Residents of a Toronto neighbourhood are revolting against rent hikes combined with inferior living conditions, launching a so-called "rent strike" until conditions improve.
Tenants living in six high-rise apartment buildings in the city's Parkdale area are expected to stop paying rent on Monday, May 1.
The buildings are run by MetCap Living Management Inc., one of the city's largest landlords. Some 200 tenants are expected to deprive the company of about $250,000 in rental income, according to the Toronto Star.
Tenants and community advocates rallied in front of buildings on Jameson and Tyndall Avenues on Sunday, saying that rental increases, both already approved and proposed, are an attempt to push out lower-income tenants.
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“People can’t afford to live there anymore and don’t really want to fight to live there anymore because their apartments are such a disaster," community legal worker Vic Natola told the Star.
"We see this as MetCap’s ongoing plan of attack on Parkdale and this is how people have decided to stand up and fight back against it.”
Some tenants at one MetCap building, 87 Jameson, have been on rent strike since February, after being notified of a rent hike three per cent above the provincial guideline.
MetCap Living Management owns 19 buildings in the Parkdale neighbourhood, according to CBC News.
Some of its tenants rallied in March at the building's offices to deliver a box of repair orders to their landlord, protesting the same rent hikes combined with ongoing repair and pest issues.
Khedup Phuchung marches to the MetCap Living offices on March 16, 2017. Tenants from MetCap buildings tried to submitting a dossier of repair requests to the company. (Photo: Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
In Ontario, rents can only be increased by an annual rate set by the province. According to new guidelines issued by the province last month, rent increases are capped at 2.5 per cent, regardless of inflation, starting April 20.
MetCap has applied for "above-board" rent increases, allowing it to raise the rates above the allowable amount, in order to pay for significant building repairs. Some of the increases have already been approved.
“I had a cockroach in my coffee filter basket this morning.”
— Barb Livesay, MetCap tenant
But people living in their buildings say they have been living in sub-par conditions, and the building managers are slow to deal with regular maintenance issues.
Tenant Barb Livesay told local reporters she has mice in her apartment.
“I had a cockroach in my coffee filter basket this morning,” Livesay told CTV Toronto.
"Our water is turned off once a month for a day, while they do whatever work they say they are doing,” she told the Toronto Star.
Aliza Kassam holds the repair request they tried delivering the Metcap Living until a security guard blocked the main entrance, March 16, 2017. (Photo: Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
“I have had floods in my apartment before, from up above, and it took them six months to come and repair all the floor work.”
Natola said neighbourhood residents decided to take matters into their own hands and deal with their complaints outside the province's Landlord and Tenant Board.
“I think people who have engaged with the system before, they know that the system does not work and has not worked for them," he said.
Building president hopes tenants will follow the law
In Ontario, if a tenant is not paying rent, the landlord will send them an eviction notice before filing an application to legally evict them with the provincial board.
MetCap President Brett Merrill told CTV Toronto the rent increases have been approved by a “fair and impartial tribunal," and that the Landlord and Tenant Board is the “right forum to discuss these issues.”
Merril said MetCap “intends to comply with the laws of the (province of Ontario) as it always does” and hopes its tenants “will do the same."
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Parkdale-High Park MPP Cheri DiNovo attended the rally and said as long as Ontario doesn't implement rent control, there will always be an incentive to push out tenants.
“When you propose above-guideline increases you know that many people are not going to be able to afford those increases and are going to leave," she told the Star.
“I think people who have engaged with the system before they know that the system does not work and has not worked for them."
— Vic Natola, community advocate
Toronto rental costs have gone up 30 per cent in six months, and are on track to replace Vancouver as the country's priciest.
In Vancouver, volunteers have formed a tenants' union, charging its members $1 a year to collectively advocate against eviction and unfair rent increases.