These Toronto tenants are sick of above-guideline rent increases. Now, they're taking action
Building owner Dream Unlimited says it's doing 'critically necessary' restoration work
About 200 residents of a west-end Toronto highrise have decided to stop paying rent in protest of above-guideline rent increases at their building, says their tenant association.
Beverley Henry, who has lived at 33 King St. for close to a decade, is one of the tenants involved.
She says by September, her rent could be 40 per cent higher than it was when she moved into the building near Lawrence Avenue West and Weston Road.
As a senior on a fixed income, Henry worries she might end up on the street.
"If the rent keeps going [up] I cannot afford to live here. And I mean, there is [nothing] cheaper in the city," she said.
"I'm a senior and I have nowhere else to go."
In March 2022, CBC Toronto reported that the owners of Henry's building had applied to the Landlord and Tenant Board for six above-guideline rent (AGI) increases in the last 10 years. There have been multiple owners of the building in that time span.
Without approval from the board, landlords in Ontario are only allowed to increase rent for most existing tenants according to the province's annual rent increase for inflation. The guideline is set at 2.5 per cent for 2023. AGIs allow landlords to tack on up to an additional three per cent per year for things like significant renovations or repairs.
Sharlene Henry (no relation to Beverley Henry), chair of the building's tenant association, said an increase of a few percentage points can have a significant impact in today's affordability crisis.
"When I have a working class person just like myself, look at me in the elevator at five in the morning on the way to work and say, 'We need to win this because at the end of the month, I choose rent over food,' my stomach turns," she said.
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Tenants want compensation for loss of service
Chiara Padovani, co-chair of the York Southwest Tenants' Union, of which 33 King St. is a member, said there are two AGI applications for the building that are still pending, from 2019 and 2021. She said they don't know how large those increases might be, if approved.
Padovani says tenants have three main demands: that their landlord drops the existing AGIs, a commitment to no more AGIs being requested and compensation for a loss of service tenants have faced during construction on the building – like being unable to access their balconies.
She says the union is looking forward to discussing those demands with the landlord and seeing what they bring to the table.
"But their rent strike will go on for as long as the tenant association decides it needs to in order to get a decent and satisfactory response from the landlord," she said.
Company says it's doing necessary restoration
The building's current owner, Dream Unlimited, acquired the building in 2021.
Asked by CBC Toronto for an interview on Wednesday, the company said no one was available. However, in a statement, the company said it is evaluating future AGIs and will communicate with tenants first once a decision has been made.
The statement on behalf of Hero Mohtadi, vice president of residential operations and asset management at Dream Unlimited, said the company is working to decarbonize the building, restore the balconies and replace windows and balcony doors.
"The restoration of the balconies is critically necessary for the safety of our residents given the age of the building," said the statement.
The company said it's also been working to resolve the prior owner's AGI applications for work completed from 2016 to 2018. A few months ago, the statement it found a "solution" to a 2018 AGI, which included a large reduction on the initial request.
Padovani said that reduction was a 50 per cent cut. That means Dream owes money to some tenants who preemptively paid higher rent before the increase was cut in half, she said.
Dream did not acknowledge this allegation in its statement.
"The landlord has turned around and said, 'We don't owe anyone any money because we have all of these other above-guideline rent increase applications that we expect to get approved," Padovani said.
Dream also noted in its statement that it is working with tenants to develop "individual payment plans to help alleviate financial pressures."
It also said it has made 40 per cent of the building affordable housing, making those units exempt from AGIs.
With files from Nicole Brockbank