Tenants in striking Stoney Creek Towers say landlord walled-in room to block meetings

Tenants in the east-end highrises have been refusing to pay rent since May. They are asking for their landlord to cancel a proposed rent increase and to complete repairs.

Landlord says wall is just part of 'renovations'

Linda Habibi says workers erected this wall Thursday to block access to a meeting room at 77 Delawana Drive where rent strike participants were regularly gathering. (Linda Habibi)

Tenants at two Hamilton highrises involved in a five-month rent strike say their landlord has walled-in doorways to lobby common rooms to stop them from meeting.

Photos taken by Linda Habibi, a rent strike captain and resident at 77 Delawana Drive, show evidence of the hasty construction, which she says was completed Thursday.

"There is absolutely no access to that room now. It's been completely mudded over and dry walled," she explained.

In an email to CBC News, a spokesperson for CLV, which manages the properties for InterRent REIT, said the construction in the lobby is part of the company's "ongoing investment" in its Hamilton buildings.

"We have recently begun renovations to the lobby at 77 Delawana Drive," wrote CLV's Roseanne MacDonald-Holtman. "When complete, residents will benefit from upgraded facilities and services."

Emily Power, with the Hamilton Tenants Solidarity Network, said she's sceptical of CLV's explanation and sees the landlord's latest move as a "complete overreaction."

Tenants in Habibi's building and at 50 Violet Drive say the walls in their lobbies appeared without explanation. Some residents in the two buildings, along with others in the two other Stoney Creek Towers, have been refusing to pay rent since May.

The strikers have two main demands for CLV group, according to Power:  that their landlord cancel a proposed rent increase of 10 per cent over the next two years and that CLV complete "longstanding repairs."

Landlord claims wall part of renovations

The view through a window shows the back of the recently sealed off doorway. (Hamilton Tenants Solidarity Network)

"This is an extreme escalation and violates the Residential Tenancies Act on many counts," she said. "But it signals to the tenants that the landlord is quite desperate."

Strike participants had been meeting regularly in the rooms to organize and spread information to other tenants about what they were doing and why, said Power.

In recent weeks no-loitering signs have appeared in the hallways and CLV staff members have crashed those meetings, recorded participants and threatened to call police, she added.

Strikers deny harassing residents

MacDonald-Holtman said the no loitering signs are about protecting the safety of residents in response to complaints about "non-resident loitering and the harassment of community members."

Both Habibi and Power denied that strikers have been harassing other building occupants.

"We're so flabbergasted because tenants have been holding these lobby meetings every week for months now," said Power. "It's a key part of their organizing, especially for the elderly tenants and tenants with disabilities, the lobby is an accessible place to meet."

It's ridiculous. You can't even stop and talk to your neighbour anymore.- Linda Habibi, strike captain

Kevin LaForest is a lawyer with Jassal Law P.C. who is representing the tenants when it comes to the rent increase.

He and his team are now asking CLV for documentation to explain the safety concerns that led to their decision.

LaForest said he's hoping both sides of the disagreement can start working together.

"I hope that we can all see that this has gone too far at this point … and we have to bring the parties together to start working this through."

With a wall in the way, tenants are planning to get together at the nearby Riverdale Community Centre tonight before holding a rally calling for the wall to be torn down.

Meanwhile, Habibi said the new barrier in her building has drawn comparisons to U.S. President Donald Trump's promise to build a wall between his country and Mexico.

"It's ridiculous. You can't even stop and talk to your neighbour anymore. It's insane."