An open letter to my landlord

Dear EIWO Canadian executive,

Unfortunately, it has become necessary that I express my and my family’s displeasure with the way your company has been treating us as customers. Our recent interactions with the management indicated that your company puts negligible importance on the past six years of our business partnership. Although we have been paying rent every month for the past six years without any issues, your staff assumed that the best way to communicate a late payment for the previous month is an N4 eviction notice. The N4 notice states in large bold and underlined font that “this is a legal notice that could lead to you being evicted from your home.” This eviction notice was accompanied by a letter that “asks that in the future you (meaning my wife and I) make more of an effort to have your (our) rent paid on time.”

I wonder why your staff immediately took as their task to judge the amount of effort I put in my daily activities. Your staff incorrectly assumed that my lack of effort was the cause for the late payment. Is it not possible that I put extraordinary effort in making my payment on time but still failed? You would, I hope, agree that there are situations in which, despite people’s extraordinary efforts, they still fail to achieve their goals. You would also, I hope, agree that some people can be quite successful in many activities while putting minimal effort in them. By judging my personal choices and by giving advice on how much effort I should put in achieving my daily ends, your staff is crossing the boundaries of tasteful and respectful conduct.

However, since this is only a symptom of a more serious underlying problem, l will put your employee’s imprecise and, in my view, arrogant language aside. Let me, instead, express my complete understanding for the way I was approached as your tenant. Given the current regulatory environment in Ontario, it is in fact, rational that a landlord provides low quality service to his/her tenants. Why? Because under the current regulatory system, a landlord has minimal to no benefits from providing high quality service. In fact, a landlord may even achieve financial gains by providing low quality service. Ontario is one of the most legislated and bureaucratic regions in the world for tenant-landlord relationship management. Under this regulatory system, landlords are subject to the rent stabilization program and to a plethora of other requirements. This program has at least three main consequences: (1) it reduces the revenue that the landlord has on disposal for providing quality service; (2) it creates excess demand for rental units; (3) it provides incentives for landlords to evict tenants with a longer tenancy history.

The rent stabilization regulations prevent landlords from increasing the rent from year to year by more than a certain percentage. That percentage for the 2014 rent relative to 2013 is 0.8%, which is a fraction of the general inflation rate for this year. Rent restrictions applied over a longer period of time suppress rents below the level that would be established on the market in the absence of this regulation. As a consequence, there is a higher quantity of apartments for rent demanded—there is excess demand. Because of this excess demand, landlords have little incentive to make their current tenants happy with their housing service. In a market with excess demand, it is relatively easy to find a new tenant in a short period of time. In addition, under the current regulation, the starting rent of a new tenant is not linked with the amount of rent paid by the previous tenant. This means that, compared to the rent paid by the previous tenant, the rent of the new tenant can be increased by more than the maximum allowable percentage for old tenants. Under these conditions, I, as a tenant with a longer renting history in this building, may become a liability rather than an asset for your company if the company can collect more revenue by putting a new tenant in the apartment I am currently using. It may be beneficial for your company that I get dissatisfied with the quality of service and thus choose to leave.

This can explain my recent experiences after our previous superintendent and her father, who were by nature people that value providing high quality service, resigned. The current superintendent has inadequate communication skills, and she possesses neither the technical skills nor the mental stability of an effective property manager. Just as an example, it took my family three days of phone calls and somewhat frustrating conversations until a water leak from the apartment above was properly addressed. Even now, as I write this letter, one of the building’s exit door locks is broken, and it has been broken for four days now. The door can’t be opened, and this is a serious fire hazard. All this contributes to my and other tenants’ low satisfaction with the quality of service. However, it may well be in the best interest of your company to keep the level of service low. Your company may be better off with this low quality superintendent if your goal is to increase tenant turnover rates. There is certainly evidence in this building in the last several years that tenants have decided to purchase a house or an apartment elsewhere earlier than they would have otherwise decided. These tenants have been replaced by new tenants that tend to leave after a year or so.

This is the real subsidy we pay for those who persuaded our government that we should all pay lower rents–hours and days of frustration over issues that would not exist if rents were allowed to adjust to the level we are willing to pay. My time has a higher value in activities other than worrying that I don’t miss the rent deadline or designing communication techniques that my superintendent is capable of understanding. I would rather pay higher rent and have some flexibility when I deposit my rent cheque then to receive letters threatening I will be evicted in two weeks. This scare tactic is an attempt to lower the value of my time spent not worrying about the deadline. Removing rent controls would be a win-win situation for your company and for my family. You would earn extra income, we would get the respect we think we deserve from you.

