Last fall, city council voted unanimously in favour of improving its RentSafeTO program in an effort to hold landlords more accountable for keeping buildings in a state of good repair.

And now, months later, the long-awaited RentSafe signage program has been released by City staff, which includes the apartment building rating system, similar to Toronto's 'Dinesafe' program. And it is already receiving speculation from tenant advocates who are concerned with the proposed evaluation methods.

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The new RentSafeTO program allows city staff to enforce property standards across buildings in Toronto by requiring landlords to post a colour-coded sign that displays the city’s rating of the building in a prominent, publicly identifiable location, along with posting the same information to the city’s website.

The new colour-coded rating system has been praised for being an "important first step" at ensuring Toronto renters are living in homes that are "clean, safe, and healthy," said City councillor Josh Matlow in a statement.

Yet, the new system has already drawn criticism from Matlow as well as representatives from tenant support groups such as ACORN and the Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations (FMTA).

Councillor Matlow, who is also the chair of Toronto's Tenant Issues Committee, led the creation of the RentSage program, which resulted in a majority Council vote in 2017 for stronger legislation to protect renters in Toronto from bad landlords.

However, after the city released its draft signage for the rating system, there are concerns with the proposed evaluation method. According to councillor Matlow, the draft signage program would be based on annual audits instead of regular work orders, which would provide a more up-to-date reflection on the state of a building.

This means ratings would only change every one to three years.

Spadina and Bremner RentSafeTo Signage/Councillor Josh Matlow

Alejandra Ruiz Vargas, a spokesperson for Toronto ACORN, says the organization is pleased the city is finally creating the rating signs for apartment buildings. However, she says she wonders why it's so "difficult" for the city to do it right for tenants.

"We are half the population, and our health needs to be a priority. If the rating system only changes every 1 to 3 years, then the city is not responding to the needs of tenants. ACORN members will be pushing for a system tenants can trust. The city needs to be a good partner and rebuild trust with tenants so we can all have a healthy home,” said Ruiz Vargas.

Matlow says under the current proposed plan, if a tenant reported a pest infestation or other property standards violation, it wouldn't be factored into the colour coded rating posted on their building. Only the results of the City’s RentSafe audit of common areas would be factored into the colour received.

“Tenants have been waiting patiently for this initiative for five years,” said Geordie Dent, Executive Director, FMTA. “This proposal falls way short of what tenants expected and deserved.”

Now, councillor Matlow and tenant advocates are encouraging the public to attend a drop-in consultation session at City Hall on February 24 from 5:30 to 8:30 pm to discuss the proposed rating system and provide city staff with feedback.