Tenants take on landlord over eviction threats due to air conditioner use

Angry tenants hold sidewalk meeting to plan collective action

KEEPING COOL could get Cindy Therrien evicted. Therrien is using her A/C unit and is refusing to pay extra for it. Her landlord warned her, back in June, that doing that could lead to eviction. Therrien is willing to risk it to stay well.

“I feel sick. I can’t even eat,” she says, “I don’t even want to drink and being diabetic, without air conditioning I’m pushing my luck.”

Still too hot

“Yesterday, [August 7] it was 33.9 C,” says Therrien, “When I turned the air on it started to cool off a little in my place, to about 27 C, which, to me, is still too hot.”

Therrien, is a tenant in The Imperial, a high-rise apartment building at 130 Jameson Ave in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood. She is one of about 50 tenants in the building, who got a letter from their landlord, the The Myriad Group, in June, telling them that they would have to either remove their air conditioners or pay extra fees for the electricity to run them. Choosing to not do either, Myriad warned, could lead to eviction.

Some tenants have taken their units out and others are too scared to turn them on, says Therrien. “We were told by the Parkdale Organize community group [to] use your air conditioner. Don’t put your health at risk. So that’s what I’m doing.”

One more scare tactic

Shelly Dunphy has lived in the building her entire life. She calls the Myriad letter a “scare tactic.”

She says the Myriad manoeuvre as just a new twist in the reno-viction game, where landlords look for an edge to use to legally to evict tenants, in order to put properties back on the rental market at a higher rate.

“Local rents in the neighbourhood have doubled in the past 10 years,” Dunphy said. “Once this happens to us, other buildings in the neighbourhood will be next.”

Dunphy helped arrange a meeting outside the building between The Imperial tenants and representatives from the community action group, Parkdale Organize.

Tenants take collective action

Emina Gamulin of Parkdale Organize told the tenants: “What we advise is what you’re doing … talking to your neighbours, figuring out your core demands and then organizing to get those demands to your landlord.”

The group is circulating a petition, which it will present to Myriad, calling the eviction threat “unacceptable.”

“What we find is when tenants try to fight these things through the legal route sometimes the protections aren’t there,” Gamulin said. “The fastest and most effective thing for tenants to do is put the pressure on their landlords directly.”

“You need to deal with a bully by standing up and doing it collectively together,” she said. “That’s what’s going to keep tenants safe and strong, comfortable this summer, and in their homes.”

A human rights issue

Another aspect of this issue is whether or not air conditioning for tenants should be considered a human right—just the way heating is.

During the winter months, the Ontario Residential Tenancies Act stipulates that it is a landlord’s responsibility to maintain a minimum temperature of 21 degrees in a rental unit. Tenant advocates are calling on the Ontario government to implement a similar maximum temperature regulation, so that tenants are protected from extreme weather events in both the summer and winter.

Out of 2.9 million people in Toronto, approximately half a million live in older buildings without air conditioning.

“This is a public health issue. It’s a matter of human rights,” said Dr. Andrew Boozary, executive director of social medicine for the University Health Network.

Boozary said this summer is creating a “perfect storm” for those just trying to survive in poverty.

Prescribing air conditioning

“One of the things I’ve faced with in my own practice is people needing these supports to get access to air-conditioning. Whether they’re in community housing on social assistance and for many without, I don’t know how people have been fairing.”

He has had to write medical notes to social assistance “prescribing air conditioning” for his patients, many of whom already suffer from underlying health conditions.

“When you add the element of climate change, increased heat, it only exacerbates and drives this to a level that we just have not seen before,” Boozary said. “The impacts are immense. What we’re seeing is this compounding crisis of climate change and poverty.”

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