THE RAIN DIDN’T STOP THEM. Hundreds of tenants, from two highrise appartments in west Toronto, ignored the afternoon rain on July 15 and filled the sidewalks in front of their buildings. They were on a rent strike and they wanted the whole world to know it.
The rent strike demo also included members of labour unions, such as Unifor and CUPE, other tenant organizations, food banks as well as Ontario NDP housing critic Jessica Bell. Participants stopped in front of Conservative MPP Michael Ford’s office as well as Liberal MP and Federal Housing Minister Ahmed Hussen’s office.
Diana Fudge, 68, a resident of 33 King St. sat in her disability scooter just outside the entrance to her building watching the protest as it unfolded.
As protesters chanted and security guards stood watch at the front of the building, Fudge said she joined the rent strike in hopes that the landlord will listen.
As it is, she said, she and her husband, who both live off their meagre pensions, are left penniless at the end of each month after paying rent and buying what food they can afford.
When she moved in, rent for her two-bedroom unit was $1,600. She said the $500 increase since then has been hard.
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Ontario has rent control laws, but the laws do not apply to new rental units, nor do they prevent landlords from jacking up rents as much as they like between tenants.
Worse still, Ontario landlords can get permission to ignore the rent control rules by applying for Above Guidelines Increases (AIGs).
Bruno Dobrusin, who represents tenants at both buildings, said rent at these buildings has shot way up over the last few years because of these AGIs— sometimes by 22 per cent. An increase many, many times more than the single-digit limits set by the rent control law.
The previous owner of the apartments at 33 King St. had applied for six AGIs in 10 years.
Dobrusin says that’s why tenants from about 300 units across both buildings decided to mount a rent strike. The strike at 33 King began June 1, joined by tenants from 22 John St. a month later on July 1.
“It’s unfair,” Dobrusin said. “This is a working class part of the city. “They’re struggling to pay rent as it is. This seems cruel.”
Since last year, Dobrusin said his tenant union has tried many times to sit down with the landlord and hash out a more reasonable deal. But, he said, the company doesn’t seem interested in playing ball.
Diana Fudge says, since she stopped paying rent, she’s started getting frequent calls from the landlord, along with an eviction notice.
But, Fudge says she’s staying put, supporting the strike and crossing her fingers.
“It’s stressful,” she said. “But we’re not budging.”
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