Why is the heat still on in your apartment when it’s hot outside?

Renters in Toronto are sweltering in their apartments as the weather heats up, but city bylaws to switch off heating are based on a specific date rather than temperature. Dilshad Burman with the efforts to change that.

The heat is on – literally – in many Toronto apartments, even as we pack away the parkas and gear up for patio weather.

Many renters say their apartment buildings are either still providing heating or have not switched on the air conditioning as outside temperatures climb past the low 20s.

“There was a couple of times last week where my partner and I were literally sitting with ice packs around our necks while we were working with fans pointed at us, and even then we both had headaches the whole time,” says Amanda Carreiro, who lives in a building in midtown Toronto.

She says the heat stays on until at least mid-May in her building, even if temperatures inside become uncomfortably hot.

“Our apartment is usually like 28, 29 degrees Celcius … there’s no escape from it. We’ll have the windows open, we’ll have fans going, but it’s so, so hot,” she says.

Carreiro says when residents complain to building management, they cite City of Toronto heating and property standards bylaws in response.

The heating bylaw says landlords need to maintain a minimum temperature of 21 degrees Celsius between Sept. 15 and June 1, while the property standards bylaw says if air conditioning is available in a building, it must be turned on between June 2 and Sept. 14.

While the bylaws do not speak to condominiums, many of those buildings are home to renters, and their landlords must adhere to the bylaws, so condos tend to follow the same rules.

Ray Leclair, the president of the condo corporation in his downtown Toronto building, says he’s aware that the bylaws make room for discretion to be used. The heat can be turned off and the AC can be turned on earlier if it’s hot outside, as long as it’s not less than 21 degrees inside the building. But he says condo management tends to err on the side of caution.

“We’re always left with the concern that some people on one side of the building are too hot, the other side of the building are too cold, so which one do you accommodate? And when we don’t have an answer, unfortunately we have to fall to the bylaw,” he says.

“When we are used to a lifestyle where we can switch on and turn on and off things as we wish, not being able to cool down is really a struggle,” says Yashy Murphy, who owns her unit in the same condo building.

“I’ve been living here since 2005 … it’s getting hotter and hotter [causing] even things as silly as my butter on my kitchen counter melting.”

The City of Toronto tells CityNews “every year during spring and fall, the City reminds building owners/operators, to please use their judgement. If outdoor weather raises the temperature of apartment units consistently above 21 degrees Celsius, they can consider turning the heat off.”

But Carreiro says that’s not enough as landlords and building management don’t want to risk being held responsible for any uncomfortable living conditions.

“It’s probably easier for them to just follow the bylaw,” she says.

“I really do think that they need to change the bylaw to reflect the climate change that we have now.”

“Weather patterns are changing and so the June 1, Sept. 15 dates may have been good at the time, but I’m not quite sure they’re reflective of our weather patterns now, and I’m not sure that we should have a certain date [to turn off the heat],” adds Leclair.

Efforts to overhaul the bylaw

Toronto’s city councillor for Ward 17 – Don Valley North has been championing the need for a bylaw overhaul and change in how heating and cooling requirements are triggered.

Coun. Shelley Carroll put forth a motion before council in June, 2023 to move away from a fixed date-based rule.

“We had an interesting experience last year when it was warm, early in the spring. We went to meet with tenants of three apartment buildings. And despite the fact that temperatures were now in the 80s, 90s Fahrenheit, their heat was still on. They were literally being cooked in their apartments. The room we met in was unbearable for me [and] throughout the meeting I was having trouble thinking. And that’s what happens when you have a date-based bylaw,” she says.

“Climate change is shifting our seasons, and so we have to have [the bylaw] based on the temperature itself, and that was the intent of the motion … we all know what’s livable for human beings. That’s science. We know that there’s a room temperature somewhere between 18 degrees and 23 degrees that most people live in. And beyond that, at either extreme, you’re going to actually compromise people’s health … we really need to begin to look at living conditions on the basis of temperature.”

In response to her motion, city staff are working on a report on the feasibility of moving to a temperature-based system. They’re currently in the data collection stage.

“We discovered that while people were phoning in because they felt at risk to 3-1-1, [staff] weren’t actually logging the data. So that’s what staff and public health and others are working on right now,” she says.

Carroll adds that many other related measures and plans are being studied as well.

“It [partly] comes down to the conditions of buildings — is this something that can be work order related? What are the alternatives? Do we need cooling centers? What kind of cooling centers? We have some cooling centers that really are designed to help our community experiencing homelessness, but what if you just need it for seniors?,” she says.

“What is going to be our heat plan? What is going to be our extreme cold plan? And so there are a lot of factors that need to be looked into. And what we’re saying is we’ve reached the point now in the change in the environment where all of that needs to be based on what’s the weather today? What do we need to have in place today? Not that the bylaw says ‘I don’t need to worry about this until June 1.”

The City of Toronto adds that “city staff are currently working in partnership with the C40 Cool Cities Network, an international organization of municipal representatives, to identify new options and measures to address the identified risks of high indoor temperatures on tenants and residents in multi-residential buildings.”

Carroll says city staff need until the fall to complete the report.

“We had intended to have it by the beginning of the year, but what we learned was there’s so much work to do. Staff realized we’re starting from scratch in making that shift from date to a whole new culture of how we address this. There’s also some overlap in provincial legislation and things like that. And so they need until the fall to report back on a real change, a real new system and a new regime under which we can manage landlords and tenants in these situations,” she says.

Meanwhile, Carroll says Torontonians can help in this endeavor.

“If data collection is what we’re learning to do right now, help us with that. When you phone 3-1-1 now and say ‘I’m in an unlivable situation as a tenant, they actually are going to log it, it’s going to become a part of the data that instructs us on the course of action … that comes from picking up the phone and calling 3-1-1 when you’re in that bind with the heat,” she says.

Top Stories

Top Stories

Most Watched Today