Should Torontonians push for bed bug bylaws?

Pest problems are prevalent from coast-to-coast, becoming more severe and widespread, especially in urban rental stock. Regardless of how clean and mindful you are, they sometimes can’t be avoided.

In Toronto, the city is making moves to get pest problems under control. They’re about to implement a bylaw that proactively requires landlords to instill pest control programs, prohibiting them from renting out any units riddled with pests, like cockroaches, rodents, or bed bugs.

This of course, is welcome news to tenants seeking a bug-free living environment. But, with a large chunk of Toronto rental units wallowing in infestations, putting the clamp on household pests in a busy metropolitan presents a unique dilemma.

Affordable vs. Antiseptic Housing

If the city goes forward with the bylaw, withholding properties with any signs of pests, it’ll make a tight rental stock market increasingly uncomfortable.

In Toronto’s case, while the vacancy rate today is roughly 1.3%, the waitlist for affordable housing is approaching 100,000 units. At the same time, some reports show nearly 83% of low & middle-income tenants have had cockroaches in their unit, and 30% have had bed bugs.

What does it all mean?

Going forward with the Toronto bylaw would quickly become a supply conundrum in an oversubscribed market. Landlords would be responsible for pricey extermination costs, costs that’ll likely be charged to the tenants.

Now the following fact shouldn’t be a surprise: Toronto’s rental rates are sky high. Therefore, it’s a slippery slope to scale, condemning rental units overrun with pests adds strain to an undersupplied market, but denying the bylaw would mean unsanitary living conditions where pests reign supreme.

Pest infestations are exceptionally common, says Michael Thiele, an Ottawa-based lawyer who focuses on residential landlord and tenant disputes. He once represented a client at an Ontario Rental Housing Tribunal in the early 2000s, recalling an adjudicator saying, he would be shocked if every rental building in Ottawa didn’t have a pest problem, says Thiele.

The bylaw is a start, adds Ed Bandurka, a branch manager with Orkin Pest Control. As you might expect from a pest exterminator, Bandurka agreed that buildings should have dedicated pest control programs in place with certified professionals.

Rent Safe TO

The bylaw, known as Rent Safe TO, mandates every apartment building over three storeys with 10 or more units requires an inspection by a bylaw enforcement officer. After initial assessment, and pest problems are found, they’ll ask the landlord to take care of them. If the problems persist at re-inspection, fines can reach as high as $100,000.

It’s not just a slap on the wrist, says Toronto City Councillor Josh Matlow, who introduced the bylaw. It’s a big, six-figure number to send a message that if you are going to be willfully negligent, then we’re going to hammer you.


But the problem isn’t necessarily a negligent landlord. Take it from us, some diligently try to eliminate pests, but to no avail. There’s a reason why it’s called pest control and not permanent pest annihilation, they’re wily and difficult to get rid of for good. It’s a very involved process, and landlords simply don’t have the time to manage treatments round the clock. Even with the most industrious pest control services, a cockroach for example can live for weeks without food or water, more than enough time to start reproducing again.

Rent Safe TO could be a step in the right direction, but it could also fix absolutely nothing.

If they’re going to prevent people from renting out units where there’s a pest issue that’s not being dealt with, and then they deal with it in some sense, it’s just going to be more of the same, says Ray Noyes, a tenants’ rights advocate based in Ottawa.

It’ going to be Band-Aid solutions.

Status Quo = Unacceptable

The new Toronto bylaw begins July 1, though it’ll be several years down the road before Torontonians know whether the move has stifled the city’s pest problem. If it’s effective, it may lead to other cities following suit of the super-metropolitan, adding their own bylaws or licensing programs like the ones restaurants are subjected to.

The status quo is unacceptable, says Councillor Matlow. Based on every nightmare story I’ve heard, I’m confident that the city needs stronger tools than to just say, pretty please do it. But if you have the rules and you don’t have anyone to enforce them, he adds, they have no weight.”

Should our city hold landlords accountable for safe and clean rental stock in a proactive, rather than complaint-based, way? Or are pest problems be considered almost a given in certain areas, as long as they don’t harm the well-being of tenants?

Regardless of what the future holds, Terminix Canada will continue to provide pest management services to residential and commercial buildings across the GTA, as we’ve done for over 20 years.

To learn more about our services, contact us today!