These seniors face a 20% rent increase — and Ontario rules make it legal
Some tenants moving out because they can no longer afford the rent
Kim Tanaszczuk watches as her daughter helps pack her belongings in the one-bedroom apartment she calls home in Russell, Ont.
She hasn't been here long — Tanaszczuk moved into the seniors building in August 2021 — but said she needs to move out because she can no longer afford to pay the rent.
Rent increases are normal and expected, though they're usually subject to rent control guidelines. Landlords are permitted to raise rents by 2.5 per cent in 2023, a limit set by the province of Ontario.
But Tanaszczuk and other tenants were shocked when they received a notice earlier this year that their expected monthly payments would jump, in some cases by 25 per cent, and even more disturbed to learn it was perfectly legal.
A change introduced by the province in 2018 exempted new rental units first occupied after Nov. 15 of that year from rent control.
"This will help create market‐based incentives for supply growth that will encourage an increase in housing supply to meet the needs of the people of Ontario," reads the Progressive Conservative's 2018 fiscal update.
Tenant calls it 'greed' and 'extortion'
"I'm just outraged," said Tanaszczuk, who was asked to pay $100 more in monthly rent starting in December.
"I think it's greed. I think it's usury. I think it's extortion."
Tanaszczuk, who wasn't aware of the rule change when she moved into the building, said she now has no choice but to leave.
"We all grew up with rent control. It would never occur to us that it didn't exist," she said.
Tanaszczuk still considers herself one of the lucky ones, already having found another, more affordable home to move into — unlike her upstairs neighbour, Cindy McMurray, whose rent will soon be $1,400 a month for her one-bedroom apartment, an increase of more than $200.
"I wanted to throw up. I cried for a week," she said. "I got frozen, trying to think of how I move forward. What do I do? Where do I go?"
Tanaszczuk and McMurray are both unable to work, and because they're seniors, they have a fixed income.
Another tenant, who CBC has agreed not to name because they fear repercussions from the landlord for speaking out, is also facing a monthly rent increase of more than $200.
"I think it's disgusting. It's absolutely disgusting," she said.
The tenant is planning to move out, having paid a deposit for another apartment under construction, but it won't be ready until next summer.
Landlord partly points to inflation
None of these women were made aware that their units were exempt from rent control guidelines. All three said they moved into the building, built after the 2018 rule change, because it was advertised as affordable living for seniors, with rents for some units being advertised as low as $997.
However, in July of this year, residents were informed the building was sold to Hartsford Properties, and just a few weeks later they received notices that rent would rise.
CBC did not receive a response from company officials in time for publication, but in its original letter to tenants, Hartsford said it's aware that increases would be larger than expected, so it was "providing notice well in advance to allow ample time to prepare for this change."
It cited "inflation, increased expenses and average market rents" in the area as factors that contributed to the increase, adding the "new monthly rent will still remain well below current market rents."
The letter asks those who wanted to end their tenancy to provide the company with 60 days' notice.
Exemption 'paying off,' says province
Tenants have reached out to the provincial government, as well as to federal and provincial politicians for the area, but say they have received no response.
CBC also requested an interview with someone from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. Instead, it sent a statement.
"This is paying off for Ontarians," spokesperson Conrad Spezowka said of the exemption.
He wrote that the province reached a 30-year record for new rental housing construction last year, "the most units built in a single year since 1991," though the exact amount wasn't specified.
Rent control guidelines still apply to approximately 1.4 million rental households in the province, the statement read.
Check before signing a lease, says lawyer
Dania Majid, a lawyer with the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario (ACTO), said tenants are finding themselves in similar situations as new apartments are built.
"Last week I was consulted about a case where a tenant received a $1,000-a-month rent increase," Majid said.
These rent increases are creating more "economic evictions" she said, which is why ACTO has been advocating for government to remove the exemption, but there's been no commitment.
Majid said there's little else tenants of newer units can do to stop this from happening. She recommended that people always check with the landlord whether a building has rent control before signing a lease.
"These loopholes were created by this government," she said.
Cutting costs or moving out
McMurray said she's now trying to cut costs where she can, cancelling services and walking places to save on gas. Even still, it's unclear how long she'll be able to manage. The situation has also had a severe impact on her mental health.
"All of my health issues have been exasperated. It's hard to sleep. You avoid people because you're just not in a very good space," McMurray said.
Tanaszczuk said she'll miss the community she's found in her neighbours, though she has no choice but to leave.
"I think everybody when they moved in, including me, thought that this would be kind of the last place," she said. "Now everybody's having to look."
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