Flemingdon Park tenants set to stage rent strike after landlord demands 4.8% hike

Over 200 tenants are planning to participate in a Flemingdon Park rent strike, following the landlord's application to increase rent by 4.8 per cent.

Over 200 tenants at a North York apartment building say they're going to withhold their rent

Flor Ezel says she's been asking her landlord to fix issues with heat and structural repairs for years. (Sue Goodspeed/CBC)

For tenant Flor Ezel, the protest set to begin at a Flemingdon Park apartment building Wednesday isn't just another of the city's many rent strikes, it's her only option.

"If the rent strike doesn't work, then I don't know what will happen," she said.

Ezel has been living in the building at 35 Saint Dennis Dr., near Eglinton Avenue and the Don Valley Parkway, for nearly a decade. She's one of more 200 tenants who say they're willing to strike.

Her landlord, Minto Group, has applied for a rent increase of 4.8 per cent, well above the 1.8 per cent guideline recently set by the province. The proposed hike would add an average of $32 a month in rent to each apartment.

"I'm a pensioner, I don't make enough money to pay that hike," she said.

Richard Dickie, spokesperson for the building's landlord, Minto Group, says they 'would like to continue as closely as they can to business as usual.' (Sue Goodspeed/CBC)
 But Minto Group says they've only recently taken over the building, and have since poured $5.8 million into structural and mechanical repairs. The proposed hike , the company says, is a way to cover some of those costs.

"They intend to make it better than it is now," Minto Group spokesperson John Dickie said.

"But now, after these repairs, it is safe; it's safe for fire, it's safe for the operation of the elevators, the lighting is safe, the building is much more secure than it was."

Given the amount of money Minto Group has invested into the building, which works out to roughly $17,000 for each of the 335 units, Dickie says the increase covers only a small portion of the costs.

But Ezel says Minto has only targeted the main areas of the building, neglecting issues she says she's been flagging to management for years.

"I really don't understand why Minto would want us to pay a rent hike with this situation going on for so long," she said. "That's ridiculous."

'They're paying below market rent'

Flemingdon Park is a multicultural community in North York, known for offering affordable housing to new Canadians.

But with the Eglinton Crosstown light rail line becoming operational in a few years, the area is just one of many Toronto neighbourhoods facing rent and property increases.

The building, located at 35 Saint Dennis Dr., near Eglinton Avenue and the Don Valley Parkway, is in an area known for affordable housing for new Canadians. ( Sue Goodspeed/CBC)
 This is now one of many battles emerging between longtime tenants, who feel they're be squeezed out of their affordable apartments, and landlords, who need to make repairs on old buildings and also want to  make a profit on increasing property values.

"Frankly, for long-term tenants who have benefited from rent control, they may be the ones targeted because they're paying below market rent," said Kevin Laforest, the lawyer representing the protesting tenants.

Laforest says legally, Minto Group has every right to increase rent, but that they need to hear out concerns from the tenants.

"In the Residential Tenancies Act, which is the law, the landlord is allowed to try to recover eligible capital expenditures from the tenants," he said. "That doesn't necessarily mean we should sit by and let that happen."

'Regardless of the dispute, tenants have an obligation'

Dickie says whether or not the rent increase is approved, withholding rent is unfair. 

"Regardless of the dispute, tenants have an obligation to pay their rent," he said.  

Dickie said although eviction is a possibility, there's a long process before the dispute would reach that point. At this point, he said tenants aren't obligated to pay the increase, but they do need to pay for the apartment they're living in.

The lawyer representing the striking tenants, Kevin Laforest, says because of the building's location, rent will increase, but the landlord must address the residents' concerns. ( Sue Goodspeed/CBC)
 But Laforest, who was involved in a rent strike in Parkdale last year that forced a landlord to back down from a proposed hike, says the Parkdale example has inspired the Flemingdon tenants.

"They're going to see this through and protect each other and look out for each other," Laforest said.

With files from Adrian Cheung