Is Toronto Commercial Property the Next Step for You?

 

A recent study predicts that commercial rents in Toronto could soar as much as 50% in the next three years. Unlike the hot residential market, Toronto’s commercial properties are priced reasonably right now due to a reasonable supply, even though Toronto currently boasts the lowest commercial vacancy rate in North America. While we are at the peak of the Toronto housing market, the commercial market isn’t nearly as hot and the time is right to snap up property before it does heat up. With rents going up so much, it will do so sooner rather than later.

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Renting Out Your Ontario Cottage: The Pros and Cons

Life gets busy. Sometimes you just aren’t able to get up to your cottage as much as you would like. And then there is the off-season – you have a property that is sitting there being completely unused. You could rent out the cottage for a week or a weekend at a time and have it make you money when you aren’t using it – but you do have to get a few ducks in a row first.

 

  1. Determine if your cottage can be rented

Renters expect a home-like experience at a cottage these days. If it doesn’t have wi-fi (and we’re talking wi-fi that can stream Netflix), the prospect of renting it out  is usually dead in the water. Bedrooms, bathrooms and the kitchen should be in good repair; if any appliances need a bump in a special spot to work, you’ll have to replace them if you want to rent out your retreat. While you can list it as a rustic spot with limited Internet, at the very least all appliances, water systems, and sewage handling should function without a page-long list of instructions.

 

  1. Talk to your insurance company

If you plan on renting out your cottage, you’ll need to clear it with your insurance company or broker and likely take out additional insurance. If any extensive damages happen to your property while you have renters in there, it may not be covered by your insurance company under your current cottage insurance plan.

 

  1. Line up local contractors

If you are in Toronto and your renters are in Muskoka Lakes, you probably don’t have the time to drive up there and fix a toilet. Line up local contractors who can preferably be contacted on weekends who can take care of fixes for you. Better yet, see if local realtors can refer you to a good property management company in the area. Be sure to line up your contractors and other services well in advance of your renter’s arrival date; cottage country isn’t like the GTA in terms of availability and they could have shuttered their business even if it’s still in the Yellow Pages.

 

  1. Take care of yourself legally

Go to a real estate lawyer and have them draw up a cottage rental contract. Be sure to talk to your insurance company first as they may have stipulations that have to go into the contract. Have the renters sign it before they get the keys. Determine how much you should take for a security deposit – standard practice is $250 or 10% of the rental fee, whichever is greater. Since this amount needs to be returned, determine if you want to charge cleaning fees or make the cleaning fee part of the rental fee itself. To determine your rental fee, look at what similarly sized cottages are renting for in your area on cottage rental websites.

Even if the tenants leave it sparkling clean, you’ll probably need to get someone to check in on the property before the next tenants arrive, so a local cleaning service may be a good idea for cleaning in-between renters. They will also be able to alert you to any damages to the property. Most cottage renters expect to pay the full amount of the rental before they get the keys, and to have their security deposit refunded within two weeks of their last day. If there are damages above and beyond the security deposit, your contract can demand that they be paid, but the matter will likely end up in a small claims court if there is a dispute.

To avoid disputes, it is best practice to get timestamped photos of each room, and particularly the kitchen and bathroom, before the keys are handed over. This will help your case if a tenant tries to claim damage was there when they got there.

 

  1. Vet your renters right

AirBNB is easy to use – but it doesn’t let you properly vet your renters before you hand over the keys. There are a number of cottage rental websites – including cottagerental.com – that allow you direct contact with your renters. If you have the time, it is better to meet them in person than it is to deal with them over email. But since this isn’t a long-term rental situation, you are usually safe as long as you get the rental fees and security deposit in advance.

 

  1. Don’t do long-term rentals if you can avoid it

Renting out your cottage for a week or weekend at a time isn’t a big deal. Renting it out for a matter of months to a year puts you squarely in landlord territory, which means that the Residential Tenancy Act applies and you are on the hook for repairs, complaints, and much more. If you want to seriously pursue renting your cottage long-term, contact a property management company local to your cottage to discuss it with them. A long-term rental will also incur additional insurance costs, so you should also contact your insurance company if you are considering this to get a quote.

 

If you’re looking into a rental or investment property in the Toronto area, contact Highgate Property Investments. We’re both Realtors and a property management company, so we’ll help you find the best income-generating property for your needs – both commercial and residential.

