Revenge of the Renter
November 23, 2023 7:35 AM   Subscribe

 
It's hard to undo decades of underinvestment and NIMBYism and the investor class all coming together for the cause of artificial scarcity, but one thing can help: Vacancy tax. Blistering vacancy tax. And limit AirBNB style rental to owner-occupied housing for up to six total weeks per calendar year

Because metafilter, what I mean is active/purpose-built rental stock vacancy tax with provisions that prevent landlords from putting their units in perpetual "pending repair" and not "tax grandma 100k/year because she has an empty bedroom in her house."
posted by tclark at 8:02 AM on November 23, 2023 [47 favorites]


Canada's problem is definitely not vacant rental housing. There are some vacancy issues with condo units that are being held as investments and not occupied but the vacancy rates in purpose built rental housing in most Canadian cities is extremely low.

That's a big part of why landlords can fuck with us in the first place. I mean, sure, you can try to fight the 3% AGI, but if you lose and have to move, you're facing a 50-100% increase in rent because rent controls, where they exist at all, reset between tenants and if you've been in an apartment for any length of time, you're paying sooooo much less than "market" rent that moving seems impossible.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:16 AM on November 23, 2023 [10 favorites]


is this that awesome planning that the market does so well?
posted by elkevelvet at 8:30 AM on November 23, 2023 [17 favorites]


The York South-Weston Tenant Union, and Sharlene Henry, are doing great work.

I do think that organized labour has a role to play in this. Many workers are tenants, and many are precariously housed. Unions can not only advocate for living wages to allow workers to pay for sufficient housing, they can also lobby for fair and affordable housing, as well as the return of comprehensive rent control and even vacancy control in Ontario. Also, organizing is organizing. The same strategies work for labour organizing as they do for tenant organizing. Labour unions could run training sessions for tenant organizers to assist them in organizing tenants unions.
posted by hepta at 8:32 AM on November 23, 2023 [12 favorites]


Canada's problem is definitely not vacant rental housing.

I didn't say that.

I said "It's hard to undo decades of underinvestment and NIMBYism and the investor class all coming together for the cause of artificial scarcity, but one thing can help"

Even with my attempt at qualification, and even starting off saying that the problem isn't vacant rental housing but decades of underinvestment, NIMBYism, and the convenient use of those by the investor class to create scarcity, my comment clearly failed and became refute-bait.
posted by tclark at 8:33 AM on November 23, 2023 [13 favorites]


rent for basic accommodations, like a decent a studio apt, should be capped at 60 times minimum wage.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:35 AM on November 23, 2023 [7 favorites]


Rent control
posted by eustatic at 8:38 AM on November 23, 2023 [6 favorites]


I do think that organized labour has a role to play in this.

Also in Ontario, Parkdale Organize is an example of a group that bridges these two issues.

But yeah, there are several ways that traditional labor unions can give support (administrative, organizational) to tenant organizing.
posted by eviemath at 8:50 AM on November 23, 2023


And yeah, we need the vacancy control version of rent control, so that landlords can’t just jack up rents by huge amounts whenever there is tenant turnover.
posted by eviemath at 8:52 AM on November 23, 2023 [10 favorites]


Vacancy tax for commercial space, combined with making second homes a less attractive investment, would help. But tax reform is simultaneously an easy answer andseemingly impossible to implement politically.
posted by q*ben at 8:52 AM on November 23, 2023 [3 favorites]


tired: rent control
wired: price controls.
posted by bombastic lowercase pronouncements at 8:57 AM on November 23, 2023 [1 favorite]


this is to say that there must be a state-determined cap on the amount of money that can be charged for housing and that this cap must not be raised between tenants because that's idiotic.

needless to say, this bold a move in the class war would require first gaining total control over the apparatus of the state, and due to the outsized influence held by the wealthy in electoral so-called democracies it could never be accomplished through electoral means.
posted by bombastic lowercase pronouncements at 9:00 AM on November 23, 2023


I mentioned in another post that I'm absolutely fucking stunned that a person in my modestly sized city has just lost their apartment to a fire and is facing homelessness because even with 40 hour work week at $19/hr, they cannot find an affordable place. That's obscene. That's ridiculous.

My SIL is one of the people fighting to keep her home in Parkdale; her shared housing is next to the hospital, and the hospital owns those crumbling homes. But they are cheap in a city where affordable housing is next to nil. She has roommates in the multiple and they have been organizing to keep their homes. The hospital, to my knowledge, does no repairs whatsoever to those homes. I suspect they are hoping to wear the residents out by letting living conditions deteriorate.
posted by Kitteh at 9:01 AM on November 23, 2023 [17 favorites]


Here's an archived Toronto Star link about my SIL and her neighbourhood's fight to stay in their homes. You'll see it's dated from 2020. They are still fighting to remain.
posted by Kitteh at 9:11 AM on November 23, 2023 [3 favorites]


In Australia, the rental market has gone completely nuts since

a) Many Australian expats returned to Australia in 2020

b) in order to try to cap inflation, the Reserve Bank keeps raising interest rates, and every time interest rates go up, landlords put the rent up (because interest rates going up = mortgages going up.)

A friend of mine, who has been in their rental housing for more than 7 years, signed a 12 month lease renewal a month ago which included a significant rent rise. A month later, the landlord is trying to illegally tear up the lease so that they can put the rent up even more.
posted by chariot pulled by cassowaries at 9:12 AM on November 23, 2023 [1 favorite]


I said "It's hard to undo decades of underinvestment and NIMBYism and the investor class all coming together for the cause of artificial scarcity, but one thing can help"

Okay, so I've missed your point then. Can you explain how a vacancy tax will help when there are essentially no vacant apartments to be taxed?
posted by jacquilynne at 9:20 AM on November 23, 2023 [6 favorites]


It was student shared accommodation and 30 years ago, but rent in Kingston used to be *so cheap*. If you were paying more than $300/month those were some fancy-ass digs. One summer I got a gorgeous sublet for $150, which I easily paid for by working part-time at minimum wage.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:24 AM on November 23, 2023 [5 favorites]


The rental housing situation in Australia is currently so dire that a leading economist recently recommended that the Federal government reduce the number of visas issued to foreign university students to come here and study, because we don't have enough rental housing for the 725,000 students from the rest of the world currently studying in Australia. (If you think 725,000 people is not many people, the total population of Australia is 26,871,700 people, and we lost a lot of housing to fires and floods between 2019 and 2023. There are still people living in caravans because they lost their houses in the 2019 fires, and even after getting the money from the insurance company to rebuild, there is a long waiting list to get a builder.)

Prior to this, universities were emailing university lecturers begging them to take students into the lecturers' own private houses because there was no housing for overseas students.

Cafes and pubs in country towns are buying houses for their staff to live in because otherwise they will have no baristas/bar tenders because there is no rental accommodation available.

There was a news story recently about a full time air traffic controller who is living in a tent, because no matter how much $$$$ he is willing to spend, there is simply nowhere for him to rent in the regional area that he is in.
posted by chariot pulled by cassowaries at 9:25 AM on November 23, 2023 [15 favorites]


I mentioned in another post that I'm absolutely fucking stunned that a person in my modestly sized city has just lost their apartment to a fire and is facing homelessness because even with 40 hour work week at $19/hr, they cannot find an affordable place. That's obscene. That's ridiculous.

Where I am living, if you are earning around the median household income (which is over $60k), an average apartment is, if not precisely affordable, at least easily attainable, though home buying isn't. But if you are a single earner making, say, $19/hr like in your example, your choices are basically to have roommates or to luck into an affordable ADU attached to someone's house. And if you have kids or other family members that live with you and are depending on your salary, there is vanishingly little multi-bedroom housing in that price category that is going to be available. So people end up doubling up with family, living in RVs, or subletting places that are not actually safe and livable.

Like you say, it is obscene and ridiculous.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:33 AM on November 23, 2023 [4 favorites]


is this that awesome planning that the market does so well?

It's working as designed and intended, the unspoken question was always "for who".
posted by mhoye at 9:33 AM on November 23, 2023 [22 favorites]


Can you explain how a vacancy tax will help when there are essentially no vacant apartments to be taxed?

Vancouver has some of (if not the) highest rents in the country. A couple of reasonably recent articles:

Some new Vancouver condos held empty for years: internal city memo

More than one in 10 Vancouver condos sit empty in city desperate for affordable housing
posted by philip-random at 9:33 AM on November 23, 2023 [11 favorites]


It was student shared accommodation and 30 years ago, but rent in Kingston used to be *so cheap*. If you were paying more than $300/month those were some fancy-ass digs. One summer I got a gorgeous sublet for $150, which I easily paid for by working part-time at minimum wage.

Our first and only Kingston apartment was $1650 a month back in 2014. It's only gotten worse. The prices here are Toronto prices but without cool Toronto things (and I say that as someone who loves Kingston).
posted by Kitteh at 9:38 AM on November 23, 2023 [2 favorites]


Vancouver has some of (if not the) highest rents in the country. A couple of reasonably recent articles:


But condos aren't purpose built rentals which is part of why I don't really understand tclark's point.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:46 AM on November 23, 2023 [5 favorites]


Can you explain how a vacancy tax will help when there are essentially no vacant apartments to be taxed?

Because the vacancy tax is not aimed at purpose-built rental apartments. It’s supposed to get units onto the rental market that were built intended for owner occupancy but are sitting empty, especially those that are sitting empty as investment vehicles.

One issue is that having tenants generally decreases a property’s value, because tenants have those pesky rights and stuff. Convincing investors to offer for rent may not be easy.

Another problem is that owner-occupancy properties are a higher-priced segment of the market than rental properties - dumping luxury rentals onto the market doesn’t improve the availability of the most affordable homes, except via the Invisible Hand (tm).
posted by saturday_morning at 9:50 AM on November 23, 2023 [14 favorites]


My Toronto landlord is currently appealing to the board for a 5.5 percent increase. The notice I received from her and the Board's own website suggest the Board will be in contact, but it's now been 2 months without a word to any of the tenants in my building. Does anyone know if this is normal. Do we just wait and then one day we will be notified?

My landlord doesn't even provide basic services. When I moved in, shared areas (hallways and entrances) were cleaned twice a month.Now it's 4 times per YEAR. She took away recycling, which I didn't even think was legal. The buzz/intercom doesn't work when it's raising. How can someone like this justify a rent increase?

Also in Ontario, Parkdale Organize is an example of a group that bridges these two issues.

What is this? Their website doesn't work.
posted by dobbs at 9:50 AM on November 23, 2023 [1 favorite]


There are an awful lot of single-family homes around Toronto, including some a literal stone's throw from that 33 King Street tower. Nothing a few hundred more apartment towers wouldn't solve. Looks like a zoning/NIMBY problem.
posted by pracowity at 9:52 AM on November 23, 2023 [4 favorites]


Because the vacancy tax is not aimed at purpose-built rental apartments. It’s supposed to get units onto the rental market that were built intended for owner occupancy but are sitting empty, especially those that are sitting empty as investment vehicles.

I get why a general vacancy tax (such as Vancouver, Ottawa and Toronto already have) makes sense, but tclark's post proposed a vacancy tax on purpose-built rentals which is the part I do not understand the rationale for.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:57 AM on November 23, 2023 [2 favorites]


is this that awesome planning that the market does so well?

If you're a landlord or REI investor, then everything is going according to plan, yes.

That's the real "free" market at work, just like the fascist cry of "freedom"; Freedom for me, slavery for thee.
posted by CynicalKnight at 10:01 AM on November 23, 2023 [7 favorites]


dobbs: Just use http instead of https for their website? Lots of news articles over the past 8-10 years too, if you do a general web search. Or you can also find them on the standard social medias (don’t know what would be useful for you, but I can add a link if you let me know).

