Striking tenants in Parkdale 'aren't intimidated' after landlord issues eviction notices

Parkdale tenants receive eviction notices after delayed judgement for landlord’s above-guideline rent increase

Over 50 Parkdale residents say they will continue withholding their rent

Roma Rochester, 73, spoke to CBC Toronto about the rent strike in February. (Julia Knope/CBC)

Tenants who've been staging a rent strike at a Parkdale apartment building since the beginning of February say they're not intimidated by eviction notices their landlord sent them late last week.

The more than 50 residents who joined the strike at 1251 King Street West say they received the notices on Thursday and Friday, after withholding their February rent to protest against a proposed increase that's above the provincial guideline of 1.8 per cent.

The letters said tenants have two weeks from the received date to pay what they owe. 

Despite the notices, tenants say they'll continue to withhold their payments.

"The rent-strikers aren't intimidated. They feel strong moving forward," said Cole Webber of Parkdale Community Legal Services, who is the tenants' legal advocate. He accuses the landlord, Nuspor Investments, of raising rents to push the tenants out.

The property manager at the building, Vito Simone, refused to answer specific questions when CBC Toronto contacted him Wednesday about the notices, but instead said "there's no need to call us about that."

A day after CBC Toronto first reported on the rent strike, close to a dozen of the tenants rallied outside a hearing in front of the Landlord and Tenant Board on Feb. 2, accompanied by 20 neighbours and supporters from other Parkdale buildings.

Nuspor Investments appeared in front of the board that day to push for a rental increase of 3.4 per cent, outlining details of extra costs from renovations, including almost $300,000 for upgrades to the lobby.

The board has delayed a decision on the request and has not announced a date for the next hearing.

Nuspor Investments submitted the application to increase the rent, saying it had renovated the building's lobby at a cost of $300,000. (Julia Knope/CBC)

'The ball's in his court'

Tenants have said they received letters from Nuspor shortly after that hearing expressing an intent to negotiate in "good faith."

According to Webber, both he and tenants have reached out to Nuspor, attempting to hold them to that promise. He says if the landlord wants to pursue eviction, it must apply to the board to start the process of removing the striking tenants. 

An employee of Parkdale Community Services is assisting tenants with their legal rights throughout the rent-strike. (Julia Knope/CBC)

"The ball's in his court," Webber said.

"Instead of kicking tenants out in the middle of winter, [the landlord] needs to end this rent dispute by withdrawing the application," he said.

"This rent increase is part of the landlord's strategy to push tenants out so they can raise the rent without limit," Webber told CBC Toronto.

Almost a year ago, the average rent of a one-bedroom-plus-den condo was $1,800, according to CBC's No Fixed Address series. Currently, some tenants in this Parkdale building pay less than $1,000 per month. 

If the landlord's rent increase is approved, tenants will either be forced to pay the extra money or move out.

"We aren't just going to let this happen," said tenant Stephen Curran, who is one of the rent-strikers. "I feel like it's representative of a bigger problem in Toronto, in that the legislation just allows these above-guideline rent increases to just flow through the system."  

Over 50 tenants in the Parkdale highrise said their landlord had left them no choice but to stage a rent strike. (Julia Knope/CBC)

Curran, 27, said he and his girlfriend will pay the rent increase if the landlord's application is approved, but fears the impact this will have on other tenants in the building.

"I'm anxious to know how this all turns out, especially when I hear the stories of our other tenants — some of them elderly, some of them young families," Curran said. "They are in a position where they can't pay their rent if it increases very much."

'It is greed,' tenant says

"I don't know what madness these people are doing. It doesn't seem to be right to me," said tenant Joseph Percy.

Percy, now 79, said he will be forced to move back to his home in Trinidad and Tobago if the increase is approved.

"I cannot pay that increase, it's too much," Percy said. "Everything the government gives me is going into the rent."  

He said fate is the deciding factor to the outcome of the next hearing.

"It is discouraging. It is silly. It is greed ... I cannot find all the words," Percy said.

Roma Rochester, 74, also received an eviction notice.

The pensioner says she has not experienced this in 30 years of living in the building.

"I know what they're doing. They're trying to get people like me, who have been living here for a long time, out," she said.

"At my age ... I wouldn't be able to survive that."