Toronto

From bedbugs to break-ins, Scarborough tenants demand change

Complaints of bed bugs, stoves that turn on by themselves, break-ins — and a landlord that tenants say ignores their cries for help — led to a protest that saw dozens of residents demanding to speak with property management on Saturday afternoon.

Building residents protest thefts, pests, 'systemic fear' as managers say they're in the right

A tenant who had taped a handwritten sign with the words 'Realstar sucks' clashes with another resident outside Cambridge Place apartments on Saturday. (Keith Burgess/CBC)

Complaints of bed bugs, stoves that turn on by themselves, break-ins — and a landlord that tenants say ignores their cries for help — led to a protest that saw dozens of residents demanding to speak with property management on Saturday afternoon.

Chanting, placard-waving tenants are accusing mega-manager, Realstar Group, of failing to maintain the safety and livability of their Scarborough building complex in the Oakridge area.

They claim the company has created an atmosphere of aggression in the process.

'The problem is getting severe'

Mohammed Rokonuzzaman, a tenant representative of the building and member of advocacy group ACORN, has a list of grievances he says aren't being addressed. (Keith Burgess/CBC)

Residents say management has tried to charge them an air-conditioning fee, has not bothered to keep up with maintenance requests and has failed to adequately address vehicle break-ins.

Realstar, which manages $6 billion in assets and operates hotel chains and residences in Canada and the United Kingdom, denies the charges.

"The problem is getting severe," said Mohammed Rokonuzzaman, resident of the building and a member of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, otherwise known as ACORN.

One tenant said he felt Realstar had created an atmosphere of 'systemic fear' in the building complex. (Keith Burgess/CBC)

ACORN, which bills itself as "an independent national organization of low- and moderate-income families," helped Rokonuzzaman and other tenants organize Saturday's protest. 

Amongst the thefts and pest problems, tenants say they have been called "rude" and "racist" by property managers, Rokonuzzaman alleges.

It's an attitude he says creates "systemic fear" for those living at 30 Denton Avenue.

Treatment motivated protests

Rokonuzzaman pointed to tenants who he says have been sleeping on couches to avoid bedbugs, calling the conditions "miserable."

Other tenants at the protest agreed, chanting slogans with ACORN organizers.

Some, like Mohammad Ud-doula, think the management's treatment of tenants stands in the way of a friendly community.

One tenant had belongings wrapped in plastic bags in an effort to fend off bed bugs. (Keith Burgess/CBC)

"The main problem is their attitude towards us as tenants," said Ud-doula, who has lived in the building for nine years. 

"More communication, more listening, and a better attitude" is needed from management, he added.

No 'issues of significance,' Realstar exec says

Ud-doula says residents asked management to place security cameras in the hallways on each floor to fight vandalism and theft, but says management refused, citing privacy issues.

Realstar senior vice president Mark Hales told CBC Toronto on Saturday the company has done all they can to prevent break-ins, including the installation of 30 security cameras and new lights, hiring night security patrol and adding an electronic access system to the main entrance.

But of break-ins, Hales said, "unfortunately they can happen anywhere and we take them seriously."

A few dozen tenants gathered outside their apartment complex Saturday in a protest organized by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. (Keith Burgess/CBC)

Hales added he isn't currently aware of any outstanding maintenance problems at the property.

'We have investigated and aren't aware of any issues of significance," he said.

New bylaws to guide landlord-tenant disputes

ACORN organizers pointed to new apartment bylaws in the city, which came into effect July 1, as impetus for Realstar to take protesters' concerns seriously.

The bylaws, collectively called "RentSafeTO," impose standards for rental maintenance on managers that would compel them to carry out regular pest inspections and respond to service requests within a set timeframe.

Hales says Realstar stands by their staff at 30 Denton Avenue, but said lines of communication with tenants would be kept open.

"The residents are entitled to voice their concerns and we respect that," he said. 

Tenants with complaints, Hales added, are "welcome to approach management office to discuss that."

With files from Natalie Nanowski and Fannie Bussières McNicoll

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