Tenants rallying against proposed rent increase for East York building

Starlight Investments has given notice to tenants at an East York apartment building about a possible 4.2% rent increase in the new year. Mark McAllister speaks with tenants about their concerns and efforts to fight back.

By Mark McAllister and Meredith Bond

A group of East York tenants are rallying together against a rent increase above the provincial guidelines they say will price many of them out of the building.

Starlight Investments has applied for a 4.2 per cent rent increase with the Ontario Landlord and Tenant Board to go into effect in January at 130 Gowan Avenue, above the allowed 1.2 per cent for 2022.

Ontario enacted a rent freeze during the COVID-19 pandemic as many were struggling with finances, but it’s expected to be lifted in January. Many advocates have called for the freeze to be extended past January.

A letter signed by 113 tenants from the building was sent to Starlight Wednesday asking for the Above Guidelines Increase (AGI) to be withdrawn.

“This increase is misguided, unfair, and only aims to have people forced out of their homes when rent is no longer affordable,” read the letter.

Gina Gray, an 87-year-old woman who has lived in the building for 24 years said she would not be able to afford the rent increase if it is approved. “I think that that’s what they’re doing so they can force us out. We can’t go out, where can we go?” Gray told CityNews.

She’s very worried about what might happen to her. “The way things are going, there’s no way that people can afford it. And especially now with the food going up, how can we make it? We can’t make it.”

Another tenant, Pearl Silverberg, said they’ve been working hard to bring this issue directly to Starlight.

“We really want to bring the issue to Starlight and let them know that people here can’t afford that kind of an increase,” said Silverberg. “We’ve tried to get enough people together that are on the same page that are struggling as it is.”

Greenwin Corporation, which manages the property, told CityNews in a statement the rent increase is necessary because of capital improvements made to the building over the last year including the structural restoration of the balconies and the building exterior.

The statement says they are aware of the concerns expressed by some residents and said they have communicated openly with residents throughout the construction process and will continue to do so.

“[We] have been working hard to ensure the community understands that no increases have yet been approved by the Board; the significant capital improvements already made to the building which form the basis of our application; and, our process to support any resident in need through our AGI relief programs,” read the statement.

Housing advocate Philip Zigman says there is a provision in Residential Tenancies Act that allows landlords to transfer the cost of repairs onto tenants and many landlords are taking advantage of this clause.

“There are a lot of landlords like Starlight, who acquired lots of properties during the pandemic, who were doing these renovations during the pandemic and landlords like Starlight now that the rent freeze is lifted are enthusiastically trying to raise rent as much as they can,” said Zigma

He said when this happens, it pushes people out of their homes.

“It displaces them out of their community. And given what the rental market is for renters in the city of Toronto, if you have rent-controlled apartments that you’ve been in for 30 years and you’re pushed out because you can no longer afford your rent, you can’t find a place to live in the city,” said Zigman.

He added an increase of four per cent is significant, especially for seniors who are on pensions and fixed incomes.

“People already struggling with the economic hardships of COVID-19. We see food costs going up and now their landlord, which is a huge corporation, which is making tons of money, they’re asking them to pay quite a bit more in rent,” said Zigman.

Starlight owns over 600 properties across the country and has more than $1.6 billion in assets in just their Canadian Multi-Family real estate portfolio. They did not respond to CityNews’ request for comment.

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