Rent controls (or lack thereof) have been a hot topic in the past few months.

In mid-July, Abigail Bond, Executive Director of the Housing Secretariat for the City of Toronto, presented a report to City Council that contested vacancy decontrol -- a rule that housing advocates believe paves the way for rent gouging and unlawful evictions, including “renovictions.”

Now, members of the Ontario New Democratic Party are calling vacancy decontrol into question once again and petitioning for an amendment of the Residential Tenancies Act that would help regulate what rental providers can charge for new tenants. NDP MPPs Bhutila Karpoche (Parkdale-High Park), Jessica Bell (University-Rosedale), Joel Harden (Ottawa Centre) and Terence Kernaghan (London North Centre) co-sponsored the Rent Stabilization Act: Pay What the Last Tenant Paid last year, and reintroduced it on Wednesday.

While landlords are limited to annual increases based on CPI for sitting tenants, there is no rent control regulation to speak of for new tenants. In some cases, this reality has incentivized landlords to unlawfully turn over existing tenants in favour of new ones. If the NDP’s bill is passed, rent controls would be tied to units rather than individual tenants, which is what Bond suggested in her July report.

In a press conference held Wednesday, University-Rosedale's Bell spoke to the importance of re-introducing some semblance of rent control regulation if the province hopes to curb skyrocketing rents.

“People in Ontario are smack in the middle of a housing crisis, and Doug Ford’s insistence on allowing landlords to hike the rent unchecked between tenants is a major contributor to driving up market rental prices,” Bell said. “People are being renovicted by landlords looking for an excuse to hike rents. They’re putting off growing their families because they can’t afford the extra room, and moving further away from the people and neighbourhoods they love."

It’s worth noting that Ontario tried and failed to introduce blanket rent controls not so long ago. In 2017, rent control was extended to all private residential units per the Rental Fairness Act, barring rental providers from increasing rental rates past a provincially mandated rent cap. But in 2018, Doug Ford backtracked that regulation and removed rent controls for newly occupied units. This was in an effort to encourage housing providers to invest in Ontario’s rental segment.

With the NDP wanting to reintroduce rent controls, it stands to reason that doing so will be met with the same sorts of challenges. Tony Irwin, President and CEO of the Federation of Rental-housing Providers of Ontario (FRPO), told STOREYS in July that without the freedom to raise rents as they see fit, housing providers won't have the same certainty in the system. They may not feel so inclined to build.

“In our view, taking away measures such as that is not going to do anything to create more housing. It’s really going to have a much more negative effect in terms of rental housing providers, builders, saying this is not an environment that we’re going to invest in [because] projects are not economically viable," he said.

Still, housing and tenant advocates are rallying being the NDP’s bill, saying that it’s high time that landlords are held accountable.

"For too long, we have given landlords the green light to exploit loopholes to evict tenants and increase rent, sometimes by hundreds of dollars at a time,” says Diana Chan McNally, community and crisis response worker at All-Saints Church-Community Centre. “Every time this happens, we lose affordable housing. Most people become homeless because they simply cannot afford rent. It's not just about supply: addressing homelessness means eliminating vacancy decontrol in order to keep rents affordable."

The bill proposed by the NDPs also calls for a rent registry to be established, the intention of which would be to keep landlords accountable while increasing transparency for tenants.

Again, this is something that Bond included in her July report. At that time, she also stressed that adjusting rent control rules is only a Band-Aid solution. The underlying issues that have left Ontario with pent-up demand, a lack of supply, and such a tremendous power imbalance between landlords and tenants must be addressed by all levels of government in order to effect any real and lasting change.