Tenants opposing rent increase accuse building staff of harassment, obstruction

Tenants at a major Dundas West apartment complex are filing a complaint against building management for what they say is harassment and obstruction of those attempting to prevent an increase in rent.

Building management denies residents' accusations of harassment, intimidation

Stephanie Iring and Carmelo Mangione are two of several tenants working to prevent a rent increase at their apartment complex. They say building management has been cracking down on their efforts. (Ilina Ghosh/CBC)

Tenants at a Dundas Street West apartment complex are accusing building management of using intimidation tactics, including calling in the police, to shut down their attempts to organize against a proposed rent hike.

Residents of The Crossways, located at 2350-2360 Dundas St. W. near Bloor Street West, are facing a possible 2.3 per cent increase. 

"It's scary and intimidating when all of a sudden cops show up," tenant Stephanie Iring told CBC Toronto. 

The proposed hike exceeds provincial guidelines and tenants say it's more than some can afford.

"A lot of people won't be able to stay. They can hardly make rent as it is. It's wrong. It's cruel," tenant Paula Gurney said.

Tenants say police were called to disperse one of their meetings, while building staff say it was to enforce safety regulations. (Courtesy of Cole Webber)

Tenants filed an objection against the increase to the Landlord and Tenant Board last month. 

But they are also filing a complaint with the board against building management, alleging police were called by building staff to disrupt tenants' meetings on two separate occasions. Police were not able to confirm to CBC Toronto when they were called to the building, or why.

Building manager Luigi Di Geso denies that building staff have harassed or intimidated any residents, adding that he does not oppose tenants organizing. He says the only time police were called was because tenants were violating fire safety regulations by gathering in the complex.

Kevin Laforest, the lawyer representing Crossways tenants, disagrees. 

"I would say in my experience, we haven't seen things like this," he said. 

"This kind of reluctance to let tenants organize within their rights to do so — both within the Residential Tenancies Act and the Charter — I think it's appalling that they're trying to subdue this or make it go away by intimidation and harassment."

Coun. Gord Perks 'shocked and quite angry' at owners' behaviour

Tenants are also accusing staff of preventing them from spreading information.

Crossways resident Cynthia Stark believes security hampered her attempts to post notices in the building.

"The notices were taken down the same day — we assumed by security because we're kind of used to that," she said. 

The tenants' complaint also alleges that another tenant was harassed by security as he attempted to hand out flyers.

Di Geso denies any harassment and says flyers were taken away because they were causing a mess, not because of their content. 

The Crossways apartment complex is one of the few complexes with affordable rents left in the area. (Ilina Ghosh/CBC)

Coun. Gord Perks, who represents Ward 14, Parkdale-High Park, where Crossways is located, says the tenants' attempts to organize are entirely within the law.

Perks also sits on the city's affordable housing and tenant issues committees.

"If [tenants] want to put up a notice or hang a sign out their window or knock on their neighbour's door, they absolutely have a right to do that and I am shocked and quite angry at the behaviour of the owners here," he told CBC Toronto. 

'Extraordinary' rise in property taxes

The proposed increase is 0.5 per cent more than is generally allowed by the province.

Landlords can legally raise rents above provincial guidelines if they are able to prove to the Landlord and Tenant Board it is with good reason.

The complex's landlord, Creccal Investments Ltd., filed an application for the increase in April — due to what it calls an "extraordinary" rise in municipal property taxes.

Property tax costs are determined by the tax rates set by the city and the valuation of the property by the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC).

CBC Toronto has confirmed that MPAC's valuation of The Crossways complex has increased in recent years.

Coun. Gord Perks says the rules governing rental properties in Ontario are tilted heavily in favour of property owners. (CBC News)

However, Perks says the rise in property value means long-term profit for the landlord and is not a sufficient reason to raise rents.

"If they're saying that they need an increase in rent because the value of that building has gone up, that's pretty shady grounds in my view," he said.

"It really stretches credulity to suggest that because someone has an asset that's worth more, that low-income people who are renting from them have to pay more."

Di Geso argues that a 2.3 per cent rent hike will not result in a significant increase in tenants' costs, adding that most tenants do not oppose the increase and that the protests are being led by a small group of "instigators."

But tenant Carmelo Mangione says many tenants are afraid to speak out. 

"A lot of people here are from other countries that have different laws and have experienced harsher treatment," he said.

Mangione says English is not the first language for a lot of the tenants and "it's easy for management to take advantage of that."

'These are people's homes and they're being chased out of them'

Laforest says Crossways management is not alone in raising rents beyond what their current tenants can afford. It is part of a larger pattern of mass displacement by landlords to bring in higher profits, he said.

"What we're seeing is this kind of wholesale displacement of people in Toronto, particularly of long-term renters. These are people who are paying well-below market rent because of the protections that rent control affords," Laforest said.

Laforest says many Crossways tenants' incomes are low and they can't afford rent increases.

"These are people's homes and they're being chased out of them."