Toronto

Yorkville tenants say proposed rent hikes could make some of them homeless

Some Yorkville tenants, many of them seniors on fixed incomes, say they could be facing rent increases over three years that could push some of them into homelessness if they're approved. 

Some are seniors on fixed incomes, all are worried about above-guideline increases

Agnes Von Mehren, a tenant at 103 Avenue Road, is fighting a proposed rent increase at her building. At issue is what is known as an above-the-guideline increase in rent. (Angelina King/CBC)

Some Yorkville tenants say they could be facing rent increases over three years that could push some of them into homelessness if the hikes are approved. 

The tenants, all of whom live in Avenue Park Apartments at 103 Avenue Rd., a mid-rise building south of Davenport Road, say their landlord wants to hike their rents through what is known as above-the-guideline increases.

Agnes Von Mehren, a senior who has lived in the building for more than 30 years, said her rent will increase by nearly $100 a month. The average rent in the building is about $1,200 and she said some tenants have been told their rent could go up by 5.2 per cent in 2020. Others could see a hike of 6.2 per cent.

"Something has to be done about it," Von Mehren said. "It's forcing tenants into homelessness. With these extraordinary increases, people are being forced out.

About 40 per cent of the tenants in the building are seniors on fixed incomes.

The tenants want to reduce the amounts through a hearing at the Landlord and Tenant Board. The tenants have already been through mediation that was organized by the board. They say it was unsuccessful.

Hollyburn Properties Ltd., the landlord, confirmed in an email to CBC Toronto on Wednesday that it bought Avenue Park Apartments, a 62-year-old building, in 2015 and it required "significant" repairs and maintenance.

"In doing extensive updates, our goal is to improve livability for our residents and ensure this building remains a safe, quality rental community for years to come," the landlord said in the statement.

"The Residential Tenancies Act of Ontario allows landlords to recoup some of the costs of significant updates through a rental increase. This is a formal process in which we must substantiate our work," the statement continues.

Hollyburn said the process is still underway and no rent increase has yet been approved.

'Tenants are scared to death'

Von Mehren said the tenants have been waiting for six months for the board to schedule what is called a "merits" hearing so they can argue for a decrease.

"Tenants are scared to death ...They can't afford to move and they can't afford to stay. What's next? I hate to say it, the government has to wake up and do something for tenants, especially seniors," she said.

Von Mehren said above-the-guideline increases in rent should be abolished in Ontario.

Each year, the Ontario government sets guidelines for how much a landlord can raise the rent. The limit for 2019 is a 1.8-per-cent increase, while the limit for 2020 has been set at 2.2 per cent.

Landlords who want to increase the rent further to cover capital improvement costs can apply to the board for an additional increase, with a maximum of three per cent on top of the provincial guideline for up to three years.

The tenants, all of whom live at Avenue Park Apartments, say their landlord is hoping to hike the rent through above-the-guideline increases. (CBC)

According to Von Mehren, the landlord has applied for above-the-guideline rent increases of nine per cent over three years for repairs and renovations. Initially, it applied for an 11.13-per-cent increase but the request was capped by the provincial government at nine per cent, she said.

Agnes Von Mehren says 'tenants are scared to death because of the vast increases in rent. They don't know what they are to do ... They can't afford to move and they can't afford to stay.' (CBC)

Von Mehren said the landlord renovated the interior of the building, including laying new carpets and installing new windows, and renovated balconies on the front of the building. She said the renovations cost $2.2 million. 

The landlord is allowed to increase rent by 2.2 per cent in 2020, according to Ontario's rent increase guideline, which is the maximum a landlord can increase rent during a year without approval of the board.

In mediation conducted through the board, Hollyburn proposed to reduce the above-the-guideline amount from nine to 8.6 per cent. 

"That was a joke, an absolute joke," Von Mehren said.

Gordon Farr, another tenant who has lived in the building for at least 13 years, said he doesn't think the tenants can stop the increases. He said his rent could rise to more than $2,000 per month.

Gordon Farr, another tenant at 103 Avenue Road, says 'it's awfully stressful for people in the building.' (CBC)

"It's awfully stressful for people in the building," Farr said.

Geordie Dent, executive director of the Federation of Metro Tenants' Associations, said above-the-guideline increases have hurt a lot of people, especially seniors on fixed incomes. 

"In the last few years, it's become an even greater issue," Dent said.

"The big risk right now is that when people are getting pushed out of the building, there's nowhere for them to go," Dent added.

"In past years, you could just find another unit at maybe a lower price. Those units have vanished in the city of Toronto." 

With files with Angelina King

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