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Toronto Property Managers: The One-Property Landlord’s Friend  

Many people who own one or two GTA or Toronto rental properties try to “go it alone” when it comes to managing their properties. This can be for various reasons – they think they’re saving money, they think they can handle the duties of property management, or they think that property management companies only handle multi-tenant apartment buildings. All three of those notions are incorrect. (more…)

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Meet the Highgate Team: Bita Ebrahimzadeh

 

Our business simply wouldn’t run smoothly without Bita. As the Maintenance Manager, she schedules and oversees all of the work our property management clients need done to their properties, from emergency services to full renovations.

 

From Toronto to Croatia and back again

 

Bita studied Interior Design at Sheridan College and then moved to Croatia for 11 years. In Croatia, her sister and her opened a language school to teach English, German & Italian. They worked with people in the war-town country that wanted to get back on their feet. Since tourism is a major industry in Croatia, language is really important. Bita’s school taught essential language skills to people looking to rebuild their lives and start a new career. They would also teach English in big companies they had contracts with.

Bita and her sister

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The more rewarding part of Bita’s school was the social development projects they undertook voluntarily using their language training skills. This outreach included junior youth programs where the kids would attend for free and learn English while participating in different kinds of activities and trips. For outreach to adults who couldn’t afford the school, volunteers would meet them for coffee and participate in other social activities – all conducted in English – to help them learn the language.

 

After her Croatian adventure, Bita moved back in 2010, and started working for Highgate in 2012.

Communicates with owners and tenants daily

 

In her role at Highgate, she communicates with owners regarding any maintenance or repairs required for their rental properties. She also responds to tenants as well – when a tenant sees problem, she will contact the owner and work out a solution. If it is something to do with a leak or a vital service she takes care of it right away (such as a disruption of water or heat). This kind of proactive attention to detail is one of the things that make our property management service so valuable to our clients.

 

On regular or emergency jobs, she dispatches our maintenance team or licensed technicians for repairs & diagnostics. She usually acts as Project Manager, ensuring that deadlines and standards are met in the performance of the work. She also keeps a close eye on project costs, consulting with property owners each step of the way to keep costs transparent and avoid surprises.

 

If she doesn’t see that the work is being done, she gets on top of it. She’ll get photos when the work is done and send them to the owner, and enter all project costs directly into the invoicing system so she can make sure they match up with estimates.

 

Bita’s responsibilities don’t stop with maintenance. Often, property owners need renovations done before renting a property out. Her training in Interior Design (not decoration, but design – that’s an important distinction) enables her to read CAD drawings and communicate client needs to our crew and outside contractors in a way they can efficiently understand.

 

When asked about her experience at Highgate so far, Bita had this to say. “I really enjoy coming to work and the challenges – they keep me on my toes. I take every situation and turn it into an opportunity to learn, get more experience, and develop myself both in my career and as a person. We all have challenges – the most important thing to me is that I am becoming a better person each day. Dealing with tenants and clients is a great experience in dealing with people, and something that has to be approached with professionalism and sensitivity.”

 

If you ever have a problem with your rental property, Bita is standing ready to help you fix it. Our clients rest easy knowing that is the case. If you aren’t a client yet, contact us to find out how you can get Highgate – and more importantly Bita – on your team.

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How to Properly Reject Toronto Rental Applicants

A common nightmare scenario for every landlord in Toronto in the GTA renting to strangers is winding up locked in a binding contract with a tenant who is unfit for occupancy. Stories of negative tenant situations often include property damage, unclean living quarters, and in some cases harassment. Rejecting the application of a tenant can be a tricky endeavour, and doing so legally and with tact can be even more challenging. Luckily for landlords, this is a common problem and there are ways to respectfully – and legally – reject an application.

Know what you cannot do

According to Canada’s Human Rights Act of 1985, a landlord cannot reject an applicant based on any of the identified prohibited grounds of discrimination. These include application rejection based on race, origin, skin colour, religion, sex, age, sexual orientation, marital or family status, disability, and pardoned offences. Rejection of a tenant based on these grounds would result in a violation of the Canadian Human Rights Code. Technically, you also cannot require that a tenant give you their Social Insurance Number, but you can still run a credit check without it.

Know what you can do

Thankfully for rental property owners in Ontario, c. 17, s. 10 of Ontario’s Residential Tenancies Act of 2006 allows all landlords to take several things into account when considering whether to approve or reject a tenant application. These grounds include income information, credit checks and references, and rental history.

