Hundreds of tenants turn out for rent strike rally Saturday

Rents have been steadily increasing for two years at two apartments in Toronto's west end. Tenants and community advocates took to the streets today to loudly say it's not fair.

Hundreds of tenants at two west-end properties braved the rain to take part took part in a “Rally for Fair Rent” on Saturday.

Residents at 33 King Street have not paid rent since June 1 citing mismanagement by corporate landlord Dream Unlimited and increases they say are three times higher than the buildings’ rent control guidelines. They have been joined by tenants at neighbouring 22 John Street, which is owned by the same landlord, who stopped paying rent as of July 1.

“This strike isn’t about free rent, it’s about fairness,” said Sharlene Henry, co-chair of the York South-Weston Tenant Union and a resident of 33 King St.

“We are all prepared to pay our rent when Dream Unlimited sits down to negotiate these excessive rent increases with us as a tenant union, but so far they only want to talk about ‘community programming’. We don’t want charity. We want real rent control.”

Provincial guidelines allow landlords of rent-controlled buildings to increase rents for most existing tenants based on the annual rent increase guidelines, which in 2023 is set at 2.5 per cent. The rent increase guideline for 2024 will remain unchanged.

The cap does not apply to rental units first occupied after Nov. 15, 2018.

Landlords can also apply to the Landlord and Tenant Board for increases above the rate set by the province.

Some tenants at 33 King Street have reported rent increases of 22 per cent over the last five years while increases of between seven to 10 per cent have been reported at neighbouring 22 John Street since the building opened in 2019.

“Whose wage goes up 10 percent every year?” says Anthony Alao, a tenant leader at 22 John and executive member of the York South-Weston Tenant Union. “Not mine. Not my neighbours.”

The Weston neighbourhood that is home to these tenants is also home to some of the busiest food banks and meal programs in the city.

The march, which included the support of labour union members and MPPs, took their message to the front of Conservative MPP Michael Ford’s office and Liberal MP and Federal Housing Minister Ahmed Hussen’s office.

“People shouldn’t have to go to these lengths just to hold on to their homes,” says Ontario NDP Housing critic Jessica Bell. “We’ve tabled legislation to bring back real rent control and make it the law that new tenants pay what the previous tenants paid—preventing unfair evictions and renovictions.”

A representative from Dream Unlimited tells CityNews they have reached out to tenants at 33 King to develop individual payment plans to help with the rent increases and that only 30 out of 239 residents have requested any sort of assistance.

“Since we acquired this property in late 2021, we immediately began working with the federal government to preserve and increase the amount of affordable housing units at 33 King. We’ve increased the total from 52 to 189 units. 40 per cent of all units at 33 King are now affordable and exempt from any AGI’s (above guideline rent increases),” the company said in a statement.

“The AGI’s that are impacting the other 60 per cent of the building were inherited by the previous owner for work completed prior to our acquisition, in 2016-2018. We’ve been working hard to resolve these AGI’s and recently settled the prior owner’s 2018 AGI application, which included a significant reduction from the original ask.”

The company also says that the situation at 22 John Street is different as that building was opened after November 2018.

“West22 does not fall under the purview of the provincial rent increase guidelines. We understand that affordability is a concern for many individuals and families, and have strived to keep the lease rates at West22 significantly lower than the market value,” Dream Unlimited said in its statement.

“Even with recent increases, rents at West22 are still 30 per cent below market standard.”

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