Parkdale tenants kick off ‘rent strike’
About 200 tenants of buildings run by MetCap are expected to withhold May rent in order to demand repairs and end to rent hikes, a community legal worker says.
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Hundreds of tenants in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood are expected to stop paying their rent on Monday, as part of ongoing protests against one of the city’s largest landlords.
The tenants live in buildings run by MetCap Living Management Inc. and are pushing back against what they say are shoddy and unclean conditions, combined with rent hikes they maintain are being used to push out lower-income tenants.
The company’s president insists the buildings are kept in good repair, that there is a system in place to manage tenant complaints and that any rent increases are legal and necessary to cover the cost of significant repairs in the older buildings.
About 200 tenants from seven buildings, including ones on Tyndall Ave. and Jameson Ave., are expected to withhold close to $250,000 in monthly payments, according to Vic Natola, a community legal worker with Parkdale Community Legal Services.
“MetCap is essentially displacing an entire neighbourhood in the name of profit,” Natola said on Friday.
“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. 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.”
On Sunday, about 80 tenants and supporters marched through Parkdale, chanting and holding banners and signs in support of a movement that has been dubbed a “rent strike.”
The tenants are demanding MetCap halt any planned rent increases, not raise the rent in the future, and clean up and make much-needed repairs throughout their buildings.
The rent hikes in Parkdale are tied to something called an above-guideline increase, whereby a landlord can apply to the Landlord and Tenant Board to cover the cost of significant and unavoidable costs or work, such as capital repairs.
Basic rent across Toronto can only be raised by an annual rate set by the province.
Until April, those rules around annual rates applied only to buildings built before 1991, meaning rent in newer occupied units could be raised without warning and without limit, but that gap has now been closed.
However, if a tenant leaves a unit, a landlord can raise the rent on the empty unit to whatever they choose.
MetCap has applied for several above-guideline increases in Parkdale — some have been approved and some are pending — maintaining the money is needed to support significant repair work on the aging properties, including boilers, fire retrofits and balconies.
The tenants insist their buildings are not being kept clean or properly maintained and the increases are meant to squeeze out long-term, lower-income residents.
MetCap president Brent Merrill said the company prides itself on its approach to property management, that staff are on site or close to every building and a hotline has been set up to manage tenant complaints. He said he personally reviews those call logs.
“Any above-guideline increases charged to our residents have been approved by a fair and impartial tribunal appointed to oversee these matters by the government of Ontario,” Merrill said in an emailed statement sent to the Star.
On Sunday, tenant Barb Livesay, 58, spoke about her building at 135 Tyndall Ave., where she has lived for about three years. “Cockroaches, mice, pigeons, bedbugs, lots of water issues. Our water is turned off once a month for a day, while they do whatever work they say they are doing,” Livesay said.
“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.”
She said repair orders are processed, but “some are slower than others.”
Livesay said she will not be paying rent on Monday, and intends to clear out her bank account so her rent cheque can’t be cashed. She admits the prospect makes her nervous, but feels it is the only way to get tenant demands met.
Community legal worker Natola said the tenants feel that withholding rent is the only way to guarantee change.
“I think people who have engaged with the system before they know that the system does not work and has not worked for them, so this is how the neighbourhood decided to take this power back and do something outside of the Landlord and Tenant Board entirely.”
Natola said that after a tenant fails to pay rent, the landlord typically sends a warning letter, normally the next day, and then 14 days later can file an application to take the tenant before the Landlord and Tenant Board to evict them for not paying. A hearing will then be scheduled to hear the dispute. Natola said they expect MetCap to take that route.
MetCap president Merrill said “MetCap intends to comply with the laws of the province of Ontario as it always does. We hope that our residents will do the same.”
He said that the Landlord and Tenant Board is the right forum to handle complaints about repairs or rent hikes, and said anybody in MetCap buildings who feels their concerns are not being addressed has the right to “avail themselves of this excellent system for arbitrating such matters.”
Merrill has also said he will meet one-on-one with tenants who feel the rent increases could mean they have difficulty paying rent.
New Democrat MPP Cheri DiNovo (Parkdale—High Park), who attended the rally, said as long as Ontario doesn’t implement “real rent control” or put rules in place that prevent landlords from putting high prices on new units, there will always be an incentive to push out tenants.
“That is the problem here and that is clearly the intent,” DiNovo said. “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.”
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