Landlords are not obligated to rent their property to every single applicant, and can reject prospective tenants based on their own concerns, as long as the reasons aren’t breaking Canada’s Human Rights Act. Before rejecting an applicant based on any criteria, it’s important to first ensure that you are doing so according to Residential Tenancies Act and the Human Rights Act in order to avoid any potential legal problems. When turning down an applicant, particularly one that you think may be a problem, be sure to give them a concrete reason (bad credit, for example) and to not elaborate any further.

Treat all applicants equally

In order to choose tenants in a fair, balanced and legal manner, all applications should be completed and processed in the same way. This means that all prospective tenants should have to submit a rental application form that includes information on their job, contact information of supervisor/manager, yearly income, previous address, previous landlord references, government identification, and any other details deemed necessary by the landlord.

Applicants should be contacted within an appropriate window of time following your decision and informed of their approval or rejection. This gives applicants time to seek out other rental opportunities, and keeps the application process fully transparent for all involved parties. This process should ideally be done in writing in order to keep a viable record – email works perfectly for these kinds of communications.

Every landlord deserves to have ideal tenants, but it’s important to keep in mind the rights of applicants and legal repercussions when deciding to reject a prospective tenant. By knowing rights and laws, treating all tenants equally and being fair and transparent, you’ll be sure to attract the right tenant without the risk of a lawsuit.

If you want to properly screen, approve, and reject your rental applicants, your best partner is a property management company like Highgate. We know all of the legal ins and outs and will handle the tenant approval process professionally and transparently. Contact us today to find out more.

 

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Toronto Real Estate Board Data Reveals Foreign Buyers, Speculation Low

Shortly after the Ontario government introduced legislation designed to curb foreign real estate buyers and real estate speculation, the Toronto Real Estate Board undertook a data analysis exercise to understand just how many foreign buyers there are in Toronto and the GTA, and just how much real estate speculation is really going on in this area. (more…)

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What Landlords Need to Know About the Ontario Rental Fairness Act

 

The day has finally come that all rental property owners have been dreading – the Residential Tenancies Act is being tightened in Ontario to make it almost entirely tenant-centric with the Rental Fairness Act. The only possible positive is the introduction of a standardized lease which will make it harder for bad tenants to wiggle out of tenancy agreements, but it is a slim silver lining.

 

No rental increases above Ontario government guidelines – including utilities

 

While it was expected that the Ontario government would roll back the 1991 rule which exempted buildings built after 1991 from rent control guidelines, the Ontario government has added an additional burden for landlords in that you can now not increase rent to allow for increased utility costs. For smaller landlords with single-dwelling properties, this means that most utilities – especially hydro – should no longer be included in rent.

 

For owners of multi-tenant properties where units are not individually metered, this is highly problematic and doesn’t seem to have any solution, apart from retrofits to submeter the property, applying to the Landlord & Tenant board for an above-guideline increase, and lobbying your MPP.

 

Applying for an above-guideline increase to the Landlord & Tenant Board

 

It is worth noting that an above-guideline increase can be no more than 3% above the guideline, which will not account for the majority of utility increases. Additionally, the tenant must agree to it. This makes an above-guideline increase hardly worth the trouble, but if your tenant is agreeable, 3% is better than nothing – especially if you have a tenant who is in your property for the long haul.

 

First, refer to our post about dealing with the Landlord & Tenant Board. Secondly, you will have to use the N10 form that you can find on this page.

 

Moving into your own property just got more expensive

 

Thanks to the small number of landlords who were using N12 forms (Notice to End Tenancy because a landlord, purchaser or family member requires the unit) for any excuse to get a bad tenant out rather than their intended purpose, moving into your own unit or selling it just got more difficult. You now need to offer another unit to your tenants or compensate them with a month’s rent, on top of the usual N12 requirements of 60 days notice (and notice must be given until the end of the month – for example if you generated the N12 on October 15, the tenant has until December 30th to move out, not December 15). Under the new guidelines, the landlord or family member has to also live in the unit for at least a year.

 

This move will only penalize landlords who actually want to use the N12 as intended – bad actors will continue to abuse it and will happily pay an extra month’s rent and risk going through a Landlord & Tenant Board hearing if a former tenant sees the unit back up for rental at a higher price in a few months and goes to the trouble of complaining to the Landlord & Tenant Board about it.