It is clear that under the current incentive structure, which is in most part a consequence of the regulatory environment, being kind or respectful to your tenants has no obvious financial advantages for your company. Unlike other, less regulated businesses that need to attract their customers by providing service that is better than the competitions’, the rental housing industry in Ontario is not facing this incentive. An act of kindness or respect would be a personal favour toward your tenants, not something you do to ensure better financial viability of your business.

I accept the reality that your staff is not willing to provide this favour to me and my family and treat us with the respect we think we deserve. However, it is puzzling to me why your staff expect us to do your company favours. One of your property managers suggested my wife and I can avoid these N4 eviction notices if we deposit post-dated cheques or if we set up an automatic withdrawal account in our bank. But, the only thing we are obligated under law is to submit our payment by 11:59 pm on the first day of each month. Relative to our legal obligation, the two options your staff suggested are clearly favours that we would be doing to your company. Favours need to be earned, and according to my judgment, your company has not earned any favours from me or from my family.

I also think we will stop doing you the favours we did in the past when we omitted to mention a number of errors committed by your staff. For example, due to the poor judgment of your staff, my family had to spend more than a year living next door to a violent drug addict with serious psychological issues. It was clear to me from the first day of his tenancy that something was seriously wrong with this individual, and it is beyond me how your staff was not capable of noticing this. Your staff tried to pressure my family into supplying a written complaint to make your job of evicting this individual easier. Your employee should have been aware that, since I have two small children, such a complaint would put my family in danger of this highly unpredictable individual, who eventually triggered several police interventions. It is not my job to fix the errors your employees have made. I have omitted to mention this and a number of other instances of unprofessionalism shown by your staff, and I did this because I wanted to do them a favour by forgiving them their blunders. This will stop now. It should be made public that your staff has made a number of poor judgments at this location. I have no reason to believe that these poor judgments will stop any time soon.

It is unfortunate that we are facing this situation, but, maybe our experience and experiences of other Ontarians can be used to illustrate the fact that the current tenancy laws do not promote conflict resolution and peaceful cooperation, as laws are intended to do, and as I teach my students. Instead, these laws create incentives for lack of mutual respect, which fosters distrust and hostility, quite the opposite of what good laws are supposed to do.


Predrag Rajsic

Embrace your greed

Last night, we went to a Serbian folklore festival where our daughter performed. These folklore festivals are quite common in North America, and their format is similar across locations. First there are about three hours of performance by dance groups, followed by some sort of a lottery. However, instead using the admission tickets as lottery coupons, separate lottery tickets are sold during the show. As a consequence, participating in the lottery is optional.

So, the lady selling those lottery tickets comes to me, and I tell her we won’t buy any because we probably won’t stay until the draw. She replied that I should buy tickets anyway because the point of the lottery is not to win a prize but to help financially the host folklore society. I said to her that, if that’s the only point, she doesn’t even need to give those thickets to people. She can just take their money. She turned around and left.

If she waited a bit more, she would have had the opportunity to hear me explain to her that she is presenting me with a false dichotomy, as if there are only two possible reasons one would want to participate in the lottery: either to win a prize or to provide a charitable contribution. So, according to this dichotomy, the choice is between greed and compassion. Then it turns out I chose greed over compassion. Of course, people generally don’t want to be seen as being greedy, and she is targeting this emotional response.

However, as I said earlier, she is presenting us with a false dichotomy. The dichotomy is false because there may be other reasons why people would want to participate in the lottery. For example, I participate to have fun. For me, neither the prize nor giving a charitable contribution are the primary motivating factors. So, if I’m not having fun, the lottery ticket is not worth its price. Since I see no fun in buying a ticket and then driving home before the draw, I don’t buy any tickets.

I am not sure if the ticket lady understands this, but I’m guessing she does. It is simply in her self-interest to attempt this emotional manipulation stunt. She knows I have already decided I won’t stay until the lottery. So, playing the fun card wouldn’t work. She knows I already decided that I would forego fun for the sake of coming home earlier. The only thing left is to see if I would try to avoid being labeled greedy.

This marketing strategy is completely understandable. Like all of us, charitable organizations are guided by self-interest. They look to advance their objectives in the most effective way. They are as “greedy” as any one of the rest of us. And this is not a bad thing.