Tenants opposed to above-guidance rent increase go on rent strike, withhold payments

Click to play video: 'Toronto tenants strike, withhold payments to pushback against rent increase'
Toronto tenants strike, withhold payments to pushback against rent increase
WATCH: Toronto tenants strike, withhold payments to pushback against rent increase – Jun 5, 2023

Thorncliffe Park has a large immigrant community. Some people, who have survived and escaped war-torn countries and are now tenants in a three-complex building, are fighting back against their landlord, who has proposed an above-guideline-rent increase, by going on a rent strike.

“The amount of money we’re withholding is quite a bit. I know this landlord is very powerful and big, but I think this will make a difference,” said Jawad Ukani, a tenant in one of three buildings.

The rent strike, which is now in its second month, has seen nearly 125 tenants organize to withhold payments from their landlord, who had proposed a rental increase of 4.94 to 5.5 per cent. The allowed rental increase for 2023 set by the provincial government is 2.5 per cent.

Just last year, Starlight Investments, which owns and operates the apartment complex of 71, 75 and 79 Thorncliffe Park, had proposed a rent increase of 4.2 per cent, which was three per cent more than the guidance the province of Ontario laid out.

Story continues below advertisement

“It’s a lot of financial burdens, so if they keep on increasing like this, then that is the amount of money we can’t contribute to our children,” Ukani said.

Global News contacted Starlight Investments but has yet to receive a response to their inquiry.

The proposed rental increase was set to take place on May 1, but tenants, in large numbers, decided not to give in to the property owner’s demand. Longtime tenants like Sonia Israel, who has lived in the same apartment for the past 31 years, said they’re looked at as a number on a spreadsheet and not as human beings needing homes.

“They are not acknowledging us because everything is money, money, money, money, and not caring about the tenants’ welfare,” she said.

Click to play video: 'Cosburn Avenue tenants in Toronto facing significant rent hike'
Cosburn Avenue tenants in Toronto facing significant rent hike

Israel, who works at a shelter that services Toronto’s most vulnerable and people experiencing homelessness, raised her two daughters in her apartment. She said the group organized to get ahead of the proposed rental price increase — and will fight against it being allowed to take place.

Story continues below advertisement

“You have to stand up for yourself before the rent increase takes place, or else it goes into effect, and that’s the way. You have to fight before,” she said.

There’s power in numbers, according to Israel, who said had it been one person who spoke out against the increases, it might’ve failed. But to have nearly 125 people on board and growing every month, they can make a difference.

“Cost of living is high for everyone, and then increasing the cost of living with such a high percentage is hard. That is why we’re fighting together,” she said.

The 76-year-old noted that she loves Thorncliffe Park due to the character and how comfortable she feels, but she cannot continue living in her apartment if prices keep rising, even if she wishes she could stay put.

“As long as life lasts, I hope this is my end home,” she said.

For Jawad Ukani and his family, Thorncliffe Park is all they’ve ever known. With his rent set to have gone up nearly $150 over two years, he noted it made life hard to afford, considering the rising costs of groceries, clothes and other basic necessities.

“It’s been very depressing and very hectic. We have lived here and built this community, there are vulnerable people, and it’s a big financial burden, and if they keep increasing the rent, that is less money we can put toward our kids,” Ukani said.

Story continues below advertisement

Ukani said his increase would see him paying nearly $1,500 a year, which he can’t afford, and would make life even tougher.

All above-guidance rent increases need the approval of the Landlord and Tenant Board, but if they’re contested, they can take anywhere from several months to well over a year. The landlord’s application states that the rent increase is due to capital repairs and improvements. But, tenants aren’t buying in.

“In my 18 years living here, nothing has really changed in my apartment. The cabinet doors are broken and don’t close, the ceiling si falling apart, and nothing works. They added some windows outside and a new layer of paint, but it doesn’t change the reality,” Ukani said.

“It’s all superficial; they’re just trying to attract newer tenants at a higher price and driving out the old ones.”

Mohamad Khali Aldroubi and his family left war-torn Syria to come to Canada as refugees but are shocked at their living conditions. Aldrouiu alleged that mice have consistently been living in the walls, and at least three times, his home has had bedbugs.

“This is not a good way to live,” he said. “This is not just impacting just me; it’s impacting my wife, my kids, my neighbours, the community of Thorncliffe.”

An emotional Aldroubi noted that the money they’re withholding from rent isn’t savings or anything of the sort — and they’re barely getting by on a day-to-day basis.

Story continues below advertisement

“We’re not talking about saving money; we can’t save. We just want to breathe, to live normally,” he said.

Tenants like Aldroubi and others have been served eviction notices but don’t plan to give up until they reduce the rental increase.

“We just want respect. We want to be living,” he said.

The Landlord and Tenant Board have not decided on the above guideline rental increase yet.

Sponsored content