This is Parkdale video from six years ago
posted by eviemath at 10:17 AM on November 23, 2023 [1 favorite]


I do feel any such analysis is incomplete without addressing how many rentals were on the market before AirB&B became a thing compared to now. As tclark mentions. Where I am AirB&B has been both a lifesaver (to marginal farmers needing to diversify) and a scourge (to pretty seaside towns where no one local can afford to live as everything has been bought up by AirB&B investors).
posted by Rhedyn at 10:20 AM on November 23, 2023 [15 favorites]


I get why a general vacancy tax (such as Vancouver, Ottawa and Toronto already have) makes sense, but tclark's post proposed a vacancy tax on purpose-built rentals which is the part I do not understand the rationale for.

This is where I wasn't clear in what I meant -- my intent which was wrongly worded should be that anything not owner-occupied would be subject to vacancy. Last time I mentioned vacancy tax, comments objected that grandmothers would be levied vacancy tax rates for spare bedrooms. This time I should've said "any unit not owner-occupied should be considered rentable and subject to vacancy tax."
posted by tclark at 10:27 AM on November 23, 2023 [7 favorites]


I've heard some economics person or another say that the past 15 years of near-zero interest rates have also played into this. Banks got free money; they loaned that money to wealthy people and wealthier corporations; the wealthy used the cheap loans to buy up lots and lots and lots of property; property got expensive for the rest of us. It has happened all over the Anglosphere, so it's not the result of specific local conditions or zoning choices. It's global causes and global effects.
posted by clawsoon at 10:37 AM on November 23, 2023 [14 favorites]


In his new book, The Tenant Class, political economist Ricardo Tranjan argues that for Canada’s property owners, the housing crisis is no crisis at all. The worse it gets, the more money they make. On one side of this brewing class conflict is a real-estate industry and a political system—and arguably, a majority of the population—who see housing as a commodity. On the other side are those who believe it’s a human right.

Tranjan’s perspective lies decidedly to the left of mainstream economists and housing wonks—he is skeptical, for example, that boosting housing supply will make a major dent in rental affordability. “Developers and landlords have convinced the public that the only cause, and the ultimate solution, for the so-called housing crisis is supply,” Tranjan told me. “They’ve managed to present themselves as the solution instead of the problem.”
That sounds like an interesting perspective. Maybe I'll make that book a Christmas present for myself.
posted by clawsoon at 10:55 AM on November 23, 2023 [6 favorites]


Governments not building, not maintaining, or selling off or demolishing affordable public housing for much of the past 40-50 years has been a major contributing factor as well. Like, why get bogged down in inefficient, roundabout, arcane tax or interest rate levers to try to cajole private capital into doing something that they fundamentally view as against their interests? Just build housing. It’s a human right.

A smaller side factor is the precipitous drop in government funding support for cooperative housing since the 1970s, as well. But it’s also worth mentioning despite being only a small contributing factor because people (especially politicians) seem to cling to this idea of real estate investment being the only possible source of housing. Or they might acknowledge public housing, but have some dumb arguments against it that seem to always boil down to some combination of classism and debunked trickle down economic theory. But there are lots of ways that the provision of housing can be structured! And lots of political options that could support these alternatives, such as making funding available to coops and community land trusts to get past the initial hurdle of first purchasing or constructing units (the way that housing coops help overcome the hurdle to home ownership of needing a large initial outlay even when mortgage payments would be less than what someone is currently paying in rent); or giving current residents preferential options to organize as a coop or land trust to buy a building when the current owner wants to sell it; or tying legal definitions of affordability to minimum wage or the local poverty line instead of defining it as a fraction of market rates, and then upping the requirements for landlords who own more than some base number of units (in their total portfolio - per building and new-construction-only requirements seem to be minimally effective) to rent out some set proportion at this affordable rate, in perpetuity.
posted by eviemath at 11:02 AM on November 23, 2023 [10 favorites]


Or they might acknowledge public housing, but have some dumb arguments against it that seem to always boil down to some combination of classism and debunked trickle down economic theory.

QFT. I am so so tired of people who just want any and all housing built, swearing up and down that doing so will free up all the old stock and they will rent so much cheaper. Downtown Kingston has built three new condo highrises over the past two years with more on the way. The building contracts are held by this guy and his business. He's infamous for making absolutely shit builds but yet somehow he seems to get city permission.

This made not a single damn dent in the renting stock. Now those units are up on Realtor.ca selling for $300K a pop for less than a 1000 sq ft. I want affordable housing to be built for people to create their lives in, not another property to line the pocket of more rich people.
posted by Kitteh at 11:15 AM on November 23, 2023 [16 favorites]


We're having trouble providing housing, the foundation of Maslow's pyramid, the most basic of our hierarchy of needs, globally.

This seems like bad news for us as a species.
posted by MrVisible at 11:18 AM on November 23, 2023 [4 favorites]


I have many clients that bought investment properties with the idea that they would be able to buy a property and the rent they receive will make the property cash flow positive for them. It worked for a while but it always seemed like them having their cake and eating it too so likely couldn't last forever. With the spike in interest rates we've seen over the last 1.5 years their mortgage costs have skyrocketed if they were on variable rate mortgages and if they were on fixed rate mortgages they're probably nervously looking at that renewal that is right around the corner (almost all residential mortgages need to be renewed in every 5 years or less). So now they're deciding to sell the property or to absorb the loss for a while in the expectation they'll make their money back when they eventually sell the property due to it still increasing in value.

In a freer market you could probably count on their being some kind of price correction for housing but every level of government are going to do their best to make sure that won't happen because it'll instantly mean they're losing the next election.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:21 AM on November 23, 2023 [2 favorites]


It has happened all over the Anglosphere, so it's not the result of specific local conditions or zoning choices. It's global causes and global effects.

I feel like most of what I read about the housing crunches makes it sound like a local phenomenon, but it's clear that it has a global scope. Certainly all over the Anglosphere. But also all over Europe affordability (and of housing, in particular) is in really bad shape too. There's differences country to country, but it's varying degrees of bad everywhere.

I really wish someone could explain what the hell is going on. Anyone?
posted by Alex404 at 11:23 AM on November 23, 2023


I really wish someone could explain what the hell is going on. Anyone?

We've had 15 years of historically low interest rates making it easy for people to invest in assets like real estate or stocks.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:26 AM on November 23, 2023 [6 favorites]


I really wish someone could explain what the hell is going on. Anyone?

Also, governments largely got out of the business of providing some affordable housing (in Canada, it was around 10% of completions from the 50s to the 80s) and this both took time to manifest and will similarly take decades to cure, if we are in fact going to fix it.
posted by Superilla at 11:29 AM on November 23, 2023 [6 favorites]


I really wish someone could explain what the hell is going on. Anyone?

Global Population, 2000: 6,148,898,975
Global Population, 2023: 8,045,311,447
posted by jacquilynne at 11:46 AM on November 23, 2023 [11 favorites]


Part of it is a shortage of materials resulting in a steep rise in prices.

For instance, there's a worldwide shortage of the sand used in concrete. Also gypsum. Also, lumber. And so on.

What happens when it gets too expensive to build cheap housing?
posted by MrVisible at 11:53 AM on November 23, 2023 [6 favorites]


Ottawa has a big problem with no one building rental units for families. Towers with bachelors and 1 or 2 bedroom units? Sure, lots of those going in, but they are usually "luxury" units and expensive to rent. In my neighbourhood there are also a lot of new smaller infill rental buildings being built to replace old single-family homes, but they are all aimed at university students with 7 to 8 bedrooms per unit, very little common space, no storage or parking, and expensive to rent per bedroom.
posted by fimbulvetr at 12:35 PM on November 23, 2023 [2 favorites]


This time I should've said "any unit not owner-occupied should be considered rentable and subject to vacancy tax."

Thanks for clarifying -- I see what you are saying now. Many of Canada's major cities do have vacancy taxes already, though most of them are too new for a really clear picture to have emerged on what they are doing for housing availability. Aside from thinking the paperwork is an annoying pain in the ass (why, oh, why, BC do you need both owners of a jointly owned property to separately fill out the form attesting that one of the joint owners lives in the property?) I'm in support of the idea, and I hope it helps.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:58 PM on November 23, 2023


I really wish someone could explain what the hell is going on. Anyone?

The places having a housing affordability problem have largely stopped building housing. Housing prices are thus going up because there are more people competing for roughly the same amount of housing there was in a previous point in time.

I’m not a big proponent of market explanations but for this one, it really is the cause.
posted by rhymedirective at 1:04 PM on November 23, 2023 [1 favorite]


Unions can not only advocate for living wages to allow workers to pay for sufficient housing, they can also lobby for fair and affordable housing

Some of the semi-affordable owner-occupied housing hanging on in NYC was actually built by unions.
posted by praemunire at 1:08 PM on November 23, 2023 [2 favorites]


Global Population, 2023: 8,045,311,447

canada has relatively friendly immigration policy but it did not take on 2 billion new renters
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 1:08 PM on November 23, 2023 [5 favorites]


We're having trouble providing housing, the foundation of Maslow's pyramid, the most basic of our hierarchy of needs, globally.

This seems like bad news for us as a species.


Sometimes I just put on my historian's hat and think about the issue in the long-term: as far as I know, no large, hierarchical society ever has provided comfortable, affordable housing in urban areas for poorer people without subsidizing it. Paying 1/2 of your income - or more - to rent a small room for your family used to be pretty standard, if you were lucky enough to have a room. Rural areas might have been better, but even then, housing could be pretty dire - especially if you are talking places where the majority of the population were tenants (having seen a re-created Scottish Highland croft, it was pretty bad).

Markets have always failed to provide housing, just like they have never provided healthcare, education or enough food for all in large, hierarchical societies.

The only true solutions are non-market solutions - whether those are almshouses, co-ops or social housing - which can be done in ways that work.

As for the current crisis in Canada: everyone's reasons are true - low interest rates, investors seeking the greatest return, lack of government investment, lack of rent control and/or vacancy control, population growth - and just plain growing inequality (see the relevant post from yesterday).

But regardless of the causes, the solution is what it always was when people need shelter: more non-market housing.
posted by jb at 1:16 PM on November 23, 2023 [29 favorites]


canada has relatively friendly immigration policy but it did not take on 2 billion new renters

The person I was responding to was asking why the housing crunch appeared to be a global phenomenon.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:19 PM on November 23, 2023 [1 favorite]


Oh, excellent. As a historian, has there ever been a global housing shortage due largely to a scarcity of materials before?
posted by MrVisible at 2:41 PM on November 23, 2023


The Franco-British round the world naval war deforested a lot of places to build ships . I know it changed building styles in the UK for a bit because of that; possibly elsewhere?

Running out of sand is what boggles me.
posted by clew at 3:22 PM on November 23, 2023 [2 favorites]


And yeah, we need the vacancy control version of rent control, so that landlords can’t just jack up rents by huge amounts whenever there is tenant turnover.

Vancouver tried! For a specific type of rental (Single Room Occupancy) where the problem was most glaring but it failed in court. The city is appealing.
posted by monkeymike at 4:29 PM on November 23, 2023 [2 favorites]


Global Population, 2000: 6,148,898,975
Global Population, 2023: 8,045,311,447


Don't blame me, I didn't do it!
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:30 PM on November 23, 2023 [2 favorites]


The places having a housing affordability problem have largely stopped building housing.

Yeah they recently doubled land taxes on investment properties where I am (Victoria, Australia), providing yet more disincentives to build.

This is like when back home our government responded to rising prices of chicken (due to imported chicken feed going up in price) by imposing an artificial price cap on chicken, which led many chicken farms to pause operations because they were losing money. Then there was no supply of chicken at all and my parents had to furtively buy illegal chicken at 2x the capped price on the black market.

I've built a new house and added to the housing stock of the country. I vaguely feel like I have the responsibility to build a few more - I might buy some land in the next year or so, but the price of building the same house has gone up around 50% due to the jump in materials and labor, I'm preparing to pay $440,000 to build what previously cost me $290,000 to build in 2019. Some of this is also due to increasingly stringent building standards every year.