 

Why the Rental Fairness Act was implemented

 

There were a number of landlords in Toronto and the GTA that used the 1991 rule in the past year to raise rents well above guidelines, and this led to a series of investigative news reports which highlighted both the 1991 rule and the provision for landlords to take over the unit for personal use as loopholes a small number of landlords were using to either raise rent by high percentages or claim that they were evicting the tenant for personal use of the unit when they really weren’t.

 

Despite the fact that this does not describe the behaviour of the majority of landlords in Toronto and the GTA (and certainly not our clients), the Ontario government caved in to public pressure and implemented the Rental Fairness Act to stop these practices without offering additional resources to landlords, which they could have in the form of streamlining applications to the Landlord & Tenant Board.

 

How a Property Management Company can help landlords

 

Highgate has a proud, long history of managing and selling investment and rental properties in Toronto and the GTA. Before you consider selling your rental property because you think it isn’t worth the hassle, get a free consultation with us. We’ll be very straight with you as to whether or not it is worth holding on to your property, and manage it above and beyond the requirements of the Rental Fairness Act if it is worth keeping – all while keeping an eye on your bottom line. If you decide to sell, we happen to be Realtors as well, and will give you service tailored for investment properties. Contact us today to find out why now is the best time to consider a property management company.

 

Resources:

 

Landlords who evict tenants for their own use will have to provide compensation, Toronto Star, April 27 2017

 

What landlords need to know about the Ontario Landlord & Tenant Board, Highgate Properties Blog, March 2017

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What Utilities Should You Include With Your Toronto Rental Property?

Knowing what to include with your GTA or Toronto rental property is an important part of making it the most attractive prospect in a competitive market. There are many arguments for and against including utilities with your property, and both sides have valid points.

 

The argument for including utilities

Many prospective tenants will readily admit that rental listings with utilities included are often much more attractive than units without – it takes away the stress of paying multiple bills. Including utilities with your property will increase the amount of tenant applications you receive, and will allow you to rent out your property faster.

 

Rentals with utilities included are often ideal for those renting to students and other first-time renters, as many young people don’t want the hassle of paying separately for utilities. Shared homes, such as you would find in student housing, make the process even more complicated. The inclusion of some utilities also allows for landlords to charge more for rent, since they must account for things like utility increases, taxes, and convenience costs.

 

The argument against including utilities

Many landlords have stated anecdotally that tenants who have utilities in their own name are often more responsible as they are more likely to pay bills on time and without issue. Including utilities in your rent can also present the problem of tenants overusing utilities by leaving lights on and overusing heat and air conditioning, affecting your profit margin in the long run.

 

Not including utilities also frees up landlords from having to deal with utility companies, allowing you to free up time for more important administrative duties. This also means that tenants are more likely to quickly inform you of any problems with their utilities, such as leaky faucets, broken furnaces and heaters, etc., as it directly affects them.

 

Properties without utilities often appear to be less costly than those with them included, making your unit stand out among the crowd. This also means that you will not have to continually increase rent to meet the rising costs of electricity and other utilities.

 

The final, and probably most important argument against including utilities is the amount at which you are allowed to raise rent annually. A spike in utility rates may not be covered by the annual rent increases allowed by the Ontario government.
What utilities should you include with your rental?

With both sides of the argument stated, it’s time to decide what utilities should actually be included with your property, if any. It may also be important to take a look at what property owners in the area are offering for their units – it may be wise to match them if the competition is fierce.

 

Paying for things like gas and water are often ideal for landlords, as the costs are predictable because of their seasonal nature. With new rent control measures, including anything but these utilities may pose a problem if utility rates increase beyond your allowable annual rent increases. Paying things like the water bill can also give you immediate insight into any potential problems such as leaks that tenants may not notice in their own utility bills.

 

Unless you’re ready to communicate openly with your tenants about potential utility ceilings and limits, it may be wise to avoid paying utilities wherever possible. It will attract more responsible tenants, create less frustration for you, and make your property seem more affordable to prospective renters. At the end of the day, it’s all a matter of which option is more convenient and affordable for you, the property owner.

