I couldn’t resist putting “the government” in quotations, since most people who have a problem in 2017 suggest that “the government” should do something about it.
That’s society’s answer to everything these days.
The government. The solution to all of our problems, right?
There’s been a lot of talk about spikes in rent in the past two weeks, and I want to highlight two stories that got the most press, then discuss what, if anything, “the government” should do about it…
It never fails to amaze me when journalists find somebody to pose for the camera, giving an otherwise mundane story that much needed “artwork” to make the article pop.
I get calls all the time from reporters who want a buyer, seller, tenant, or any of the above to go on camera, pose for a photo, or even talk to them, on the record.
Nobody wants to do it.
So I stopped asking a long time ago.
Not since 2009, and I remember the exact client, have I had somebody agree to put their name out there.
It makes sense. As one client put it when I asked him, “It’s all well and good now, since I’m 25, and I don’t really care. But the Internet is forever. I don’t want to be on the outside looking in for the big CEO job when I’m 42-years-old, but some random newspaper article from 2010 shows ‘little John Smith’ posing in his living room for some story about downtown living.”
And since then, having asked maybe a couple more times, getting a “no thanks” each time, I’ve stopped asking.
When reporters do call me, and I tell them I stopped asking, I tell them, “I’m always amazed when you find these people to pose for the camera, with that little rain-cloud perched above their head, looking all sad, for whatever piece you’re currently running.”
One reporter replied back to me, “So am I, but I’m sure as hell not going to tell them that.”
Toronto Life ran an awesome piece about now-bankrupt developer Urbancorp, who I’ve been complaining about for a decade, and in the piece they interviewed a host of buyers who had been screwed by the developer, and got these people to pose for the camera.
This is their feature photo for the online story:
I feel bad for that couple, as I do for everybody who bought into Urbancorp’s projects.
But I’m just amazed when people go on the record, and then pose for photos.
How about this other couple featured in the piece, who were extra sad when the flashbulb went off:
Kudos to Toronto Life for the incredible expose, but also for finding people to add “artwork” to the piece.
Personally, I would never agree to that.
No offence to these folks, and I don’t want to sound insensitive here because I know they got royally screwed, but as my client told me years ago, “This is now on the Internet forever.”
But maybe none of this matters in 2017?
Maybe we’re so forthcoming with our social media, and life stories blasted on multiple platforms for all the world to see, that this is simply to be expected?
Log on to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – you can find out what everybody you know had for breakfast, and what sized bowel-movement each of their children had this morning.
So maybe, just maybe, I shouldn’t be surprised when every real estate story these days has “a face” to accompany it.
And with that long lead-in, let me explain why all this matters.
Last week, a CBC reporter named Shannon Martin gave us a great piece called, “No Fixed Address: How I Became A 32-Year-Old Couch Surfer”
This piece blew up, big time.
It was, as the younger kids in my office tell me, “trending.”
The piece appeared in print, and online, and it also came with videos, which racked up thousands of views.
The online article has a whopping 607 comments right now.
If you haven’t read the article, and didn’t click above, let me summarize.
Shannon Martin was renting a 454 square-foot condo in downtown Toronto for $1,650 per month, and her landlord recently gave her notice that the rent would be increasing to $2,600/month.
There’s an audio conversation in the video piece with somebody from the Ontario Landlord & Tenant Board, who simply tells her, “You’re screwed.”
This piece went viral for a few reasons.
For starters, there’s a face and a name to the article. It’s not random, and it’s not anonymous. As we know from the Toronto Life article above, stories get far more attention when there’s real people involved, and when you’ve got artwork!
Secondly, this isn’t just Jane Smith, some random person that Toronto Life, or The Globe & Mail found to tell their story, and then snapped a photo of. This is a public figure – a reporter who is on camera, online, and you can read about her at your leisure through a simple Google search.
Thirdly, and tell me if I’m wrong here, but I think the fact that she’s a single, 32-year-old woman helps. If this was a middle-aged man sitting on the couch in his basement rental apartment, with his pot-belly bulging through his Def Leppard t-shirt, I don’t think it wouldn’t get as much attention.
And last but not least, this is a story that a lot of people can relate to. Real estate is, and has been for some time, the biggest story in Toronto. Whether you’re a renter, an owner, or a would-be of the two, you’re feeling the heat of this red-hot market.
All told, this story has been shared, re-Tweeted, and talked about at the proverbial water cooler (do offices still have those?)
And the take-away, as usual, is whether or not “the government” should do something about it.
I’ll save you my political rant, but as is often the case when anything goes wrong in society today, many of the onlookers, commenters, and those on the unhappy side of the real estate equation are calling on “the government” to step in and “do something.”
What is this…….something, that people want done?
In this case, it seems, some people want the government to step in and create rental increase guidelines for condominiums – something that currently does not exist.