The government needs to incentivize building more, and personally, I believe small incentives (say $20,000 to $30,000) should be given to individuals and maybe small business owners, rather than giving billions to mega corporations who build or even operate thousands of rentals and can use their market power to influence rental prices.

I really wish someone could explain what the hell is going on.

It's not just population growth, we're also having less people per dwelling.

Specifically in Australia, the number of persons per dwelling has declined since Covid - people are moving out of their family home earlier, in greater numbers, and are preferring to live alone rather than with housemates to free up rooms for work from home or leisure activities (theatre or games room, etc)

Reserve Bank analysis

Sydney Rental Stock
2020 - Household Size 2.75, rental vacancy rate 4.2%, YOY rent growth 0%
2023 - Household Size 2.60, rental vacancy rate 1.8%, YOY rent growth 12%

Household size changes alone would drive a 5% increase in dwellings required, which can squeeze rents when the average vacancy rate is about 5% anyway.

We didn't see this effect during Covid because it was masked by the halting of immigration. Now immigration is turned on again, and suddenly we see this massive drop in vacancy rates which people are blaming on immigration when really if you average it out across Covid it hasn't been much above normal.

Over the long term (10-20 years), changes in Household Size could reflect the type of dwellings built, we have built a lot of 1-2 bedroom dwellings in the last two decades. But in the short term changes in Household Size more fairly reflect changes in how we utilize existing dwellings.

New dwelling starts have fallen from a previous stable rate of 220,000 new dwellings per year down to just 170,000 dwellings per year since 2020 Covid.

There are currently 10.9 million dwellings. So a shortfall of 50,000 dwellings per year since Covid x 3 years is a 1.5% decline to where we should be at. This is exactly the same as what we saw in the automotive industry, where a loss of several months of production can cause sustained price rises for 1-2 years before stabilizing, except that housing has a longer ramp up / ramp down curve, so expect it to get worse before it gets better.
posted by xdvesper at 4:31 PM on November 23, 2023 [6 favorites]


QFT. I am so so tired of people who just want any and all housing built, swearing up and down that doing so will free up all the old stock and they will rent so much cheaper. Downtown Kingston has built three new condo highrises

LOL. 3. Is that even 1000 units? It's ironic when you quote against trickle down housing when you say you gave someone a 3 cent raise- they are wealthier now. The scale is way off. The cities that lower housing prices build 50,000 to 75,000 units per year in a metro area.
posted by The_Vegetables at 4:38 PM on November 23, 2023 [10 favorites]


limit AirBNB style rental to owner-occupied housing for up to six total weeks per calendar year

Why this? I would think if it's owner-occupied, then it's not a big deal if people rent out their spare room the whole year round. If they're not AirBnBing it, it's not like they're renting it out as a regular tenancy necessarily, and it's great for students - which could open up regular apartments for year-round renters.
posted by corb at 4:49 PM on November 23, 2023


Let's say you want to build 40k units per year in Toronto. I see average high rise units per site here in Toronto is probably around 400 (though I've seen as high as 1900 for a four tower development, many are 2-300). Using that number, if you want to build 40k units per year, you have to complete 100 sites per year, however, each site is going to take 3-4 years from ground breaking to completion so that's 400 sites in progress at any one time, which means let's say 500 cranes (considering multiple tower developments), however as of March 2023, Toronto had only 238 cranes active (which is vastly more than almost any other city in North America; the next highest was Seattle with 51) The theory is Ontario is supposed to build 1.5M new units over the next 9 years but the math just doesn't add up, especially in TO with big infrastructure projects underway as well. There aren't even enough big cranes in existence to do what's needed to solve the housing problem with highrises in Toronto.

Building McMansions on farmland doesn't help very much. There's a missing middle, of midrise construction, 3-6 storeys, that don't require heavy equipment to build, and can be done in a year, not four years, that people in this country seem to have forgotten about. That's what's really needed. Knock down all the bullshit single-family dwellings within stones throw of the high rise "corridors" and put up legions of midrise apartments. That's what needs to happen but I don't see it going on.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:53 PM on November 23, 2023 [15 favorites]


Fuck landlords. Every parasitic fucking one. That's all I got. Is that enough? Will that cover three times the rent with a cosigner?
posted by DeepSeaHaggis at 5:01 PM on November 23, 2023 [6 favorites]


due to the outsized influence held by the wealthy in electoral so-called democracies it could never be accomplished through electoral means.

am good with culinary means.
posted by busted_crayons at 5:36 PM on November 23, 2023 [5 favorites]


seanmpuckett in my area of Toronto, Willowdale, we've spent the last 30+ years slowly demolishing the existing post-war bungalows and 1.5 storey split level houses and replacing them with the largest houses the city would allow. At the same time a lot of new condos have gone up on Yonge Street so we have this corridor of high density housing that very quickly goes to single family monster homes with very little in between. With a bit of foresight the city could have mandated midrise construction for say 500m east and west of Yonge Street and then all those houses that were demolished would have gradually been redeveloped into space for significantly more people to live in. It's a missed opportunity because now even if there was a will to demolish the single family houses closer to Yonge Street and replace them with midrise buildings you've now got to first buy lots with fairly new 3500 sqf houses that you'll be demolishing which would make the whole thing a lot more expensive.

At the same time why hasn't this been done on the Danforth or Bloor west of Spadina? It's on a subway line but it's all small buildings when midrise construction would fit in perfectly. 6 storeys with the same kind of retail at ground floor and then apartments up top.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 6:40 PM on November 23, 2023 [2 favorites]


seanmpuckett: Knock down all the bullshit single-family dwellings within stones throw of the high rise "corridors" and put up legions of midrise apartments. That's what needs to happen but I don't see it going on.

I think about that every time I ride my bike east of Broadview or west of Spadina, but then I think about how much practical political power is sitting in the hands of the kinds of people who can afford a single-family home that close to downtown.

It's like with Robert Moses in New York - he could bulldoze as many poor neighbourhoods as he wanted to for his freeway projects, but the instant he touched a few trees in Central Park that well-connected lawyers and doctors and New York Times journalists liked to take their kids to play near, it was the beginning of his end. Obviously Toronto hasn't been able to protect all of its well-connected trees from Doug Ford, but I suspect that well-connected houses will continue to put up much stiffer resistance.
posted by clawsoon at 7:28 PM on November 23, 2023 [7 favorites]



Canada's problem is definitely not vacant rental housing. There are some vacancy issues with condo units that are being held as investments and not occupied but the vacancy rates in purpose built rental housing in most Canadian cities is extremely low.


The nice thing about a vacancy tax is that it busts the myth of vacant housing being the problem and forces us to focus on something that will actually work. (Just. Fucking. Build. )
posted by ocschwar at 8:17 PM on November 23, 2023


If they're not AirBnBing it, it's not like they're renting it out as a regular tenancy necessarily, and it's great for students - which could open up regular apartments for year-round renters.

Often, people are using AirBnB/day-length rentals as a potentially more lucrative alternative to a longer-term lodger. Or it makes it affordable to be in larger housing that could otherwise accommodate a larger family or houseshare.

And why would a student prefer a short-term holiday rental charged by the day (and which can be withdrawn with effectively no notice) over a medium-term contract for a semester?
posted by Dysk at 6:01 AM on November 24, 2023 [2 favorites]



Why this? I would think if it's owner-occupied, then it's not a big deal if people rent out their spare room the whole year round. If they're not AirBnBing it, it's not like they're renting it out as a regular tenancy necessarily, and it's great for students - which could open up regular apartments for year-round renters.



I can tell you one reason. As an owner of a two family dwelling that was converted to a one family before I bought (Brooklyn, NY), I would LOVE to pay to convert it back and only have half of the house to maintain/clean (it's about 1600 sq.ft, not including basement that is used for storage). It's literally too much house for me.

But I won't do it because after spending the large sum of money to divide it up and adding in the associated rise in property taxes that go along with converting it, I'm terrified of getting a tenant who decides to not pay rent and/or trash the apartment. We all hear horror stories of it taking over a year to remove non-paying tenants or destructive tenants, and I believe here in NYC a year or more is the norm for evicting for non-payment.

Don't get me wrong, I do believe that there should be strong tenants rights to prevent landlords from just hiking up rents and not maintaining units and harassing tenants to leave, but I think that there should be some acknowledgement that there are good tenants and bad tenants, just as there are good landlords and bad landlords.

I would be thrilled to have a good tenant that never leaves, and perfectly happy with rent regulations that limit the amount of rent increases. There are many of us in the neighborhood that feel this way, we have this discussion almost weekly.

In this friend group where this discussion comes up there are currently two situations happening that could be resolved by some sort of limitation on non-paying tenants coupled with a rent regulation: one is a home owner who has the exact situation described above, they're going on ten months of a non-paying tenant who paid the first months rent and then not only stopped paying rent, but is also acting aggressively towards the owner whenever they see her. The other situation is a friend who has lived in the same two family as a tenant for over 30 years, she was a teenager when her family moved in. The owner is now elderly and her health is in a rapid decline. The sons (who don't live in the area) are already battling over what to do when she passes, one wants to keep my friend in place as her and her husband do virtually all the maintenance on the house and keep an eye on their mother, the other brother wants to get them out to get a much higher market rate rent.

Maybe this isn't particularly relevant to the article, but this is something that I never hear brought up when talking about L/T and rent issues. I don't know how much of a dent this would make in the rental crisis we're going through right now, but anecdotally, it seems like there would be more small landlords opening up rentals in their homes if they knew that one bad tenant wouldn't be able to bankrupt them or make their life a daily hell that takes way too long to get a reprieve from.
posted by newpotato at 7:19 AM on November 24, 2023 [9 favorites]


Often, people are using AirBnB/day-length rentals as a potentially more lucrative alternative to a longer-term lodger.

My next-door neighbour used to always rent out her basement apartment to long-term renters until she twigged onto how much more money she could earn with much less occupancy time by renting out on AirBnB. So, no more tenants living in her basement, just a rotating cast of strangers. She isn't the only one in our neighbourhood doing this.
posted by fimbulvetr at 7:25 AM on November 24, 2023 [6 favorites]


On a recent trip to France, we noted the ubiquity of 4 to 8 storey buildings in the cities, that had retail or office space on the first floor or two, and nice flats above. Is Europe having the same sort of unaffordability crisis as in Canade? I read that the UK has housing issues.

We're in Toronto. My neighbour/friend is an architect, and a couple of the bottlenecks he encounters are:
- little harmonization of building and zoning regulations, so each different town or area must be approached uniquely, with specialized knowledge of what the permit approvers will grant or not
- understaffed building departments, leading to ridiculous delays in getting simple questions answered, let alone drawings reviewed and approved.

These contribute to the difficulties in getting new builds or conversions started.

I have a solution/bandaid to quickly increase the number of rental units: remove all zoning restrictions everywhere that arbitrarily prohibit multi-family or multi-tenant builds or conversions. When any house anywhere can legally be made into a multi-unit property (subject to following reasonable regulations for size, fire safety etc), then investors would be motivated to convert some of their holdings into rentals to try for higher returns. A downtown mansion could become several flats for professionals or small families. Ditto for suburban McMansions. More infill renovations would include rental suites.

(I can hear the screaming now, from the single-family-house neighborhoods. Tough.)

This idea would require a bigger bureaucracy and inspectors to monitor the conversions, but we need more of this done anyway, given the massive backlog in tenant claims and disputes.
posted by Artful Codger at 8:06 AM on November 24, 2023 [1 favorite]


I have a solution/bandaid to quickly increase the number of rental units: remove all zoning restrictions everywhere that arbitrarily prohibit multi-family or multi-tenant builds or conversions.

