Landlords’ impact on tenants’ lives
In this month’s issue, we asked our esteemed RENTT (Rental Executives National Think Tank) panel to discuss how landlords can affect their tenants’ lives. Panelists included several leaders of Canada’s landlord associations. They examined how landlords generally impact tenants and their communities, government supports that landlords can use to help their tenants, what landlords can do to be more supportive, and how different initiatives have helped to improve landlord-tenant relations. They also discussed the public perception of landlords in the public and the media. 14 | July - August 2019
John Dickie, President, Canadian Federation of Apartment Associations (CFAA), and Chair, Eastern Ontario Landlord Organization (EOLO)
Avrom Charach, Vice President, Kay Four Properties, and Director of External Relations, Professional Property Managers Association (PPMA)
RHB: Welcome to RHB Magazine’s RENTT panel. We appreciate the time and effort involved in participating in today’s discussion and sharing your experience. Our readers will benefit from your input and experience. Today we’d like to talk about how landlords affect their tenants’ lives. Generally speaking, how can landlords have a positive impact on tenants and the community? John Dickie: There are specific initiatives many landlords do for the communities they manage, which will be discussed by other speakers, but what is so often overlooked is the positive impact rental providers have through the service and product they provide. Most people who cannot afford to buy a home are able to rent one. If it were not for someone willing to rent them a home, they would have no home. By doing that, landlords earn their incomes, but so do grocery stores when they sell food, and clothing stores when they sell clothes. Most landlords are not charities, although landlords often do charitable things, as well as provide an essential product for people. When landlords rent to people who choose to rent, landlords are again responding to the demand for
Jeremy Jackson, President, Investment Property Owners Association of Nova Scotia (IPOANS), and VP Program Development, Killam REIT
Arun Pathak, President, Hamilton District Apartment Association (HDAA)
a service and product that many people want, which makes those people better off because they prefer it to buying a new home or sharing accommodation. In the very work landlords do to earn a profit, landlords make it easier for people to move to new jobs, to downsize (in space and in home maintenance requirements) or to attend university or college. The multitude of charitable activities landlords undertake are the icing on the cake. Avrom Charach: Some of what we do is done quietly and person to person, some is physical and some is purely financial. For example, many landlord associations pick a charity every year that deals with housing and support them. In Manitoba, we have built homes for Habitat for Humanity, and rebuilt or improved kitchens in shelters and other organizations dealing with people in need. I know of companies and staff discounting rents, buying groceries, helping with household issues or taking tenants to appointments. Jeremy Jackson: When it comes to tenant relationships, income property owners, managers and front line staff wear many hats in the run of a day or week or month. From community organizer, in the form of weekly
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or monthly events, to home handyman, to social worker, to sympathetic friend, to errand runner, just to name a few. From a community perspective, IPOANS members are often active community leaders in sponsoring any number of charitable organizations including hospitals, shelters, food banks, mental health programs, youth programs, etc. Arun Pathak: Housing providers can have a huge impact on tenants and the community. Housing providers who spend the extra time and money to ensure that their tenants have maintenance issues resolved quickly, focus on communication, and show an understanding of tenants’ rights have happier tenants. Small landlords may be an important social connection for their tenants. Many large housing providers also go the extra mile and have programs in their buildings to help with senior isolation, youth group activities, and provide easy access to information for tenants to help them with mental and financial troubles. Even more housing providers go the extra mile and get involved with their communities through fundraising and charity events. RHB: What government supports are available for landlords to help their tenants? John Dickie: The supports usually fall into two categories: financial supports and social service supports. Financial supports are income support to tenants, such as rent supplements, shelter allowances in social assistance, portable housing benefits, many construction subsidies and rent banks for people who fall behind in their rent. Social service supports include mental health supports, Housing First case support, home care supports and other help for people who lack the ability to maintain a tenancy without that kind of support. Avrom Charach: If you have a tenant who is involved in the Housing First strategy, then there are often supports that are not financial. Other than Housing First and the shelter
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allowance programs, which are not adequate, there are not many provincial incentives in Manitoba. There is room for so much more, such as programs to help seniors and people with special needs, to allow them to live independently in the community. Jeremy Jackson: Rent supplements are the prime program available to landlords in Nova Scotia to assist those on fixed incomes. Health agencies or agencies like the YMCA also provide mental health supports to many tenants who rent in the private rental market. Arun Pathak: There are financial support systems in place that the housing provider can tell the tenant about if they are not already aware of OW and ODSP, such as the local Housing Help Centre. Tenants can get help with short-term interest-free loans, money from the Housing Stability Benefit, and help with utilities through the Low-income energy assistance program. There are also social and mental programs to help with hoarding, isolation, and drug abuse. A great website all housing providers should know about is HNHBHealthline.ca. On it you can find resources to help your tenants with almost any health-related issue in your area. RHB: What can landlords do to be more supportive of tenants and the community? John Dickie: The most systemic additional thing landlords can do is to provide quality rental accommodation at a fair price. That is a constant struggle as property taxes, water charges and other government-imposed costs continue to rise above the rate of inflation. Government-imposed charges and taxes also make the production of new rental housing much more expensive than it would be without those charges. Even with current portfolios, landlords could set aside a portion of their rental units, in which they do not apply the normal criteria for renting, although third party managers would need the consent of the property owners to do that. Under agency law, third party managers have
fiduciary duties to look first and foremost to the interests of the owners they manage for. In seeking to run their businesses, owner-operators generally follow the same practices. Both third party managers and owner-operators want to select tenants who will pay their rent in full and on time, who will not disturb their neighbours, and who will not damage the rental unit. Most tenants want neighbours like that too. The problem arises from the fact that there is not enough supportive housing for people with mental health issues, and many agencies want tenants with issues to live within the general population, but there are not enough effective social service supports to support all of them adequately. Avrom Charach: I believe that many landlords do more than their fair share through donations and also through staff going that extra mile for tenants who they see need some help, but quite often they do this quietly. Housing tenants with mental health or serious social issues is challenging due to the impact they can have on other tenants and the extra demands on the landlord’s employees. Many landlords do it despite those negative impacts. Jeremy Jackson: We can continue to look for ways to assist in the affordable housing challenge. That could mean working with CMHC using one of their national programs to create new affordable rental units, or working with non-profit housing agencies and provincial rent supplement programs to assist in housing those on fixed income, and those who are less fortunate. Arun Pathak: Housing providers can always try to do more to help support their tenants and the community. The best way is to listen to tenant concerns and to know the community. If you have a building with many seniors, focus on programs that help them with their socialization. If you have a building full of kids, look at creating more kid-friendly events and sponsoring local kids’ sports teams.