The rental increase guidelines only apply to units built before November of 1991.
And with about 98% of downtown Toronto condos having been built after that date (we could probably the 20-25 buildings older than 1991 if we wanted to), it means we essentially have no rent control in the downtown core.
But should we?
Should we have rent control for downtown Toronto condos?
That is the question people are asking after reading Shannon Martin’s story, and as rents continue to skyrocket.
That is also the question I want to pose to you all today. Have your say in the comments section below, and I’m guessing this will be one of the fiercest debates in a while.
People seem pretty evenly distributed on the matter, but I feel as though it is 100% dependent on their own individual status.
Can you detach yourself from your financial and living situation to give an unbiased opinion?
Let me try first.
I believe in capitalism, I believe in the free market, and I believe in hard work.
I’m a social liberal, but a fiscal conservative.
And I believe that increasingly in society today, there’s a jealousy toward people who have more, so much so that we’re forgetting that being successful isn’t a crime.
If a person works long and hard enough to be able to purchase a condo as an investment, and can rent it out for $1,650 one year, and $1,850 the next, then good on them.
I think what happened to Shannon Martin is terrible, but it’s also exceptionally rare. I polled the agents in my office and asked, “Is there anywhere downtown where you see a 454 square foot condo renting for $2,600/month?” The answer was a slew of “No’s.”
I’m not doubting Ms. Martin’s claim, but rather I think this was a case of the landlord wanting her out, not the landlord being able to get $2,600/month for the unit. In my professional opinion, that rent is absolutely, impossible to obtain on a standard one-year lease.
So excluding these outliers and exceptions to the rule, do you think that a landlord should be able to charge market rent, or should a landlord’s actions be limited by some wing of government?
If it’s the latter, then by how much?
Because if the real estate market is going up 20% in a year, then how can you possibly set rental increase guidelines?
Or how about this – if property taxes went up 10%, then is it really fair for the government, who increases the taxes/expenses on the condo, to follow up with a limit on the increase in rent by, say, 2%?
As I said, the feedback seems evenly distributed on this.
And Ms. Martin’s first article spawned a second.
Check this one out:
Yet another “real, live person” who put her name to the story, and posed for a photo.
Her rent was increased too.
There’s that saying in the media, “Don’t read the comments.” It’s what journalists tell each other, since so much of the commenting these days focuses on the writer or author, rather than the content.
But I like to troll the comments to see what the anonymous public thinks.
On that story above, the first two comments were the following, and do not skim these:
Could they be any different?
This is what I find so interesting! People are so evenly split!
And once again, I have to put in my two cents, for what it’s worth.
I completely agree with the first person, and I think his point hits the mark.
I completely disagree with the second person, who I deem to be uninformed, naive, and possibly of simple-mind.
The point about “living in the big city” being a “choice” is exactly what I’ve always said.
And along with that, comes the idea that being successful isn’t a crime, and dare I say that on the opposite side of the coin – being unsuccessful, doesn’t mean you should always be bailed out.
A good friend of mine finds himself unable to afford housing in Toronto, and he laments his situation.
I was honest with him a while back. I told him that in 1998, the day before we went off to university, he made a personal choice not to go, but rather to stay behind and chase his dream of being a rockstar.
It didn’t work out. The millions didn’t flow in. And as a result, he’s not building a house next to Drake on The Bridle Path.
There will always be haves and have-nots in society. It’s impossible not to see it this way.
And as “Howard Roark” points out, those who make a choice to live in Toronto, need to pay the going rate for Toronto housing. Otherwise, there are options outside the city. Living in Toronto is not a fundamental right, and “the government” shouldn’t subsidize everybody and anybody who can’t afford to live here.
As for “Meghan Johnston” and her comments, I don’t think she really knows much on this, but rather wanted to hear the sound of her own voice.
“…the pre sales are sold in Shanghai before they’re even listed in Canada.”
This is what 2017 has come to. People just say things, with no idea what they’re talking about, and zero burden of proof because they’re anonymous.
“The govt needs to act and fine.”
“It really is extortion.”
“File human rights complaints. It’s real.”
Where do people get this stuff?
Is this representative of public opinion? Does this person’s ideas, and her ability to self-express, represent a good section of society out there today?
Does somebody really think you can file a human rights complaint because your landlord raised your rent?
I have to agree with “Howard Roark.” Many people out there today feel entitled to “a lifestyle they can’t afford.”
The second article has a sub-heading, in bold, that reads, “Everybody wants to live here.”
So maybe that is the real problem?
Needs versus wants?
Supply versus demand?
If “everybody” wants to live downtown, then that skews the balance between supply and demand, right?
Is it any wonder that prices are going to increase?
And before somebody says, “Well why does every landlord have to charge more money just because they can,” I’ll tell you that I’m not prepared to get into a debate about human nature today.
So what do you say, folks?