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The New Ontario Foreign Buyer’s Tax: What You Need to Know

The Ontario government recently introduced the Fair Housing Plan, which includes sweeping legislation for the real estate market – most of which will have an impact on landlords in Ontario. One of the measures was the Non-Resident Speculation Tax (NRST) of 15%, which is meant to curb speculation by foreign investors in southern Ontario.

 

The brass tax of the NRST

 

The NRST has been in force since April 21, 2017. It imposes a 15% tax on real estate purchases of any property that would be considered a single-family residence that is purchased by a foreign national, entity or corporation. The full text of the NRST is available here.

 

Refugees and immigrants are not subject to the NRST. Additionally, a rebate program is available for foreign nationals who obtain Canadian citizenship – they can receive a rebate of the tax if they become a citizen within four years. Students enrolled in a Canadian institution for at least two years are also exempt from the NRST. A foreign national student would only receive the rebate after two years of full-time attendance at a Canadian university or college.

 

The NRST’s geographic scope expands well beyond Toronto and the GTA. It includes the following municipalities:

 

  • Brant
  • Dufferin
  • Durham
  • Haldimand
  • Halton
  • Hamilton
  • Kawartha Lakes
  • Niagara
  • Northumberland
  • Peel
  • Peterborough
  • Simcoe
  • Toronto
  • Waterloo
  • Wellington
  • York

 

Vancouver foreign buyer’s tax sparks GTA’s NRST

 

After a foreign buyer’s tax of 15% was levied to cool housing prices in Vancouver, there was evidence that firms marketing Canadian real estate shifted their focus to Toronto. However, the Toronto Real Estate Board surveyed Toronto area Realtors and found that only around 5% of real estate transactions conducted in 2016 were from foreign buyers.

 

Around a quarter of those purchases were rental investments, with the rest being purchases of homes for the individual or a family member. The percentage of foreign buyers was much higher in Vancouver – it was just above 15% before the B.C. government introduced its foreign buyer’s tax in 2016. It subsequently dropped to about 4% as of December 2016 – only a percentage point below the TREB’s estimated percentage of foreign buyers in Toronto and the GTA.

 

The Ontario government first showed a distaste for introducing a similar tax in 2016, preferring to let market forces prevail. However, winds changed as the public became increasingly concerned with skyrocketing housing and rental costs in Toronto and the GTA and the Fair Housing Plan was introduced in April 2016 with the NRST as a prominent plank in the Plan.

 

Various Reactions to the NRST

 

The Toronto Real Estate Board didn’t have anything specific to say about the NRST in its statement reacting to the Fair Housing Plan, but did say that more empirical data is required before policy decisions are made. We didn’t really know the numbers of foreign nationals that were buying into the Toronto and GTA markets prior to the enactment of the Fair Housing Act; that data will be available to the government once the Plan has been in force for a few months.

 

Tim Hudak, CEO of the Ontario Real Estate Association, had this to say about the NRST. “The main culprit behind rapidly rising house prices is the GTA’s unbalanced market – housing supply cannot meet demand – not foreign buyers.”

 

TD Economist Beata Caranci argues in favour of the tax, stating that it has worked well in international jurisdictions such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Melbourne to cool housing markets but not to slow them down. However, she added in a joint statement with other TD economists that “Ultimately, it is unknown what degree of home sales are related to this speculative behavior.”

 

Will the NRST cool a hot housing market?

 

Tim Hudak’s argument for supply not meeting demand seems sound, but it remains to be seen how much of that demand was generated by foreign investors. Parsing it out further, how much of that demand is being generated by foreign investors speculating on the market? If 25% of homes purchased by foreign nationals in 2016 were rental property investments, that’s an income-generating venture which allows for more rental supply for tenants, not speculation.

 

Until the data comes in, we won’t have any numbers – and that is the TREB’s point. The B.C. government did it right by gathering data prior to enacting its legislation, and found that a high percentage of property purchases were coming from foreign buyers. The Ontario government has put the cart before the horse, and will no doubt reap the tax rewards of such a move, but it isn’t evidence-based policy decision making.

 

One thing is certain – the NRST is an effective tool to curb speculation for those who were looking to speculate in the Vancouver market and shifted gears to Toronto. However, the number of transactions which occurred because of that shift is unknown – we’ll know soon enough. In the meantime, bidding wars will continue in Toronto and the GTA, and the only change is that foreign buyers may not be parties to those wars.

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HighGate Property Investments Inc: Your Source for Professional GTA Real Estate Services