Toronto tenants organize “Keep Your Rent” campaign during pandemic

Ivan Byard

Workers, especially low-income tenants, are being hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite social distancing, they’re organizing to put their rights and needs ahead of landlords’ profits.

Parkdale Organize, a membership-based group of working class people who organize to build neighbourhood power in Toronto’s Parkdale area, has called for tenants to “Keep Your Rent on April 1.” The campaign comes on the heels of the Ontario Superior Court March 19 decision to place a hold on the enforcement of residential evictions, and the subsequent decision of the Toronto the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) to suspend hearings.

Despite these suspensions, landlords have continued to put unnecessary pressure on tenants, many of whom are struggling with layoffs and other economic pressures as public health officials urge people to stay home. Housing activists and tenant organizers are working to build and strengthen the community with every public health precaution.

“Keep Your Rent” is not asking anybody to withhold rent on their own. Tenants are reaching out to each other while maintaining physical distance. Phone trees, cloud file sharing, Facebook groups, banners from balconies, propaganda posters and online petitions are all part of the communication campaign. For many, withholding rent on April 1 will not be a choice. With Employment Insurance covering only 55 per cent of previous earnings, and around half of Canadians living paycheque to paycheque, nearly half of all renters in Toronto already spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent. Hundreds of thousands of workers have filed for Employment Insurance across Canada, as many sectors are seeing layoffs.

An online petition started March 19, calling for all rent and mortgage payments in Canada to be cancelled for the duration of the COVID-19 public health crisis, gathered more than 625,000 signatures in five days and is still growing. In Toronto, the Federation of Metro Tenants Associations (FMTA) has called on the Ontario government to waive all residential rent payments on April 1, on the basis that housing is a human right. Tenants are teaching each other and learning as collectives how to organize amid the need to respect physical distancing.

With the ongoing housing crisis now hit with a long-term public health crisis, the existing and emerging networks of community organizations will be essential, not just on April 1, but for the duration of the state of emergency and beyond. In Toronto, as elsewhere, decades of budget cuts, austerity policies and selloffs of social housing have added urgency to the ongoing fight to expand public housing, roll back and control rents, and ensure housing for all.

For more information and for resources that can be used in other communities, visit

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