A group of tenants in Kensington Market says their new landlord is threatening to evict them if they don't accept a rent hike of nearly 50 per cent, while he disputes that they even belong in their apartment.
Anders Yates and four friends say they've lived in their Kensington pad for three-and-a-half years. Since 2013, Yates says, they have paid $2,350 per month for five people.
But Yates and his roommates say that since their new landlord acquired the property and several others at the end of June, he has asked them to pay $3,500, what would be an increase of 48.9 per cent.
"He said that if we did not agree to pay that amount by August 1 that he would consider us trespassers in our own home," Yates told CBC News.
Yates and his roommates are accusing the landlord of trying to bully them out of their home, but Yates says they are the rightful tenants of the unit.
"Nobody should be allowed to do this," he said.
In order for the tenants to be allowed to stay, they have to prove that they legally live there. Yates and his roommates said they had a verbal agreement with their previous landlord, but also have rent receipts. The new landlord said that is not enough.
Vahe Avagyan, lawyer for the new landlord Claude Bitton, spoke to CBC News on behalf of his client.
"We've never bullied anybody," Avagyan said. "It's not Mr. Bitton's style or desire."
Avagyan said the receipts are not enough to prove that they are the rightful tenants. He also suggested that the tenants and the previous landlord may have been in cahoots to keep the rent low.
"We don't know who these people are and we don't know if the tribunal act applies to them because they may not be tenants at all," Avagyan said.
Yates called the claim that he conspired with the previous landlord to keep the rent low "ridiculous."
'We're not going to let him do it'
In Ontario, landlords of most rental properties cannot force a tenant to pay more than a two per cent increase each year.
An expert says if the Landlord and Tenant Board finds the rent receipts valid, those receipts, along with occupancy, should be enough for anyone to prove that they are the rightful tenant of a unit.
Kenn Hale, legal director of the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, said the law only allows a landlord to set a new rental rate if the property becomes vacated.
"That leads sometimes to strategies to try to force people out," Hale told CBC.
He said the best thing for a tenant with a new landlord to do is stay put until the Landlord and Tenant Board weighs in.
When such things happen, tenants tend to "just go away quietly," Hale said, "because they don't really know that they have the right to do anything else."
But Yates refuses to go quietly. He paid Bitton rent for August at the rate he says he had been paying. And after hearing of the dispute, neighbours held a solidarity barbecue on Monday.
"We've gotten so much more coordinated and organized to try and fight this, because he's really trying to break apart a neighbourhood that's such an important neighbourhood in Toronto," Yates said. "And we're not going to let him do it."
The landlord disputes Yates's claim, saying he loves the neighbourhood and will file an application with the Landlord and Tenant Board. If he loses, he said he will respect that decision.