More than 100 tenants at two northwest Toronto apartment buildings will go on rent strike Sunday, joining the ranks of nearly 500 residents who have been withholding payments since early summer.
The tenants, residing at 1440 and 1442 Lawrence Ave. W, claim their landlord, Barney River Investments, has refused to address serious repairs in the building while attempting to implement above-guideline rent increases.
“Everybody is pretty frustrated with their situation,” Chiara Padovani, co-chair of the York South-Weston Tenant Union said Sunday morning. “ But today, they’re feeling pretty confident, […] like a movement is growing.”
The tenants publicly announced the action at 2 p.m. at the residential complex. CTV News Toronto reached out to Barney River Investments for a statement on Saturday in response to the tenants’ claims but has not received a response.
Young people hold a sign that reads, ‘Strong Together,’ at an apartment building in northwest Toronto. (Sean Leathong/CTV News)
The deteriorating conditions at the northwest Toronto residences, including a serious insect infestation, have gotten to the point that Canada Post has ceased mail delivery to the residences citing unsafe working conditions.
Padovani says the buildings’ elevators are often out of service – an accessibility concern for residents – and that the garbage chutes have not been properly maintained.
“If you walk down the halls you can always smell a foul smell,” she said.
“This building has been in disrepair since Barney River bought it,” protesting tenant and organizer Rashid Limbada said in a statement issued Sunday.
While the conditions have been challenging for tenants, it was an application on their landlord’s part to implement above-guideline rental increases that ultimately pushed the group into action.
“We can’t even reach our building manager to request basic maintenance, but they’re always around to tell us they’re jacking up our rents,” Limbada said.
The increase adds insult to injury, according to Padovani. “The landlord is not only not fixing the issues, but they’re charging above-guideline rent.”
In April, the group says they presented their landlord with a petition, signed by a majority of residents, demanding improved maintenance and that rents stop being raised, but the tenants say that Barney River has yet to engage with the requests.
The Lawrence Avenue residents join the ranks of hundreds of tenants from 33 King St., 22 John St., and 71, 75, and 79 Thorncliffe Park Dr. in Toronto who have been withholding rent payments – many since June – decrying above-guideline increases and a state of disrepair in their homes.
Together, the group nears almost 500 tenants, marking the largest collective rent strike in Toronto history, Padovani said
“It’s the first time that so many buildings [in Toronto] have been on rent strike for the same issue,” she explained.
WHAT’S THE LATEST AT KING, JOHN, AND THORNCLIFFE PARK?
Padovani says more and more tenants are joining the efforts over at the buildings at King and John streets, but that their landlord, Dream Unlimited, is still refusing to negotiate with the group.
“They’re going into their fifth month of striking,” she said.
Recently, Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow extended an invitation to both Dream Unlimited and the tenants in an effort to mediate the situation. However, the tenants said their landlord was not willing to undergo the process and has instead begun recently issuing eviction notices.
“It’s pretty shocking that a landlord would rather evict hundreds of tenants than sit down and actually negotiate the very real concerns that tenants are bringing to the table,” she said.
In a written statement, Dream says it has always been open to accommodating tenants facing hardship, but it is “concerned that the tenants are getting bad advice as they are responsible to pay rent, and will need to pay rent, to stay in the buildings.”
The company also stressed that, as it was built after 2018, 22 John St. is exempt from rent controls. In either case, Dream claims the above-guideline rent increases were inherited from the previous owner, saying it has not applied for any of those hikes since it acquired the properties in 2021.
Meanwhile, tenants at Thorncliffe Park, whose homes are owned by Starlight and PRP Investments, attended eviction hearings this week.
Amid the threat of eviction, the group is still demanding their landlord withdraw above-guideline rent increases, which, according to documents reviewed by CP24, have varied from 4.94 per cent to 5.5 per cent in 2023.
With files from CTV News Toronto’s Natalie Johnson and CP24’s Joanna Lavoie.
Toronto tenants can be seen holding a public protest amid ongoing rent strikes in the city. (York South-West Tenant Union/Twitter)