There is definitely a lot of pressure in this direction from both the Provincial and Federal governments in Ontario. Ottawa council wanted to keep the number of allowable living units per residential lot to 3, but it seems like the feds won't bring money to the table for cities that don't go to at least 4.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:26 AM on November 24, 2023


And why would a student prefer a short-term holiday rental charged by the day (and which can be withdrawn with effectively no notice) over a medium-term contract for a semester?

I'm a student right now, and I can tell you that nowhere, absolutely nowhere, is offering me a medium-term contract to rent a room for a semester. It's not like I have a choice between a medium-term contract for a semester and an AirBnb - my current choices are between:

1) a year long contract on a two bedroom place that leaves me paying rent for summer months and a winter break month where I don't actually live here, as well as being absolutely fucked if my roommate leaves, that I can ill afford. I have to do credit checks and pay a deposit.
2) a ten month long contract that hikes the price up per month so that it's basically the same price as a year long contract, except that they get to raise the price if I decide I want to stay here, and still keeping the absolutely fucked if roommate leaves issue and credit/deposit issue.
3) AirBnB for just the amount of time I'm actually physically going to be here, with usually monthly stay discounts, without having to pay a deposit or do a credit check.
4) Uncontracted sublets with people that you have to hear about by word of mouth and just hope you can find each year.

I've tried #1 and #2 for my first two years and they really sucked; I'm going to be trying to AirBnB for my last year because it's much more affordable. I would *prefer* if someone would rent me a room for a semester at a time, without having to pay a massive deposit to move in and without the credit checks, because honestly, whether or not I have paid off bills that I dispute the validity of in their entirety says absolutely nothing about whether I'll pay rent on time every time, which I have done the entirety of my life, with the exception of being late maybe like...a few days when I was younger and autopay didn't exist. But that doesn't exist, that's not an option under current laws and norms.
posted by corb at 8:47 AM on November 24, 2023 [1 favorite]


I read that the UK has housing issues.

in the POSIWID spirit I would say that the UK is primarily a complicated device for creating and maintaining a housing crisis, with the mushy peas and imperialism as mere epiphenomena
posted by busted_crayons at 8:48 AM on November 24, 2023 [9 favorites]




I've tried #1 and #2 for my first two years and they really sucked; I'm going to be trying to AirBnB for my last year because it's much more affordable.

That it would be more affordable is nuts to me. An AirBnB here costs somewhere between a tenth and a fifth per night of what renting an equivalent living space would cost a month. Even if you had to spend three months' rent you weren't living there, you'd be much better off than a holiday let.
posted by Dysk at 8:53 AM on November 24, 2023


Many AirBnBs offer medium term rents at much lower than their daily rate. I moved into an AirBnb when I first moved to Ottawa at $700 month for a room and then we moved the deal off AirBnB so the owner didn't have to pay them a cut, and I stayed there for 2 years. The other room in the suite remained available on AirBnB. It was almost never rented for less than a month at a time.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:03 AM on November 24, 2023 [2 favorites]


That it would be more affordable is nuts to me. An AirBnB here costs somewhere between a tenth and a fifth per night of what renting an equivalent living space would cost a month.

To break it down to numbers: half an apartment here for me is about 1200$ per month. But I can find rooms on AirBnb - not a lot of rooms, but some - for about 700-850$ for monthly stays, and I can even rent a five month stay for 800$ a month, and I can start it the day I need it and close it off the day I don't. They're not, like, good rooms, or pinterest worthy rooms, but they're places I can sleep and keep my clothes and that's all I really need.
posted by corb at 9:54 AM on November 24, 2023 [1 favorite]


Ah, rooms on more traditional lets are pretty common here, so it's not what people tend to use Airbnb for.
posted by Dysk at 10:32 AM on November 24, 2023 [1 favorite]


We all hear horror stories of it taking over a year to remove non-paying tenants or destructive tenants, and I believe here in NYC a year or more is the norm for evicting for non-payment.

I ended up with a tenant who just paid the first month's rent on application and never paid anything after that, took 9 months before we managed to get them out, and that was us even being lucky - the tenant didn't fight the eviction or require police intervention, they simply vanished without returning the keys. Not to mention thousands of dollars of malicious damage and about five truck loads of rubbish I had to dispose of.

And it takes on average 3-4 years to go through the system to claim their measly one month's bond! When the tribunal hearing shows they owe me 9 times that!

If the broken system takes at least 9 months on average to evict a non paying tenant, then the tenant should pay 9 months rent as bond. Obviously that's implausible. Both lengths should match: if the bond is 1 month, then it should take 1 month to evict a non-paying tenant.
posted by xdvesper at 3:30 PM on November 24, 2023 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile in Ontario, only 13 landlords have been fined for renovictions and other illegal bad-faith evictions since 2020, and only 4 of them have paid up.

So good to know what an infrequent and unserious problem this is. /s
posted by clawsoon at 6:47 PM on November 24, 2023 [9 favorites]


Airbnbs are destroying my neighborhood in Buffalo. There are approximately 4 per block, and yet only three are registered with the city in my whole area, meaning no revenue goes toward the extra burden guests create on services. These are vacant more than half the nights each month, and meanwhile my friends can’t find actual places to live anymore.
posted by Riverine at 9:02 PM on November 24, 2023 [5 favorites]


Guilty! Just let my house out to a family of 5 for $720 a week. House was empty for 2 and 1/2 years since my mother passed away. Because it was so hard getting the house up to environmental standards and finding trades people to do all the work.
posted by Narrative_Historian at 11:48 PM on November 24, 2023


15 years ago a friend of mine bought a condo, decided he didn't want to live there after all and decided to rent it out. Well, the first (and only) tenant he ever had stopped paying rent after a couple months and he had reason to believe he was trashing the place (which he was). So he went through the months-long process of having them legally evicted, and the whole experience was such a stressful hassle that once the tenant was out of there he cleaned the place up and immediately sold it.

That said, my friend said that the impression he got in court was that the percentage of tenants taking lousy landlords to court rather than the other way around was roughly 9:1.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:43 AM on November 25, 2023


If the broken system takes at least 9 months on average to evict a non paying tenant, then the tenant should pay 9 months rent as bond.

So alright. I have had one tenant in my life, and they were a terrible tenant, and I still don't think the answer is that we need more landlord protections.

The tenant I had absolutely trashed the place and did a bunch of damage, and they didn't pay some rent. But here's the thing. I wasn't counting on the tenant's rent to pay the mortgage. So when they didn't pay the rent, it was an annoyance, and I grumbled about it a lot, and I had to tighten my belt, but I wasn't in any danger of losing the place. And when they trashed the place, it was incidental trashing rather than "fuck you, you're evicting me" trashing, because I didn't have to evict them, because I didn't have this rush to get a new tenant in. So they were in the place about three months longer than I really wanted them to be, until they found a place where they didn't feel an uncomfortable level of tension, and then they left. Because people don't really *like* living in places that they are unstable in, they just do it when they're desperate and don't have other options. (I don't want to do it again because I felt really uncomfortable being a landlord overall, but it wasn't the worst experience)

And I think that's kind of the way that tenancy should go, and I think that there's problems when it goes any other way. I think there's a difference between renting out property that you happen to own and would like to make some extra money from because of Reasons, and buying mortgaged property just to rent it out, where you can only pay the mortgage on your property if you are renting to people pretty much every month. I think the latter makes people desperate and makes them into landlords that they probably wouldn't want to be if they had time and space to sit down and think about it. And I think that right now the economy is selling people on the promise of financial independence by advertising the latter, but it's a false promise, and it's all going to come crashing down and ruin people any day now.
posted by corb at 9:16 AM on November 25, 2023 [8 favorites]


At least in Ontario the problem is not that landlirds don't have reasonable protections, it is that our Landlord Tenant dispute resolution tribunal is broken and was even more broken by COVID. If LTB was hearing complaints in a month or two, instead of a year, the protections for landlords would be sufficient.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:37 PM on November 25, 2023 [3 favorites]


And I think that's kind of the way that tenancy should go, and I think that there's problems when it goes any other way. I

Yes but that's not a moral thing, it's a risk / price signalling thing that affects supply. Airbnbs don't carry with it a risk that a tenant can stay 9 months without paying. There's at least a proportion of Airbnbs that would be incentivized to convert back to long term rentals if that risk were lessened, which would help with the supply of rentals.

In the end it's all supply and demand, like my earlier comment - doubling taxes on rental properties hurts supply, and a broken eviction system also serves to hinder supply like the experience of another poster above.

The main difference is that there's never (or rarely) a case where a tenant ends up paying 9 months of rent without being able to live in the property - if they weren't handed the keys, they simply don't pay the rent. In the case of accusations of a "renoviction" again, no fee, no service, no one paid for a service they didn't receive.

While there's plenty of cases where tenant ends up living in a property for 9 months without paying any rent. So the risk falls disproportionately on the landlord.
posted by xdvesper at 6:17 PM on November 25, 2023


I disagree that the risk is disproportionately on the landlord. The landlord faces some financial risk from a bad tenant but the tenant can lose their home from a bad landlord. And these days, not be able to find or afford another one.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:04 PM on November 25, 2023 [10 favorites]


Yeah, the power imbalance is 100% on the landlord's side. There are plenty of dud tenants, but in my totally anecdotal experience the proportion of bad landlords is really high.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:15 PM on November 25, 2023 [7 favorites]


Seems to me that not obtaining insurance for damages or lost rent is a poor business decision on the part of the landlord. Same as not planning for maintenance and upkeep costs, or for some vacancy when a unit has to have a little extra cleaning, repainting, etc. in between tenants. Businesses in other areas that don’t plan for shrinkage or carry insurance against predictable mishaps often fail, and that doesn’t mean it’s the rest of our problem to change policies or laws to save them from their own lack of business acumen. But if one is inclined to think that there should be a regulatory solution, the correct one would be to require that landlords carry insurance against damages or loss of rent as a condition of being in the landlord business. Housing is a human right. Success in one’s business enterprises is not.
posted by eviemath at 7:34 PM on November 25, 2023 [8 favorites]


Another dimension of Ontario's housing crisis is landlords refusing to sign leases and make people legal tenants, because they know they will be able to make more money by routinely forcing people out.

This has happened to me twice. In each case I was advised that I had a strong legal case that I was a tenant anyway, but I couldn't afford to stay in these places during the long and unknown amount of time it would take to go to the LTB. Living under a hostile landlord for that long would be sanity-wrecking for me, since I am the sort to spend several nights a week sleeplessly worrying when I know my landlord is working to push me out of my home in favour of a tenant who they can charge more.
posted by sindark at 8:45 PM on November 25, 2023 [2 favorites]


Seems to me that not obtaining insurance for damages or lost rent is a poor business decision on the part of the landlord.

Where I am, this is a fairly standard component of landlords' insurance so it's not like this is a new idea either.
posted by Dysk at 12:39 AM on November 26, 2023 [3 favorites]


Alex404: I really wish someone could explain what the hell is going on. Anyone?

Covid resulted in a sudden massive surge in remote work. People working from home need more space. So now we have a giant shortage of residential space (and a surplus of office space).

When there isn't enough housing to go around, prices and rents have to rise to unbearable levels to force people to leave, matching those remaining with the limited supply. So prices and rents are completely decoupled from local incomes. It's especially bad for younger people, who aren't insulated from higher housing costs like older homeowners are.

The "return to the office" isn't going to unwind this effect: a lot of people are still working from home at least a couple days a week. So we need to build a lot more housing (market, non-market, everything helps) for 10 years or more.

