'Parkdale came together as a community': Tenants declare rent strike victory
Tenants had claimed their units were badly in need of repair and that landlord MetCap Living Management Inc. had imposed unfair rent increases.
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Tenants of Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood say they have won several significant concessions from their landlord, MetCap Living Management Inc., concluding a rent strike that began May 1.
Tenants had claimed their units in 12 Parkdale buildings were badly in need of repairs and they were facing repeated and unfair rent hikes intended to force out low-income tenants. Many tenets had withheld their rent payments in response. The final agreement will see lower rent increases at the buildings, according to a Saturday press release from a tenant group.
MetCap president and chief executive officer Brent Merrill, has maintained throughout that many efforts were made to address tenant concerns at all the buildings, including setting up special hotlines for tenants to report repair issues. He also, he says, reached out personally to tenants who complained about unfulfilled work orders.
Withholding rent was just one of several actions taken by tenants. There were several rallies and marches through Parkdale, the brief occupation of a lobby and stairwell, outside a MetCap office and the short-term shutdown of a hearing at the Landlord and Tenant Board.
“We won this strike because we refused to play by the rules,” said Bryan Daley, who lives at a seven-story building at 90 Jameson Ave., in the press release. “Parkdale came together as a community and organized to defend our homes and we came out on top.”
The number of people who participated in the actual strike was never entirely clear. Parkdale Community Services said as many as 200 tenants withheld rent in May and up to 300 in June, across the 12 buildings. The headcount was an estimate, based on public meetings and information from tenant representatives.
“The organizing of hundreds of working class people in Parkdale, including us and our neighbours, has shifted the balance of power between landlords and tenants in Parkdale in our favour,” said a statement on the Parkdale Organize website from the Rent Strikers’ Negotiating Committee.
In early February, MetCap applied to the Landlord and Tenant Board to raise rent 3 per cent above provincial guidelines, each year for three years, due to renovation costs.
This is legal, though an above guideline rent increase must be approved by the Landlord and Tenant Board.
A 1.5 per cent rent increase has already been approved for 2017.
The dispute took a frightening turn at the end of May, when a supporter stepped in front of Merrill’s moving truck and was forced to back-peddle, then jump to the side. Merrill told the Star he did a rolling stop to pick up a badly frightened building manager who had been chased by tenant supporters.
Merrill confirmed that in June, several hundred tenants in buildings across Parkdale were sent notices warning them to pay rent, or potentially face a hearing before the Landlord Tenant Board. But, said Merrill, there was no way to know how many were participating in the strike and that volume of notices was not unusual for Parkdale.
Vic Natola, a community legal worker, with Parkdale Community Legal Services said MetCap staff reached out at the end of June “to talk about tenant demands and what needs to happen to end the rent strike,” and negotiations began shortly after.
“The demands have been constant and consistent through the entire negotiations and the strike. No more Above Guideline Increases and fix our buildings,” said Natola. “It was pretty much all hands on deck to help support the tenants through that,” said Natola. “We continued to provide legal support because tenants don’t know the law inside and out and we do.”
The meetings included tenant representatives from several buildings taking part in the rent strike, MetCap staff and Brent Merrill and staff from AIMCO, and Parkdale Community Legal Services. All sides agreed to not talk about the details, until a resolution was reached.
“Nobody had any interest of putting the negotiations at risk,” said Natola.
With files from Emily Mathieu