New York City officials made news this year when they started posting a “Worst Landlords” list on the popular online classified Craigslist.
In a statement released last week, the official responsible for NYC’s Worst Landlords Watch List, Public Advocate de Blasio, indicated that his “innovative website will soon be adopted as a model by the City of Vancouver, British Columbia to hold landlords there more accountable.”
In fact, Vancouver officials campaigning last October promised they would bring a Landlord Watch List to Vancouver. Vision Vancouver candidates, including Mayor Robertson and Councillor Tim Stevenson, agree that creating an online, searchable database of Vancouver landlords similar to NYC’s list will “empower renters and give them a tool to see the history of their buildings and identify problem properties.”
Stevenson says the database means property owners will no longer be able to ignore their buildings in “isolation and anonymity.”
“Fifty two per cent of our citizens are renters, and Vancouver tenants deserve an easy way to know the history of the building they live in, and if their landlord is responsible,” Stevenson said.
New York City’s Watch List has met with some opposition from landlords, who are not so quick to declare the plan a success. Landlords there are concerned about the verification process, and whether properties listed are, in fact, in violation. There were also complaints about privacy, and the lack of due process that comes from punishing landlords by publishing the information on the Internet before they’ve had the time to oppose, or fix the infractions.
This year, de Blasio made a couple of changes to his Watch List. For instance, the website now tracks whether a landlord is making repairs or racking up new violations. This is being done by using a tiny, diamond-shaped icon which mimics a “men working” or road construction sign next to the landlords’ information. The site will also continue to list buildings that qualify for removal from the Watch List by making repairs.
According to de Blasio, the website has improved living conditions for thousands of New Yorkers. Yet landlords there say the initiative oversimplifies the underlying causes of poor building conditions–rent stabilization and rent control rules which make is impossible for them to raise enough capital to perform the necessary updates on rental properties, many of which are in older buildings.
Landlords in NYC complain that their hands are tied when it comes to making repairs. Because they have tenants who are paying only a tiny percentage of the current market value rent, they simply can’t afford the repairs, not to mention the modern upgrades that some tenants demand.
Rent stabilization and control programs have remained controversial in New York City. While the rent growth rules are praised for keeping housing affordable, this has not come without consequences. In fact, these limitations have shaped the strategies that many rental property owners employ today.
For instance, owners looking for ways to avoid the harsh financial reality of rents frozen in time often will place updates to the buildings on perpetual hold, keeping repair and maintenance bills as low as possible, while waiting for the investment to mature so they can sell. Others keep bills low while gathering capital to make major improvements which may qualify the properties for future rent increases.
While some landlords have responded to the Watch List by making repairs, others remain in this holding pattern, challenging the market to decide whether tenants will remain in the properties. While the program has the power to improve liveability, it could diminish, rather than create new housing stock. The Watch List program rests on the assumption that tenants will forgo renting in properties on the list, giving landlords incentive to change. But with affordable rental stock low, this begs the question: will tenants avoid properties on the Watch List, or are they stuck renting from current inventories anyway.
According to de Blasio, more than 250,000 visitors have used the Watch List since its launch.
New York City’s Watch List is one part of an overall housing strategy, which included eight companion provisions, like free legal help for tenants, a prohibition on renting City office space from landlords on the Watch List, publishing the Worst Landlords on Craigslist, streamlining the process for making repairs, extension and expansion of rent regulations, and sending advocates into “troubled buildings” to help form new tenant associations.
Like New York’s program, Vancouver’s Vision leaders are looking at a multi-faceted approach to regulating rental housing, including the possible creation of a rent bank, seeking ways to increase the stock of affordable rentals, and a task force on renters’ rights.
In addition, Vision leaders favour the continued use of legal injunctions on landlords with single-room occupancy hotels, forcing them to maintain their buildings and prevent evictions.
According to Vision Vancouver, there are over 67,000 rental units in the City of Vancouver, with 55,000 of these units more than 40 years old. Over 14,000 renter households in Vancouver spend more than 50% of their income on rent.
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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post in not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.