Other countries are seeing the same thing:
  • US: "In an interesting new paper, John Mondragon and Johannes Wieland argue that 'the shift to remote work explains over one half of the 23.8 percent national house price increase over this period.'"
  • UK: "Research published by the Bank of England suggests that shifts in people's wants — such as the desire for a home office, or a house rather than a flat — explained half of the growth in British house prices during the pandemic."
  • Australia: "In many countries, including Australia, the average household size has shrunk, suggesting that people are less willing to house-share."
The BC government brought in province-wide changes to legalize more housing (three- and four-plexes in residential neighbourhoods, high-rises near rapid transit), and is also allocating $500M for non-profits to buy and operate older rental housing. The Ontario government seems much more hesitant - instead they've been messing around with the Greenbelt and having it blow up in their faces. The new federal housing minister, Sean Fraser, is using the Housing Accelerator Fund to convince individual municipalities to legalize more housing; the 2017 National Housing Strategy put $15B into social housing, but with the housing shortage now affecting younger people all the way up the income scale, it's now clear that we need a lot more market housing as well.

I've got a daily substack on the need for more housing.
posted by russilwvong at 12:46 AM on November 26, 2023 [2 favorites]


philip-random: More than one in 10 Vancouver condos sit empty in city desperate for affordable housing

That's from 2014. In 2016, the BC Liberals (now BC United) brought in the foreign buyer surtax, but since then the BC NDP have brought in the speculation and vacancy tax, the progressive school tax, the Land Ownership Transparency Registry, and two public inquiries into money laundering. Around the same time, the city of Vancouver brought in the empty homes tax. I'd expect these measures to get tighter over time, since foreign investors don't vote. This also affects domestic investors who were planning to sell to foreign investors at some point in the future.

These measures cooled the high-end market for a while, but then Covid lit a fire under the housing market. Now BC's making a big push on the supply side.
posted by russilwvong at 12:54 AM on November 26, 2023


Housing is a human right. Success in one’s business enterprises is not.

Ok, but if this burden of providing housing to those who can't afford it falls 100% on the landlord (from tenants who pay the deposit, then fail to pay further) by them bearing the loss of rent, or the cost of landlord insurance, then you will definitely aggravate a supply problem. Who would choose to rent out a basement flat in their residence with those risks? That fear, unreasonable or not, kept us from ever putting in a rental suite in our house.

If housing is a social responsibility, then society needs to either provide enough affordable or subsidized housing, or compensate the private providers who house people who can't or won't pay for it. I'm ok with both.

We have a friend who worked for the city of Toronto, managing their stock of social housing. It was a miserable and thankless job, especially because of under-funding.
posted by Artful Codger at 8:40 AM on November 26, 2023 [1 favorite]


Seems to me that not obtaining insurance for damages or lost rent is a poor business decision on the part of the landlord.

Then we can say that there's no problem with the healthcare system in the US (or anywhere else in the world) because anyone can just buy insurance?

As always, there's intricacies in the system. Many have very limited payout periods for non-payment of rent, because scams can exist - eg a tenant and landlord can collude and set up a scam where the tenant doesn't pay rent for 1 year while the tenant pretends to try evict them. Even if the insurance only pays out 50% or 75% of the amount owed, the tenant could top it up so the landlord isn't out of pocket and the tenant enjoys a 50%-75% rent discount per year.

I've thought of a mandatory national insurance scheme for landlords taken out of their property tax (like Obamacare) but I think it would basically fail because how easy it is exploit.

Basically, your experience with it might be as bad as dealing with the private health insurance industry where your claims get denied, or you get charged a huge excess leaving you to pay tens of thousands on your own, or you might get lucky and be one of those that was like, oh I had heart surgery and knee surgery in a top private hospital in the US and didn't pay a cent, it was better than the public healthcare in Europe! (more likely the former)
posted by xdvesper at 1:53 PM on November 26, 2023


If housing is a social responsibility, then society needs to either provide enough affordable or subsidized housing

That is what I advocated upthread, yes. And the failure to build and maintain social housing over the past 3-5 decades in both Canada and the US is a significant component of the current housing crisis.


xdvesper: health care is also a human right, unlike attaining success in one's business ventures. It's really simple: would you need this to survive, no matter what economic system you're living under? If yes, then human right. If no, then generally not a human right (though one could perhaps make arguments around stuff like education in either direction).

Many other industries require business owners to carry some form of business insurance. But due to historical classism and Canadian and US origins in the feudalism (back in England and France pre-colonialism) -> mercantilism -> capitalism progression of economic systems, the business of being a rentier of residential property has largely been exempted from the sort of requirements generally expected of any other business owner in any other industry.
posted by eviemath at 2:35 PM on November 26, 2023 [5 favorites]


Who would choose to rent out a basement flat in their residence with those risks? That fear, unreasonable or not, kept us from ever putting in a rental suite in our house.

I think, to a certain extent though, this is more of a social problem than a financial problem, if people aren't buying more house than they can afford in order to rent things out. And I think that people's feelings on this often come from a social sense of indignation at someone "getting something for nothing" more than actual injury in a lot of senses.

And again - I come from a position of having lived this situation. What are you really out if someone overstays and isn't paying rent in an apartment that was already part of your house, which you were already paying for? Is it actually financially any worse than having a family member come to stay and not contribute to the rent? The only thing that's different is that someone is living there that you're kind of annoyed at, which, honestly, isn't that different than relationships with a lot of family members. Honestly, in a lot of ways it's probably better - the tenant isn't eating your food, or taking up space in your bathroom.
posted by corb at 3:02 PM on November 26, 2023 [4 favorites]


What are you really out if someone overstays and isn't paying rent in an apartment that was already part of your house, which you were already paying for? Is it actually financially any worse than having a family member come to stay and not contribute to the rent?

I would hope that we can all differentiate between people choosing how and when to support family members or friends, and the cost of free housing being randomly dumped on landlords by deceit or by breaching leases/contracts. If housing is a right, then we should ALL share the cost of providing it to those who can't afford it.

The economics of the average homeowner offering a rentable space are often precarious in themselves. Often, the rent income from that space is critical to affordability; it's a common scheme to make an otherwise unaffordable mortgage cost barely affordable. I wonder how many new spaces have recently come onto the market because current interest rates have jacked up previously affordable mortgate payments.
posted by Artful Codger at 3:39 PM on November 26, 2023


Often, the rent income from that space is critical to affordability; it's a common scheme to make an otherwise unaffordable mortgage cost barely affordable.

I had some friends who (quite a few years ago now) bought a lovely big old house that was closer to both of their works. An understandable desire, but they could only afford that by renting out their old house until it sold. (Which took a while because their realtor also served as their property manager, which is a whole separate issue unrelated to any tenants and seemed quite shady to me.) But, specifically, their finances required continual occupancy - no planning for making any repairs or doing a deep clean between tenant, for example, and no leeway to work with tenants if the tenants’ finances were unexpectedly tight in a given month. That was setting themselves up structurally to be exploitative landlords. In my friends’ case, I suspect they were getting bad advice from the realtor/property manager company; but they were also both competent adults (highly educated professionals, even) who, ultimately, were responsible for making a financial decision that required at least a slightly exploitative approach to being landlords to make it work in even the best case scenario.

We all have to survive under capitalism, which almost always forces us to participate in some exploitation of others (eg. it’s pretty hard to never ever buy food that has in some way at some point in its processing chain involved some shady or harmful labor practices). But I believe that doing what we can to minimize the ways in which we are exploiting others - or at least not actively choosing to engage in more exploitation - is the right thing to do. I’ve never seen a situation where someone’s only option for being housed required them to be a landlord. I’m quite confident in saying that taking on a mortgage that one can only barely afford due to structurally setting oneself up to exploit others is both a poor financial decision and (to me) a poor ethical decision.

(Humans vary so there have undoubtedly been a handful of exceptions to that, like maybe someone is only able to find accessible housing that meets their physical health needs when they have the sort of control over their own space that comes from home ownership. But there are still ways of ameliorating the need to be exploitative, like setting up a co-op or something.)
posted by eviemath at 5:39 PM on November 26, 2023 [2 favorites]


Who would choose to rent out a basement flat in their residence...?

i know one such couple who made exactly that choice and they really turned me on to the culinary solution to housing issues advocated upthread
posted by busted_crayons at 5:48 PM on November 26, 2023


I think eviemath nails it - comparisons to healthcare/health insurance are facile, since healthcare is a human basic need, having excess space to rent out is not. If you can't do it responsibly and compassionately, you shouldn't do it at all.
posted by Dysk at 1:19 AM on November 27, 2023 [2 favorites]


Eviemath / Dysk - I'm not sure we disagree, fundamentally - remember I wasn't the one who brought up the insurance angle. It was clear people who were bringing it up had zero experience and expertise in the topic and I just corrected some misconceptions.

I also agree that there's no expectation that any business - like opening a grocery store - should turn a profit.

What I am saying is that if the conditions for running the business is crappy - high risk, high taxes and costs which aren't remedied by insurance. Due to tax incidence theory, at least some - if not the outright majority - of those costs will fall onto the customer. Imagine running a cafe where there was a risk a rogue customer could shut down all revenue for 9 months straight - what prices might they have to charge normally?

I'm not making a moral judgement about what either the landlord or tenant deserve, I'm pointing out the frictions in the system incurs high costs to both landlords, and many populist suggestions (load up landlords with additional taxes and risk) will directly increase the cost of renting and reduce the availability of rentals. Reducing these frictions will make it a more competitive market with overall lower margins and lower costs, as more rentals (like newpotato's) will appear on the market.

I've always said being a landlord is an awful business model due to concentration of risk - it's like taking $1 million and putting that all into one company on the stock market. You're supposed to diversity, buy an index fund that spreads the funds between 100-200 different companies, so the failure or bankruptcy of a single company doesn't ruin you.

As Artful Codger pointed out, these costs should be shared between everyone in society. I'll get to the point in a bit, I promise -

I don't think individual comprehensive insurance can ever work, because a tenant and landlord could collude to scam the insurer (in a way that you can't scam health insurance to get money out of it, not easily anyway)

Eviemath, you mention "Many other industries require business owners to carry some form of business insurance." My experience is that large businesses self insure for many things - like we have a fleet of thousands of work vehicles, we self insure them - insurance premiums is always the average cost of claims + profit margin and administration fees, by self insuring we skip paying the profit margin and administration fees. We have enough cars that the risk averages itself out.

I feel like, perhaps the utopian solution is having the government run the rental market and outlawing private rentals. If you have an extra property, you lease it to the government for $X per year, with say minimum 3 year terms, then the government rents it out to a tenant. The government will self insure for any issues like non-payment of rent or damage and spread that cost out among all participants in the scheme, and if circumstances change (eg a property comes off the market at the end of the term) the government will pay moving costs for the tenant to get into a similar rental nearby. Actually, this sounds like something the Singaporean government might come up with if they didn't already have an 89% home ownership rate due to their HDB scheme...

That way you completely separate the private landlord from the tenant - so a crappy landlord can't negatively impact their tenants, and the provision of housing is done to the standard that the government sets.
posted by xdvesper at 3:20 AM on November 27, 2023


I live in an area where decades of buy-to-let demand gas pushed house prices up enough to push more people into renting, while simultaneously pushing rental prices up (gotta cover mortgage expenses and get a premium, this is an investment after all) so you'll forgive me for not being particularly interested in encouraging landlording, or being too upset at policies or ideas that might lead them to reconsider their participation.
posted by Dysk at 3:53 AM on November 27, 2023 [3 favorites]


Often, the rent income from that space is critical to affordability; it's a common scheme to make an otherwise unaffordable mortgage cost barely affordable.

Right, and what I'm saying is that I don't think that should exist. I don't think people should be buying houses with unaffordable mortgages with the idea that they will rent out a portion of it to make their mortgage affordable, because that basically puts people in a state of desperation where if the rental isn't profitable, they risk not being able to make their own mortgage payment. People should buy the house they can afford easily under their own existing income, not try to gamble on the rental scheme being some kind of one neat trick to beat the rat race.

The broader point I suppose is that I don't think people who can barely make ends meet should be masquerading as capitalists. If you don't own capital, you shouldn't be making a profit from the fact that discriminatory lenders will give you a loan but not the schmucks you're renting to. Honestly, I think a lot of people should be genuinely ashamed of themselves for taking advantage of that shitty situation to not only build their equity but profiting off of it.

