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East Toronto tenants share struggles of year-long fight against rent increases

A resident pushes his grandson in a stroller outside of 75 Thorncliffe Park Drive in Toronto, as seen on Sunday, April 28, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

For more than a year, a group of tenants at three buildings in Toronto’s Thorncliffe Park Drive have withheld rent to protest what they say are above guideline rent increases being sought by their landlords.

Starlight Investments and PSP Investments are goliaths among Canadian real estate owners, holding $28 billion of assets under management, with a portfolio of over 66,000 multi-residential suites.

The tenants, many of whom are new to Canada and struggling to keep up with the increasing cost of living, are resisting the attempts to raise their rents by 5.3 to 6.3 per cent, above the Government mandated limit of a 2.5 per cent annual rise.

Starlight Investments maintain that they are following the provincial laws in their pursuit of Above Guideline Rent Increases (AGIs). They say that increased rents will help cover the cost related to “structural revitalization,” but residents dispute that and say they are afraid the price hikes will force many of them out of the apartments they have called home.

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The standoff continues as the owners seek settlement through the Landlord Tenant Board, while also filing for eviction notices.

An exterior shot of 71 Thorncliffe Park Drive, as seen on Monday, April 22, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Here, some of the Thorncliffe Park Drive tenants share their stories about the rent dispute:

M. Abdul Hafeez Khan

Shares a three-bedroom apartment with his wife and three children.

Current rent: $1,703 per month

“We were living very smoothly. Life was very smooth. But suddenly they changed everything … If you start charging a family of low household income, then you can imagine what the impact will be on them … My whole family has come under stress. And we have anxiety, we have stress, we have fear, and we don’t know what will happen. How am I today? Because I have heard from some other person who have a three-bedroom apartment and they say they pay $3,036 or something like that. I don’t know where I will manage to get that amount of money.”

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Thorncliffe Park resident M. Abdul Hafeez Khan is pictured in his home on Monday, April 22, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Yousuf Abdelwahab

Came to Canada as a refugee fleeing war in Eritrea. Shares a three-bedroom apartment with his wife and five children.

Current rent: $1,821 per month

“I came to Canada because here you have rights. You have a freedom, a safe place. And we were happy to live here. But suddenly, when you face this kind of rental problem, and a landlord (who) wants to collect the money for himself, they don’t think about how others are feeling. You feel unsafe again.”

Thorncliffe Park resident Yousuf Abdelwahab is pictured in his home on Monday, April 22, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Sameer Beyan

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Tenant organizer who shares a two-bedroom apartment with his parents.

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Current rent: $1,340 per month

“I have people asking me if they can be still able to live in this building itself and if there’s any kind of affordable units here because they know, this is really vibrant neighbourhood. There are, people and families from similar backgrounds, and they want to be close together, but, they told me that the rent right now, it’s still unaffordable. If they have to pay $3,000 for an apartment, someone told me that’s more than 100% of his salary. How is that even possible for him to live in this, neighbourhood, where he knows a lot of people in the community? … There are many people who love this community, and they’re seeing that it’s getting away from them right now.”

Thorncliffe Park resident Sameer Beyan is pictured in his home on Monday, April 22, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Penny Colomvakos

Vice President, Residential Operations, Starlight Investments.

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In an email to The Canadian Press, a spokesperson for Starlight Investments, the owners of the apartment complexes, said Above Guideline Rent Increases (AGIs) are only filed for completed and essential capital projects as outlined by the Residential Tenancies Act and mandated by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing and Landlord Tenant Board.

“AGIs are limited to completed investments of a structural nature, such as balcony and building repairs, lighting retrofits and booster pump replacements for the safety of our residents,” said Penny Colomvakos, Vice President, Residential Operations, Starlight Investments.

“Starlight Investments and our property management partner, Greenwin, value open lines of communication with our residents, and we work hard to ensure that members of our community are kept informed and updated throughout the structural revitalization process,” said Colomvakos.

“Residents are frequently provided updates and property managers are available to meet one-on-one with residents to confidentially discuss their residency. We care about our residents and are actively investing in their homes at Thorncliffe Park so it can remain a safe place to call home.”

An exterior shot of 71 Thorncliffe Park Drive, as seen on Monday, April 22, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Jawad Ukani

Tenant since 2006 currently renting a one-bedroom apartment he shares with his wife and daughter.

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Current rent: $1,145 per month

“We want the AGI that the landlord is applied to above the guideline. It’s too much for us financially, you know, with all the gas prices and groceries going up. You know, it’s become difficult to afford this kind of rent. And we want the landlord to actually withdraw the AGI, and also the applications they put in for evictions.”

“We have to let the landlord know that this (the AGI increase) is not fair, considering the condition inside the units, it’s extremely bad. The landlord justifies the increase in this heating. No, the water shutdowns are still regular. There are power failures in the month of Ramadan. If too many people at the same time start cooking in the evening, the fuses go off. So the external, renovation that they’re (the landlords) are doing is to attract more people to come on higher rents.”

Thorncliffe Park resident Jawad Ukani is pictured outside his home on Monday, April 22, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Alim Datoo

Shares a three-bedroom apartment with his parents and brother.

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Current rent: $1,710 per month

“We’ll still keep fighting and we will not bow down. We don’t want the investor just to profit over us. We are struggling and they keep on making money (from us). It’s not fair … We’ll fight for our rights so it’s fair for the middle class and not just for the rich or the investors that they can enjoy their life. We also want to enjoy life with our families.”

Thorncliffe Park resident Alim Datoo is pictured in his home on Monday, April 22, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Jamal Kabykoly

Syrian refugee sharing a three-bedroom apartment with his wife and five children.

Current rent: $1,600 per month

“I tried to hide this difficult situation for my family, and now my family is not feeling secure in this building. It’s what was not easy for us to explain to our young daughter. She’s afraid of the whole family being kicked out of this building … With the tragic increase of the rent around the city, there’s no way that we can afford moving to another apartment in another neighbourhood.”

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Thorncliffe Park resident Jamal Kabykoly is pictured in his home on Monday, April 22, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Khadija Beliyd

Shares a one-bedroom apartment with her mother.

Current rent: $1,137 per month

“At this moment, (I feel) unsafe, because I just don’t know what will happen tomorrow. I don’t know how to say it in English, but I think I’m just lost. I don’t see the future. I don’t see good things coming. Are we staying here next months or not? Or what’s going to come after? Or are we going to be able to afford these expenses or not? I mean, you don’t think about other stuff. It’s just thinking if we are going to be able to afford this and that or not.”

Thorncliffe Park resident Khadija Beliyd is pictured in her home on Monday, April 22, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

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