Rent Control Bulletin “Zero Tolerance”: A Flawed Life Safety Policy

Some Fire Services appear to take pride in aggressively prosecuting landlords for the illegal conduct of tenants. The prosecutions are part of a growing trend among municipalities; building officials; fire officials and property standards officers. The policy basis for this trend is flawed because prosecuting landlords for the illegal conduct of tenants does not deter tenants from conduct which creates life safety risks in rental units.

Landlords and Property Managers are being charged with offences in circumstances where tenants have disabled smoke and fire detectors; where tenants have tampered with a building’s electrical system in order to service en-suite grow-ops; and where there are operational failures of en-suite door closers. Charges are laid against landlords who have undertaken annual inspections and corrected deficiencies at the time of the inspections. In one case, charges were laid against a landlord after a tenant grow-op was discovered and remediated fully by the landlord. Other landlords have been prosecuted where deficiencies have, upon notice, been corrected in a timely manner.

Such aggressive and arguably abusive enforcement strategies do nothing to enhance tenant safety. For example, a landlord can inspect and approve a smoke detector on a Monday and a tenant may disable it the following day: how does prosecution of the landlord deter tenants from tampering with smoke detectors? The short answer is: it doesn’t. Fire services have the legal authority to charge tenants – that would promote tenant safety – but landlords have deeper pockets than tenants and are much easier targets. The prosecution strategy begs the question: is this about deterring life safety risks or is it about creating easy revenue for municipal agencies?

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