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RHB: Discuss how certain initiatives have created a better relationship between landlords and tenants. John Dickie: At the national level, CFAA was heavily involved with social housing providers and anti-poverty organizations and foundations in lobbying for specific features in the National Housing Strategy. Many of those social groups told me that they had not realized the extent to which rental providers want to be able to do more in the affordable housing field, or the extent to which low-income people need to find their housing in the private rental market. In any given year, two out of every three households in core housing need live in the private rental market, while only one in three lives in social housing. EOLO also has a very different relationship with social housing and supportive housing agencies than we had 20 years ago. We also have a much more positive relationship with the City’s Housing Branch, which recently rolled out one thousand housing allowances, raised the maximum rents for rent supplement units, and created a Landlord Damage Fund to pay for undue damage caused by tenants who received housing under the Housing First program. All of that has largely been the result of EOLO’s work with the City and agencies on the Ten Year Housing and Homelessness Plan. All of it means government and for-profit rental providers are working together to address people’s housing and other needs effectively. Avrom Charach: Food drives run by CFAA member associations have helped improve relations and quality of life. Many professional managers spend time helping charities and not-for-profits in the community. We do hear from tenants who state that they appreciate the support of a given manager to a charity of their choice. If the government would fund programs that provide landlords with resources for tenants in need, we could certainly add supports to those in need without taking away from our normal operations. “End Homelessness Winnipeg” CONTINUED ON PAGE 22
is looking at establishing programs to incent private managers to take in tenants who need additional supports, be they financial or personal. I recall sitting down with one government minister who did not realize how many hundreds of thousands of dollars and thousands of hours our members had given to initiatives in the community. That one meeting changed his perception significantly. It is up to our industry to get out and tell people of the good work we do. Jeremy Jackson: Here in Nova Scotia, IPOANS is actively involved in addressing the affordable housing and homelessness problems as a founding member of the Housing and Homelessness Partnership (HHP). We are active partners in HHP with the City, the Province, CMHC officials, Department of Health, Mental Health providers, as well as non-profit housing partners, all in an effort to improve housing for all Nova Scotians. Arun Pathak: Hamilton looked at a seniors isolation program that worked well. It helped get the tenants that were at risk, to be more active socially and the housing providers’ staff gained opportunities to get to know them. The annual Spring Hope Food Drive is another program that tenants and housing providers work together to help the community. RHB: Describe your thoughts on the public perception of landlords in the media and among tenants - good and bad. John Dickie: The fundamental problem is that conflict is newsworthy, but peace and satisfaction are not. Nine hundred and ninety-nine landlords and tenants may get on perfectly well and live up to all their obligations, but that is not a news story. The one in which someone behaves badly is news, especially if that person is a landlord. However, recently the media has started to be more balanced, and sometimes reports on the one really bad tenant too.
Avrom Charach: Some people have always had a negative image of landlords. Simply using a term that comes from lord of the land creates that perception, which is why we in Manitoba refer to ourselves as professional property managers. Any time a landlord opts for a repair that is not what the tenant wants, it is a cheap repair in the minds of some tenants. Sometimes we cannot be as open as we would like due to privacy legislation. All of the goodwill we build up can be set back when one landlord does something wrong. On the positive side, we sometimes get the acknowledgement from media and tenants that there are bad tenants, and good landlords, out there. We have recently seen more stories about bad tenants than bad landlords. We have worked hard over the last 15 years to develop a reasonable working relationship so that media allows us to put our perspective out there to balance things. Jeremy Jackson: We continue to work on the negative perceptions and stereotyping of income property owners. Because IPOANS has been so active with the Housing and Homelessness Partnership, I believe many government and non-profit folks see us now more as allies rather than enemies, and in fact, they do defend us from time to time, when “landlord bashing” raises its ugly head. Arun Pathak: Unfortunately, the public perception of landlords in the media is not great. It is easy to blame all housing providers and target them as the cause of all tenants’ issues. It is a hard perception to change, especially among tenants who have had a bad experience or among tenant advocacy groups. As leaders of rental housing industry associations, we do what we can to overcome the negative stereotypes and present the positive things rental providers do. Every landlord can help with that by acting as a responsible business person. Every landlord could do even more by going the extra mile. RHB: Thank you for your input and participation.
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