Actually, there would be a rental reform I would support - either you can't rent out property if you still have a mortgage on the building, or you can't rent out the property for more than the amount of the mortgage payment. And yes, you still have to repair and upkeep the building that you are gaining equity on from other people's payments.
posted by corb at 5:13 AM on November 27, 2023 [4 favorites]


eviemath, Dysk, corb - i applaud your compassion for the struggling renter, but none of your ideals will do anything to encourage more homeowners to rent out space. Supply is the single biggest market lever to improve affordability; more apartments means more competition for tenants means lower rents.

Xdvesper - as I was pondering the issue, I too thought that maybe all rentals could be registered with the government, who would use the info to keep tabs on both landlords and tenants. They would receive tenant complaints and lean on landlords to make needed repairs, and they would compensate landlords for missed payments, and then collect from the violating tenants, where feasible.

Then I recalled the stories about it currently taking a half year or more to get the government to investigate tenant complaints, or it taking 9 months and tons of effort to evict a nonpaying tenant.. ..so maybe moar bureaucracy isn't the solution...

To improve affordability, we need more rental spaces, not less.
posted by Artful Codger at 7:12 AM on November 27, 2023


Supply is the single biggest market lever to improve affordability

Yes, and buy-to-let landlords aren't actually adding supply, just pushing the overheads on it up. If you're building apartment blocks, sure, but those guys aren't vetting ruined by a bad tenant or two. The property market here is hugely overinflated in no small part because of the excess demand from investors. House prices coming down would mean fewer people stuck in a rental trap they don't want to be in, and lower rents for dedicated rental property, as it competes with a cheaper housing market.

"more landlords!" is not the solution, is not the same as "more houses", it just means the same number of houses owned by fewer people.
posted by Dysk at 7:25 AM on November 27, 2023 [3 favorites]


"more landlords!" is not the solution, is not the same as "more houses", it just means the same number of houses owned by fewer people

Do you need us to point out the error in this statement?
posted by Artful Codger at 7:56 AM on November 27, 2023


Often, the rent income from that space is critical to affordability; it's a common scheme to make an otherwise unaffordable mortgage cost barely affordable.

Right, and what I'm saying is that I don't think that should exist.


You don't have to worry about that, because it barely does exist if it exists at all. The vast majority of the people currently buying houses in the US have higher incomes, better credit ratings, and more money than ever before, with near historic lows in foreclosure, even as prices have risen astronomically. People adding an ADU is overall tiny in number and the people who are doing it do it because they want to, not because they need to.

Of course these stats mean that everyone else is forced into renting, if they don't have high incomes and great credit scores.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:06 AM on November 27, 2023 [1 favorite]


Do you need us to point out the error in this statement?

Apparently yes. But try being a little more condescending with it, I'm not sure I quite understand just how much of an idiot you think I am.

"More landlords" has meant a steady increase in housing costs here across the board, rental or no. The housing bubble here has been driven largely by investment - people buying houses to rent them out. It has priced an increasing number of people out of purchasing, leading to increased rental demand, while property prices (and this the amount of expense buy-to-let landlords need to cover) skyrocket. Home ownership is falling, while rental costs increase. "More landlords" has a proven track record of doing the exact opposite of what you claim in anything but the shortest of terms, in anything but the smallest of pictures.
posted by Dysk at 8:11 AM on November 27, 2023 [1 favorite]


I thought we were discussing the pros and cons of homeowners renting out a part of their own house, but now you're going on about buy-to-let investor-owners.

Maybe the failure here is mine; i can't see how "more landlords" is equivalent to "fewer people" owning more properties.

The_Vegetables: The vast majority of the people currently buying houses in the US have higher incomes, better credit ratings, and more money than ever before, with near historic lows in foreclosure, even as prices have risen astronomically. People adding an ADU is overall tiny in number and the people who are doing it do it because they want to, not because they need to.

The real-estate market includes people moving towns, or up- or -downsizing, as their needs change. But if you look just at first-timers looking for a starter home, more of these buyers are looking at including a rental suite as part of the equation. At least that's what I've been hearing.

Anyway this is getting into the weeds. My only relevant point is that if there were more rental units on the market, landlords would have to compete harder for tenants, etc etc. More rentals at more affordable prices would arguably lead to more people feeling less driven to purchasing a house, possibly removing some of the heat there too.
posted by Artful Codger at 8:41 AM on November 27, 2023


Maybe the failure here is mine; i can't see how "more landlords" is equivalent to "fewer people" owning more properties.

More people buying excess property, meaning property is concentrated in fewer people's hands. More landlords means fewer owner-occupiers.

Buy-to-let landlords are the only ones who can end up on the hook for anything in my jurisdiction. Lodgers have very few rights. "Landlord" does not generally refer to people who have lodgers here, but people renting out properties.
posted by Dysk at 8:53 AM on November 27, 2023 [1 favorite]


But if you look just at first-timers looking for a starter home, more of these buyers are looking at including a rental suite as part of the equation. At least that's what I've been hearing.

ADUs are getting lots of press, but the reality is that LA is the #1 ADU city in the US by far, at around 12-20k units added (most of which to existing homes, and 50/50 to people who have paid off homes) per year. LA is the 2nd largest city in the US. US new housing production is 1 million+ units per year, an unconstrained major metro builds 50-80k units per year, so 12k in one metro is like ~20% of new housing production - not bad.

The north east is around #2, 5-6k units per year. Almost every other city in the US? 100 units or less. The hype doesn't match production, because most people don't actually want to be a landlord, and the people who would most be helped by an ADU renter don't have the money to build one.

My only relevant point is that if there were more rental units on the market, landlords would have to compete harder for tenants, etc etc.
Completely agree with this. I don't think "investors" as a whole are having any impact on housing or rental rates in the US, but that's at a macro level. At a microlevel, some neighborhoods may be experiencing major investor-led purchasing, and it's very possible it's occurring in neighborhoods that normal construction levels (as opposed to constrained) at market-rate pricing will never help.
posted by The_Vegetables at 9:45 AM on November 27, 2023


i applaud your compassion for the struggling renter, but none of your ideals will do anything to encourage more homeowners to rent out space.

So actually, they would, if people would adopt and internalize them more broadly. If we were encouraging homeowners to see renting out space at a reasonable rate as more of a socially upstanding thing that can help bring in some extra bucks rather than as a ticket to upward mobility, I think we would actually see more people renting out space, which would actually lower pressure on the overall housing market. Because as I said above, a lot of these risks that people talk about are more a state of mind than an actual financial risk, and states of mind can be changed by social approbation. If we started talking about these risks as more of an annoyance than a dire life altering thing to be scared of, we would change the social norms and encourage more people to do this.

Because here's the thing - when this happened to me and my renter started being a "problem renter", I had a social structure that supported my not being an asshole about it. I had a social support network that was able to be like, "Oh man, that sucks, well, we'll help you do repairs when they leave." I had a social support network that actually came together to help find a different situation for the renter that let them feel comfortable leaving, and we worked out a mutually agreeable situation to the renter leaving without an eviction. Because here's the thing - with me not being an asshole, the person didn't feel great about being an asshole to me, and they did the best that they could under the circumstances they were living under. So actually, my ideals helped me tangibly minimize the risk. When someone else came over that had a similar situation, they were shocked that the damage was so minor - because again, it was entirely unintentional, because the person didn't want to be a dick to me.

I think it would have been harder if I had a social support network that was constantly talking to me about how I had a FREELOADER and CONTRACT BREAKER staying in my home, that was agitating me about it and working me up constantly until I felt on the knife's edge. If I had different ideals and had to go through an adversarial eviction process, which would have encouraged the renter to dig in their heels and pull fuck-you moves.

But yeah - people doing it like I did it are never going to get rich, are never going to buy second homes and rise a socioeconomic class just based on other people renting from them. And to do it that way, you have to be okay with that.
posted by corb at 10:12 AM on November 27, 2023 [4 favorites]


People who seem to be holding the misconception that housing can only be provided by private landlords while assuming that those of us who express different values around landlord choices must be somehow naive or ignorant is… something.
posted by eviemath at 11:14 AM on November 27, 2023 [3 favorites]


People who seem to be holding the misconception that housing can only be provided by private landlords while assuming that those of us who express different values around landlord choices must be somehow naive or ignorant is… something.

Oh, ffs.

> housing can only be provided by private landlords
I've never said or implied that. I've even specifically said, in this thread, that I think that government should be a provider of affordable or crisis housing, and/or subsidies and/or other supports, to meet this very real need. I love co-op housing. We definitely need more of it.

All I've been objecting to was your insistence that YOUR (actually OUR) values around housing must be supported and paid-for by private landlords, that they should just suck it up when tenants default. No. There's a social responsibility to ensure shelter for all, and we all have to be ready to pony up for it.

Regardless, the private sector, whether it's a conglomerate owning towers, or a couple offering a granny flat in their basement, makes up most of the rental stock. We seem to all agree that more available places to rent would be generally a good thing. So - your aim to dump MORE risk and responsibility onto landlords, especially the homeowner offering a flat in their residence - how does that increase supply?

This is my objection to your proposal. But don't let me stop you doing whatever you want with your own house.
posted by Artful Codger at 11:40 AM on November 27, 2023 [1 favorite]


My proposal… that landlord should have insurance, and I don’t have much sympathy for those who don’t? Or that people who have other options shouldn’t set themselves up to exploit other people? That more housing should be non-market and under democratic control in some way or another? What proposal are we talking about here, and are you sure you’re correctly interpreting my statements about my personal values?
posted by eviemath at 1:09 PM on November 27, 2023 [2 favorites]


If you're saying it's exploitation to offer a place for rent, and to want to get paid for doing so, and it's incumbent on landlord insurance to pick up the burden of supporting those who don't have, or lose the ability to pay for housing, then we will probably not agree on much here. I won't bother y'all further unless asked.
posted by Artful Codger at 2:04 PM on November 27, 2023


That more housing should be non-market and under democratic control in some way or another?

In the US, Faircloth Rules enacted under Bill Clinton set limits on the max number of social housing units subsidized by the Federal Government on a per-city basis, and removed a rule that required 1-1 replacement of removed units, so most cities are way below their federal subsidized max number of federally subsidized housing units, which are low to begin with. And destroying more than building.

Without serious legislative changes, Federal Subsidy is limited and local or state-sponsored subsidized housing is low due to budget constraints and due to local control issues.


So that's why subsidized social housing is not competing with private landlords, and since it was enacted by Democrats and recently Republicans have leaned into NIMBY to chase the suburban voter, who is going to legislate for more subsidized housing?
posted by The_Vegetables at 2:29 PM on November 27, 2023 [4 favorites]


And, as I’ve noted multiple times now, that lack of social housing is one of the causes of the current housing crises in North America.
posted by eviemath at 3:01 PM on November 27, 2023 [1 favorite]


lack of social housing is one of the causes of the current housing crises in North America

...yes! Agreed.
posted by Artful Codger at 3:07 PM on November 27, 2023 [2 favorites]


If it helps you landlords feel any better, I’m against the P3 model (public-private partnerships - privatizing profit while socializing risk) in general, not just in this specific instance of someone choosing to use their capital to invest/go into business in an area with known, predictable risks that they just happen to not like or agree with, instead of an investment or business with risks that don’t upset them as much. If something is a public good, it is more efficient and almost always more effective to spend our public money on it directly instead.

