crime rates are consistently—for the past twenty years at minimum—at least 3% lower than the rest of Toronto’s, and those were already pretty low. North Scarborough, according to Toronto Police statistics, is the safest division in the city.

If you’re looking at neighbourhoods based on security, and where you’ll feel safe walking home at night, the stats have been clear for a while: Scarborough’s your place.

Scarborough encompasses more than a suburb

The second big Scarborough myth is the Scarberia charge: That, like most of the communities that were, at one point, Toronto suburbs, Scarborough has nothing going on outside its mall. This could not be farther from the truth.

Scarborough hits all the urban living checkboxes in its City Centre neighbourhood, where most of the rental condo development has focused: a walkable, miniature downtown with a mix of offices, residential, and things to do. In short, think Liberty Village, but surrounded by the kind of greenery and parklands you’d have to drive out to Muskoka to enjoy.

Because Scarborough is also greener than any other part of Toronto. It’s home to Rouge Park, Canada’s first Urban National Park, where you can go hiking, spot deer in the Rouge River Valley, learn about the Paleolithic history of Toronto, and have picnics. It’s the equivalent of teleporting to Algonquin for the cost of a TTC fare, minus the bears, and being home in your own bed by nightfall.

Scarborough has transit everywhere

The big stumbling block for many Torontonians considering a move that doesn’t involve downtown is transit: How to get to friends, jobs, and family in other neighbourhoods. But no matter where you go in Scarborough, you’re connected.

Scarborough is the only outer borough in Toronto that’s 100% accessible on the TTC. No matter the neighbourhood, if there’s not a subway stop, there’s an LRT; if there’s no LRT, there’s a dedicated bus route. The commuter nature of development over the years in Scarborough means it’s been connected, reliably—even if it might mean a full bus ride in rush hour—for years now, and you’ll be able to map your routes with ease.

The realities of renting in Scarborough are a living demonstration of why it’s important to look past the hype, whether that’s good, bad, or just kind of ridiculous. If you’re looking for flexibility and community, look into a Scarborough condo. It’s got more to offer than you’d think.

How to Rent the Condo That’s Right for You

Rent the condo

You’ve decided: Yes, you want a condo.

Now, which condo?

Not all condos are created equal, and what’ll be the best! place! ever! for one person can easily be an insufferable set of limits for another.  Here are some questions to consider, decisions to make, and quick tips to make sure that the condo you rent is the condo that’s right for you—before you put your name on that lease.

Know thyself

Any decision about a new home is tied up not just in who we are, but who we want to be: Of course we’ll use that exercise room every other day, if it’s just there for us; of course we’ll throw a dinner party a month in that common dining room on the top floor.  But if you’re not the person who’s already throwing dinner parties or hitting the gym, it’s important to understand that moving to a new home isn’t going to make you that person.  If your happy place is Netflix on a Sunday night, expect Netflix on a Sunday night to reassert itself after moving, no matter where you live.

This is not to say never have dreams.  But when checking out rental properties that are priced with their amenities in mind, it’s good to draw up a list first of dealbreakers—things you absolutely need and know you’re going to use, because you already do those activities in your everyday life, today—and perks, which you might use to change your lifestyle, but might not use after all.

Having an amenity in close proximity, just down the hall or up the stairs, can be a great way to get through those days where eating ice cream and reading a book would be much easier than doing your cardio.  But fundamentally, moving is not going to change you.  Rent the unit that’s good for the you who exists now, not the you that you’d like to maybe be in two years’ time, and save both the money and guilt that can result from the change in scenery not changing your life.

Look for the amount of space you’re going to occupy

Likewise, it’s important to know how much space you need.  Micro-condos are available for lower prices, and that can be exceptionally attractive, especially if your income requires keeping the monthly rent down or you’re saving up for something big.  But it’s a very risky idea to white-knuckle it through a whole year’s lease in a place that’s smaller than you’d like and assume you’ll, well, just deal with it.  It’s hard to move forward to the next stage of your life when your home makes you feel trapped and unhappy, and it doesn’t make you a great neighbour, tenant, co-worker, or friend.

Likewise, if you’re the kind of person who loves to be out of the house—and basically uses your home for a place to cook, crash, and stage your next adventure—there’s no sense in paying for that second bedroom just for a sense of appearances.

Consider anyone else who’s living in the house, too.  If you’re renting with a partner, think about what kind of space you need if and when you argue: Will that open-concept condo, with no doors to close, force a situation where every argument means one of you has to literally leave your home to get some space?

In short: Be realistic about how you use space in your home, and what kind of space you need in your day-to-day living—and look at condo rentals that can work with your use of space.

Know your plans

Life happens.  Life frequently bowls us over, which is one of the most wonderful and terrible things about it, simultaneously.  But if you’ve got a sense of who you are and where you’re going, take that factor into consideration when shortlisting condo units for viewing.

Are you looking to start a family in the next year or two?  You’ll probably want a second bedroom, and a neighbourhood that’s easy to navigate, transit- and amenity-wise, with an infant.  Are you looking for a quiet nest for your retirement years?  Check out accessibility features in the building, even if you’re in good health now, because it’s a terrible thing to have to pile moving on top of recovering from an injury or illness.

There’s a fine line between renting for the person you want to be (not always a great plan!) and planning ahead for the life circumstances you know are coming your way (a good idea!) and it’s not always easy to know what side of that line you’re on.  But if there’s a definite life event coming your way, factor it in.

Ask about the intangibles

Living in a space is a multisensory experience, and it’s important to ask questions for all five senses to know if a space is right for you.  Is there smoking in the building, and does smoke travel through the ducts between units?  Is there loud noise anywhere nearby that will disrupt your sleep if you work non-standard shifts or hours?  How good is the air conditioning, and if it’s a glass-walled unit, how does that wall of windows affect your unit’s internal temperature?  Is the building having any construction or major maintenance work done, and what are the schedules for completion?

All of those factors will be part of your day-to-day living, and affect your comfort in—and enjoyment of—the space.

Best of luck!