Toronto tenants strike against above guideline rent increases

By Jenoa Meagher and Anita Nathan 

Two Toronto tenants’ unions – Thorncliffe Park Tenants and York South-Weston Tenant Union – are currently supporting members on a rent strike. On May 1, around 125 tenants at 71, 75, and 79 Thorncliffe Park Drive collectively decided to withhold rent from their landlord Starlight Investments which is seeking a 4.94 to 5.5 percent rent increase. On June 1, nearly 200 tenants at 33 King Street also went on rent strike, withholding rent from their landlord, Dream Unlimited. Owners of 33 King Street have applied for six above guideline rent increases in the last ten years.

Tenants are canvassing their buildings and neighbourhoods, gaining more support and momentum. Other tactics include protesting outside the office of Minister of Housing Ahmed Hussen, as well as at the homes of board members of Public Sector Pension (PSP) Investments. PSP is a Canadian Crown corporation which manages pension funds for federal public service workers and is a shareholder of Starlight Investments. Tricia-Ann Israel, a resident of Thorncliffe Park for thirty-two years, highlights the effectiveness of this tactic: “I just want to make sure that the investment company that owns the buildings realizes that these are people’s lives that they’re playing with.”

Each year, the Ontario government provides a rent increase guideline for the following year. The current guideline is set at 2.5 percent. This means that a landlord can increase most current tenants’ rents by this amount without approval from the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB). However, a landlord can apply to the LTB for a rent increase that is above the guideline (AGI) because of an increase in municipal taxes, significant renovations or repairs (“capital expenditure”) or security.

Both Starlight Investments and Dream Unlimited are seeking above guideline rent increases for capital repairs and improvements. But long-time tenants know the discrepancy between rent increases and repairs.

Thorncliffe resident Jawad Ukani revealed, “In my eighteen years living here, nothing has really changed in my apartment. The cabinet doors are broken and don’t close, the ceiling is falling apart, and nothing works. It’s all superficial, they’re just trying to attract new tenants at a higher price.”

According to York South-Weston Tenant Union, Dream Unlimited admitted that 50 percent of the rent collected from tenants is profit. In addition, landlords like Starlight and Dream receive funding from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation for capital repairs, with no conditions attached. With multiple streams of revenue, the burden remains on tenants for repairs and improvements on standards of living that are just not happening.

In the end, rent increases, above guideline and otherwise, are about corporate greed. In an act of solidarity, CUPE Ontario acknowledged this greed and voted unanimously to financially support both tenants’ unions, stating, “In the middle of an affordability crisis, giant corporate landlords are jacking up rents and pricing people out of their homes. But those same despicable moves have created a network of amazing activists – ordinary people who have been pushed too far by corporate greed and who are saying ‘enough is enough.’ The rent strikes are a product of grassroots community organizing and are part of a determined response to unfair rent increases, and tenants coming together to form unions to protest has clear parallels with union organizing.”

Thorncliffe Park Tenants are calling for the withdrawal of Starlight Investments’ above guideline increase application from the LTB and York South-Weston Tenant Union is taking it a step further by calling for an end of all above guideline increases and rent and vacancy control for all units.

[Photo: York South-Weston Tenant Union]

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