But I also want to return to another detail I mentioned a couple times already upthread, that seems to have gotten forgotten: co-ops. Say there is someone who really really wants a particular house that they can’t actually afford, but which has a secondary apartment in it. Instead of becoming a landlord, they could mitigate their personal financial risk by setting the building up as a co-op. Yes, that would mean that whoever ends up living in the other unit gets some say in running things… but that’s a social expectations problem, as corb was describing. Viola, not social housing, yet also not setting themselves up for an exploitative landlord situation. There is a choice in this, in which case it’s fair to evaluate the ethics of the choice made.
posted by eviemath at 4:15 PM on November 27, 2023 [4 favorites]


The idea of setting up a co-op is neat in theory -- I often daydream about the idea of communal housing, for example, where single women could form intentional community and age in place while supporting each other.

In practice, I would be shocked if anyone could find someone to go in with them on a single house co-op, get the legal paperwork done, and get a mortgage in the timeframe in which one buys houses in anywhere but the most depressed housing markets. In most jurisdictions, I'd be surprised if banks would paper that mortgage at all.

I could imagine a future where there are turnkey solutions for that exist -- see my daydreams above -- but it would take a level of serious sophistication to manage it now.
posted by jacquilynne at 4:40 PM on November 27, 2023


I’m against the P3 model (public-private partnerships - privatizing profit while socializing risk) in general,

I'm not proposing that though. This would be a scheme that would spread out the risks from one landlord to all landlords. It wouldn't be socialized to renters or anyone else who wasn't a landlord.

The other risk mitigation measure is improving the dispute resolution system, which would benefit tenants more than landlords - as another posted mentioned, the "percentage of tenants taking lousy landlords to court rather than the other way around was roughly 9:1." The current system serves no one well.

Or, we could just continue with the current system, where - like any business - the costs associated with systemic risks affecting the industry which cannot be mitigated ultimately get passed onto the customer.
posted by xdvesper at 3:32 AM on November 28, 2023 [1 favorite]


This would be a scheme that would spread out the risks from one landlord to all landlords. It wouldn't be socialized to renters or anyone else who wasn't a landlord.

Isn't that exactly what landlord's insurance does? You pay the premiums to not end up the guy with no payments for a year because of a bad tenant. The cost isn't borne by the guy who ends up with the bad tenant, but by landlords collectively through insurance costs.
posted by Dysk at 3:51 AM on November 28, 2023 [1 favorite]


I was probably a bit too one sided in my characterization - but I think (my opinion) is that by design these policies cannot comprehensively cover all the costs because of moral hazard that other kinds of insurance aren't subjected to. The government can do it, because it's consolidating both parties - deciding who to rent to, and providing the self-insurance.

Eg for car insurance, you need to show a wrecked car and you get paid out for it - there's no way to turn it into a financial advantage. Same for having a heart attack and going to the hospital for surgery. You can buy comprehensive cover for those events with no out of pocket expenses, you just pay higher premiums.

But for landlord insurance, you could collude with a friend, rent the property to him for say $30,000 for a year, but he doesn't pay you the rent, you claim he's defaulted, you collect $30,000 from the insurance agency, and your friend gives you say $15,000 on the side, and he's benefited $15,000 and you've benefited $15,000.

Allianz for example covers a maximum of A$10,000 for rental default, even if the actual amount is much greater.

I must admit that these facts are continually changing as we emerge out of Covid, there was a period during Covid where no landlord insurance providers were willing to provide ANY rental default cover whatsoever because the situation was so volatile it was impossible to price such policies. Particularly because the government banned evictions during that time. I do note it's getting better - some better policies have come on the market since then (the $10,000 Allianz policy was less, previously) so this negates the point I'm making. This is good thing for everyone, though!

There's often a significant excess charged (similar to the lowest tier car insurance or health insurance so you'd be several thousand out of pocket) plus court / legal fees which aren't covered.

There's also significant time off the market (it could take 3 months between evicting a tenant and getting all repairs done) which isn't covered. Cleaning costs aren't covered either, which could be significant - I got quoted several thousand dollars for cleaning and removal of rubbish.

Like comprehensive car insurance, it's pretty well established that it doesn't cover damage if the driver was deliberately reckless - but then you end up having to fight and prove that. There are landlord insurance polices that in this same way don't cover damage that is done maliciously (obviously, you can fight them on it, but, it's a shitfight, some say they cover malicious damage, but in tiny text maybe they don't, so it's all buyer beware)

Anyway, I'll walk back what I said. I do agree the alternative isn't "do nothing" it's "build more social housing" but that's a solution on the scale of 20 years and today is probably the absolute worst time to try and do it with the extreme shortage of building material and labor that we're experiencing. Build times have blown out like crazy. It only took my builder 6 months to build a terrific house a few years ago, now it's taking over a year, some people I know started 3 years ago and still haven't reached completion due to hundreds of builders going bankrupt. If the government tries to push through more building right now, there's basically no capacity for it - everyone is tapped out.

In the end the government will end up paying 30% more to build the same houses, and it will be substitutional rather than incremental housing that gets built.
posted by xdvesper at 4:43 AM on November 28, 2023 [1 favorite]


My ire isn't against people who are renting out rooms in their house, or a person who owns a duplex and lives on one side, and their tenants in the other. My ire is for individuals who own property they don't live in*. I am not going to feel sorry for people who buy housing as a investment scheme or a way to gain equity. If you have the ability to do that, then no, I won't feed bad if you get a shitty tenant because that is part of the risk. You risk renting to bad tenants as well as excellent ones, but you chose to do that. I will not feel sorry if your investment portfolio is struggling because as others have pointed out: an evicted tenant will have a harder time to finding a home than a person who owns a few. (Oh no! You may have to sell! Well, that's part of the deal.)

*inherited properties are fuzzy; I mean, I'd still put you in a higher class than me if you have one and still keep it by renting it.

Also, I hate corporate landlords too but I expect that behaviour from a corporation in terms of mercenary gain.
posted by Kitteh at 5:43 AM on November 28, 2023 [3 favorites]


Rental housing is one of the few businesses where the landlord is legally required to keep providing the service even to non-paying tenants, til a government bureaucracy gets around to reviewing the landlord's request to evict them. It can take a half year or more, a few trips to your lawyer, hearings, court and finally the sheriff's office. It takes several months, and can cost around CDN$2500 plus the lost rent, in my neck of the woods. After the eviction, they face more courts and costs if they ever hope to collect money owed, or damages.

But no I'm not concerned about corporations or professional invest-to-let landlords, or upscale rentals. (in case that wasn't clear). Hell yeah they can insure themselves. I thought we were discussing tenants for whom housing is precarious or unaffordable. And in particular, since the lowest-priced market rental housing to be found is often flats or rooms in someone's home, the situation for those small landlords. These landlords aren't going to found a property empire from renting out a basement flat. No gold toilets in their future. Losing several months rent plus the cost and hassle of an eviction would hit hard. Yet we're expecting them to house the tenants most likely to have financial issues.

It seems that nobody here but me is concerned about the current crisis-level shortage of affordable rentals, or what could be done ASAP to address it. Yes, building more social housing projects or co-ops or geared-to-income housing would be lovely, but that takes years, not to mention a sea-change in government attitude. Conversions or creating rental suites in existing residences are the fastest ways to increase the supply NOW.

So, why wouldn't we want to incentivize more homeowners to create and offer affordable rental accommodations in their homes? For example, I envision some sort of registry where the owner lists the rentable accommodations, and if it meets standards for suitability and price, the government matches them with a tenant, and agrees to backstop the landlord if the tenant's finances hit a temporary or permanent rough patch. There are probably programs like this already.
posted by Artful Codger at 8:20 AM on November 28, 2023 [1 favorite]


If I had a house with a basement apartment, I could set up the house as a co-op in under six months and share that space more democratically. People with such spaces choosing not to do so is, as corb pointed out, a problem of cultural or social expectations, not the regulatory environment. People with basement apartments who could afford to rent them out as a social good, in the manner corb described (or like an excellent former landlady I had who kept her apartment rent geared toward her actual mortgage and upkeep costs, assuming some proportion of the mortgage herself), but don’t is likewise a problem of cultural or social expectations, not the regulatory environment. People buying houses with basement apartments that they can only afford with unrealistic expectations for rental income is a problem of poor individual financial decisions, not the regulatory environment. If such a person sees their house purchase at least in part as an investment, but wants public money to backstop the risk of rental income loss, that’s socialization of risk on a private investment. Are you proposing that we also socialize rental income profit to cover such socialized risk? ‘Cause I’d be on board with that. It’s the private profit-socialized risk model that I’m opposed to.

(Reminder, because it often seems to come up as a point of confusion in such discussions: profit = income - expenses. Income in this case would be rental income, while expenses would include mortgage costs, maintenance costs, capital replacement costs (i.e. share of stuff like roof replacement, window and door replacement, siding replacement or re-surfacing, wiring upgrades, plumbing replacement, concrete flatwork or paving, etc. relative to the unit rented), and damage repairs.)

(On realistic expectations for rental income: in most provinces and states, one can find at least some rough data on vacancy rates and rates of lost income while a unit is occupied, though in a few cases this data is only available from landlord lobby groups, so might require purchasing a membership in the group or purchasing the data from them. If purchasing a building that has one or more units that have historically been rented out, the past data for that building should be provided by the seller. A responsible business plan or investment plan will look into the available data and take it into account.)
posted by eviemath at 9:06 AM on November 28, 2023


Here’s another solution I’d support: for anyone who has taken a gamble on buying a house above their means that they can only pay for by renting out the basement apartment who loses that gamble, the government (most likely at the provincial/state level) will buy out the share of their mortgage represented by the basement apartment. House becomes a condo shared with the government, the public actually gets something of capital value for the expenditure of public funds, initial homeowner now only responsible for paying the share of the original mortgage represented by their own unit in the house. Bonus side benefit: increased political pressure (from those original homeowners, who are now condo co-shares) for adequately funding maintenance and upkeep of public housing stock.

Variation on this idea: government buys out the whole mortgage, but original homeowner has preferential rights as a tenant - perhaps a long-term or even lifetime lease option.
posted by eviemath at 9:46 AM on November 28, 2023 [1 favorite]


(Heck, we could even do that for anyone whose mortgage goes under, assuming some reasonable limitations on over-valued houses (so, something like the limits on FDIC deposit insurance in the US), forestalling any repeats of the 2008 mortgage crisis.)
posted by eviemath at 9:53 AM on November 28, 2023


I could set up the house as a co-op in under six months and share that space more democratically. People with such spaces choosing not to do so is, as corb pointed out, a problem of cultural or social expectations, not the regulatory environment.

My career only briefly included stints in management roles (I sucked at it), but my wife has been on the boards of a few arts organizations. Our boat club has a board. And my parents' condo has a board. From these and other experiences observing organizational behaviour, I've seen that it's rare to have successful small cooperative arrangements like that. Of course, you might be the exception. There's a big 15 yr old multi-storey co-op development at the end of our street that's going well, and I'm aware of a few co-ops downtown that are thriving and have waitlists. I believe that housing co-ops need a certain minimum size, rules and careful direction, and a plurality of input and effort to be successful and long-lasting.

And your suggested sort of individual landlord altruism doesn't (yet) scale, much as we'd like it to.

People buying houses with basement apartments that they can only afford with unrealistic expectations for rental income is a problem of poor individual financial decisions, not the regulatory environment. If such a person sees their house purchase at least in part as an investment, but wants public money to backstop the risk of rental income loss, that’s socialization of risk on a private investment.

I don't quite get the hate for small landlords. A rental suite helps the new homeowner carry the place, and to pay down the mortgate a bit faster. Everybody here in the west is encouraged to save for retirement; some have chosen property as their investment vehicle. Their retirement gets funded by selling the income property, or by relying on steady rental income. This has been going on forever, and usually provides a modest return; it's only this recent freak period of absurdly low interest and accompanying price increases that have made big windfalls in property investment possible. (It can't last, btw. There will be some big corrections too, which will wipe out many investors. If that's any comfort.)

