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Ontario rent freeze could mean more evictions, critics say

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Ontario government announces rent freeze' Coronavirus: Ontario government announces rent freeze
The Ontario government has announced plans to freeze rent next year for most residential properties across the province. – Aug 29, 2020

As the Ontario government prepares to freeze most residential rents across the province to help those suffering financial losses from the COVID-19 pandemic, critics of the plan say it doesn’t go far enough.

On Friday, the Ontario PC government announced plans to freeze rent on rent-controlled residential properties through 2021, promising to introduce relevant legislation in the fall.

“I will bring forward legislation this fall to freeze rents — so that the vast majority of families do not see a rent increase in the next year,” Steve Clark, minister of municipal affairs and housing, posted to Twitter.

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Cole Webber, a community legal worker and tenant advocate, told Global News halting rent increases could actually lead to more evictions.

“In Ontario, there’s no rent control on vacant units, so landlords have a financial incentive to push out sitting tenants so that they can raise rent without limit on the vacant unit,” he said.

Read more: Toronto rental market turned upside down by coronavirus pandemic, hands power to tenants

It’s a concern on the mind of Vinson Salim, who stopped paying rent on his apartment in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood in April after he was laid off work.

His landlord served him notice soon afterward to pay up or move out, he said. Having been homeless before, he said the situation evokes difficult memories.

“It’s kind of like a reminder of how my life is going to be afterward,” he said.

Suze Morrison, the Ontario NDP tenant rights critic, said in an emailed statement the rent freeze is insufficient, and that the government should also take steps such as banning evictions during the pandemic and offering a rent subsidy to those who have lost income.

“This doesn’t help the tenants who have been struggling to keep a roof over their head and needed help months ago,” she wrote. “Instead of helping these tenants, (Premier) Doug Ford has taken things from bad to worse in the middle of the pandemic with a new law to fast track evictions.”

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Read more: Hamilton rents ‘sky-high’ amid pandemic: report

Also critical of the rent freeze, Tony Irwin, president and CEO of the Federation of Rental-Housing Providers of Ontario, said relief targeted at the tenants who need it most would be more effective.

“This measure — sort of providing (an) across-the-board rent freeze is helping some residents who, quite frankly, are not in dire straights,” he said.

“They’re able to pay their rent. Their circumstances have not changed.”

Cole, the community legal worker, said he believes no one should face eviction for unpaid rent during the pandemic.

“Otherwise we’re going to see levels of homelessness and destitution unlike we’ve ever seen before,” he said.