You don't seem to acknowledge the need for more affordable spaces NOW. I'm only pointing out possible reasons why people don't want to offer space in their home for renters - especially precarious ones - and putting forward the idea of incentivizing more homeowners to offer rental space, by helping reduce their risk when housing those most in need of it. The government is going to be throwing money at the problem anyway; what I'm suggesting could put more units on the market quickly, and possibly at a lower cost. If it turns out that renters don't actually default often (it's proven that people with secure housing do better) and the few temporary misses are managed so that the tenant doesn't get evicted for a temporary default, then it's possibly win-win-win for the tenant, landlord and government. Unhoused people are expensive.
posted by Artful Codger at 10:03 AM on November 28, 2023


From these and other experiences observing organizational behaviour, I've seen that it's rare to have successful small cooperative arrangements like that.

As an anecdotal support, my aunt and uncle live in a 'condo' that is shared between them and the neighbouring house where the only thing the two properties share is about 15 square feet of pavement where their driveways overlap and still, because of the legal realities of being a condo instead of freehold homes, they spent the better part of a year locked in a legal battle with those neighbours over how to insure the properties. It only ended when the neighbours sold out. Which is the other side of the stability coin -- yes, it gives a person more protection than being a tenant, but it means getting out, if necessary, has its own high costs.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:41 AM on November 28, 2023 [1 favorite]


I haven’t yet addressed your allegation, Artful Codger, that I’m not talking about providing more housing now because it shows that you haven’t read all of my comments, nor understood them; but pointing this out gets into the sort of individual back-and-forth that the mods request we avoid.

We should indeed be spending (much more) public money on providing housing. We should be doing so in ways that will be effective and reasonably efficient, which means instead of just throwing money into a hole hoping that it will encourage people whose economic interests generally don’t structurally align with the goal of housing for all to do the right thing, instead buying actual houses and directly ensuring that they are made available to be as fully occupied as possible, in addition to building more new public housing (which does take time, as you say, though there are ways to alleviate some of the labor shortage or materials cost sticking points, except that governments focused on purely market solutions don’t like or consider such options - but while the best time to build new public housing would have been over the past 20-30 years, the second best time is now!). To reiterate another thing I’ve said previously, I oppose the P3 model in general. This means that I oppose handouts to large developers and small landlords alike.

It is also my value, as I’ve said, that we should encourage more cooperative housing and community land trust-provided housing (more democratic structures) over private multi-unit holdings. Governments could encourage this, as they have in the past, by providing both organizational and financial resources to interested groups. This could include financial resources to purchase currently available multi-unit housing to ensure that all units are used for housing, not just financial resources for new construction. A co-op or community land trust could own multiple houses in a town or region that each have a secondary apartment or two, for example. This is all stuff I’ve already advocated for upthread. Perhaps slightly elaborated on - but check your assumptions if you didn’t see this on reading my previous comments. As folks have noted, the organizational support is needed as well. This includes help with initial legal setup, but also help with the ins and outs of working together with neighbours, effective (and proactive) mediation and dispute resolution, etc. (‘Cause yes, despite the fact that we live in democracies and our schools are theoretically supposed to help prepare kids to be effective and engaged citizens as adult, most people get shockingly little education or training in effective group work techniques and mediation and dispute resolution.)
posted by eviemath at 10:53 AM on November 28, 2023 [1 favorite]


Perhaps there is a gap in legislation somewhere if this is true:

As an anecdotal support, my aunt and uncle live in a 'condo' that is shared between them and the neighbouring house where the only thing the two properties share is about 15 square feet of pavement where their driveways overlap and still, because of the legal realities of being a condo instead of freehold homes, they spent the better part of a year locked in a legal battle with those neighbours over how to insure the properties.

That sounds like a problem you could likely legislate or regulate for. Britain for example manages to have terraces and semi-detached, over-and-under flats, townhouse flat conversions, etc. without this being an endemic problem.
posted by Dysk at 11:01 AM on November 28, 2023 [1 favorite]


I haven’t yet addressed your allegation, Artful Codger, that I’m not talking about providing more housing now because it shows that you haven’t read all of my comments, nor understood them...

Your most recent posts have helped clarify your views, and I don't think we're really that far apart, except for the role of small landlords as a fast route to meeting some of the current demand for housing. I think there's potential there, you apparently don't, and you've made good arguments.

I'd love to hear feedback from others as well, if they have an opinion on it.
posted by Artful Codger at 12:07 PM on November 28, 2023


I don't quite get the hate for small landlords. A rental suite helps the new homeowner carry the place, and to pay down the mortgate a bit faster. Everybody here in the west is encouraged to save for retirement; some have chosen property as their investment vehicle.

There are many reasons, but allow me to introduce you to the problem of what is known as racial capitalism. It has a lot of aspects, but one of them is the ways in which the wealth and equity acquired through homeownership has been kept from people of color, who have been largely kept as permanent renters through loan policies, both of redlining, which you are probably familiar with, and discriminatory-impact credit policies, which you may not be.

In short: it is far easier for white would-be homeowners to qualify for home mortgage loans - and larger ones - than their counterparts of color. They are less policed than their counterparts of color, have higher educational backgrounds than their counterparts of color, have higher incomes and more stable employment than their counterparts of color, are carrying less members of their family than their counterparts of color, and are facing less discriminatory credit practices than their counterparts of color.

This means that often, white people have the choice to take on a mortgage loan, while people of color even of equal incomes are stuck renting, often at higher prices than it would have been to purchase the property outright.

To participate in this system is to participate in a system that is built on the exploitation of people of color. I don't have any other way to say it. I'm sorry, I'm sure it makes a lot of people very uncomfortable, I'm sure a lot of landlords are right now thinking "But my renters are white, this doesn't apply to me", but if you are white and get a mortgage in a system that discriminates against people of color, with the intention of renting out a portion of your home (or worse, a second home) to people who can't get a mortgage of their own, you are taking part in a system built on that exploitation, and yes, some of us do not think that is ethical.
posted by corb at 12:14 PM on November 28, 2023 [4 favorites]


I don't think we're really that far apart

I think there is a pretty large difference, actually, between being okay with using a crisis to further entrench capitalist interests (because let’s face it, while the arguments are often “but what about the small landlord”, and while there are small landlords, the policy solutions you seem to be proposing in terms of both allocation of public funds and making the regulatory environment even more friendly to landlords will benefit large landlords the most; and also, small capitalists are still capitalists) versus seeking anticapitalist solutions to the crisis, or solutions that help lessen inequality and redistribute wealth (and capital) more equitably instead of being a public transfer to those who already have enough to own real estate.
posted by eviemath at 1:04 PM on November 28, 2023 [1 favorite]


I don't quite get the hate for small landlords.

repeated experiences of capriciousness, vindictiveness, incompetence, entitlement, pettiness, and greed? resentment of having to deal with Some Asshole in order to have shelter? how many have you had?
posted by busted_crayons at 5:51 PM on November 28, 2023 [5 favorites]


Um, a few. One or two were corporations, with building managers of middling to decent competence, one a good friend, one a tradesman who rented me his basement, one a yuppie with an income property. We have been lucky; there are some horrible landlords out there. We spotted and avoided a few winners when looking at places. Finally we saved enough to put a down on a crappy house we could afford, we fixed it up, and here we still are. We didn't become landlords; just our preference.

A few of my friends have had income properties. The neighbours to either side of us are landlords. Both visible minorities, and actually nice people, but apparently this is an unusually rare coincidence.

I get it, folks. You don't like the concept of people owning places and renting them out with the goal of prospering by it. Godspeed with your plans for improving things.
posted by Artful Codger at 7:30 PM on November 28, 2023


I think it’s helpful to distinguish between structural power imbalances and individual bad behaviour.

As far as individual bad behaviour goes, small landlords have a lot more variation. Large corporate landlords tend to be bad in predictable ways based on clear economic interests. Every so often you’ll get a particularly bad individual property manager, but it’s less frequent. Medium-sized (big in a local market, but not widespread) landlords are a little worse, from everything I’ve seen - you start to get more direct racism in their policies, for example, rather than the impersonal issues from uncaring, profit-maximizing large corporations. And slumlords tend to be in this medium-sized landlord category. But still, relatively predictable failure points. Small landlords can be much better than a larger corporate landlord (eg. my two best landlords), but they can also be worse in unusual, unpredictable, or very personal ways. Assaults (physical or sexual) by landlords on tenants, or other situations where a tenant is unsafe due to something other than building maintenance issues, tend to be small landlords, for example.

That’s a separate issue from all of my previous contributions to this thread, though. When you start getting into threats to a tenant, there are other legal avenues outside of tenancy boards that can be brought in to deal with that (which can also be quite ineffective, but for different reasons), for example.
posted by eviemath at 8:08 PM on November 28, 2023 [1 favorite]


I don't quite get the hate for small landlords.

It's someone who controls aspects of your life purely by virtue if having more money than you. Especially in markets like mine, where property prices are absurd and stumping up a 20% deposit is non-trivial, small landlords tend to charge the going rent: more than their mortgage expenses. So it's someone whose retirement you're paying for little in return (remember, you're paying more than the mortgage payments every month, and you're getting no equity) and who can capriciously decide to throw you out (local laws allowing - a whole thirty days notice here, if the rules are even followed) or just make your life hell.

Every part of this equation engenders resentment.
posted by Dysk at 8:23 PM on November 28, 2023 [6 favorites]


I don't quite get the hate for small landlords

I think it's quite simple. If you're hungry, and you can't afford to buy groceries, your anger is much more diffuse - the "system" is bad, but the system is so impersonal there isn't any one person you can find to blame.

But if someone you knew was a farmer and had eggs and some veggies in his garden, and wouldn't give them to you to feed your hungry child, it feels a lot more like a personal affront, especially if you knew they didn't need the food themselves and were well fed. Same like we assume small landlords don't need the property, being an investment.

Again this changes if you're dealing with a mega corporation with 10,000 rental units, it feels less personal.

In its most uncharitable interpretation, capitalism is a system where I can call upon the violence of the state to enforce my property rights. Armed officers can be summoned to remove someone from my property (whether it's one I live in myself or one I rent out) if they violate my property rights. Of course people can be angry about such a system.

Ultimately, to me, it's a matter of asset allocation. Money has to go somewhere. You don't put all your eggs in one basket.

I could make the case that it's more ethical to invest in building houses, which expands the housing supply and lowers the cost for renters, rather than investing in banking, mining or oil and gas mega-corporations. But that's all shades of grey too: you could argue that all wealth accumulation is unethical.

If it helps, I've built and also sold a property I no longer need, so a nice couple out there is enjoying an incremental property I've added to the nation's supply rather than me renting it out.
posted by xdvesper at 6:31 AM on November 29, 2023


I'm interested in similar studies in other jurisdictions.

I wonder if there is something inherent about renting that leads to precarity or if these results are a function of the laws in the UK that perhaps favour landlords over tenants, or perhaps a culture that values home ownership as a class signifier.
posted by sid at 1:31 PM on December 5, 2023


People buying houses with basement apartments that they can only afford with unrealistic expectations for rental income is a problem of poor individual financial decisions, not the regulatory environment.

Not if the only way to afford a home is by renting out a portion. In which case this becomes a failure of policy. This is the situation in Toronto and Vancouver. It's pretty much impossible to buy a home without having some combination of generational wealth, very high income(s), or a 'mortgage helper' basement.
posted by sid at 1:43 PM on December 5, 2023 [2 favorites]


The people who buy homes they can’t afford on the plan to rent out a ‘mortgage helper’ basement apartment can’t afford to buy a home, yes, that was exactly my point.


The broader problem of home affordability is a broader and collective problem. The ethical approach (by my book) would be to work in solidarity with others who also can’t afford to buy a home on solutions that enable everyone to be adequately housed, not to work against and exploit one’s fellow home-can’t-afforders. I.e., tenant activism, not class traitors.
posted by eviemath at 9:13 PM on December 5, 2023 [2 favorites]


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