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A group of Toronto tenants have been on a rent strike for a year and say there’s no resolution in sight

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Dozens of Dozens of tenants of Toronto’s Thorncliffe Park area have now been withholding their rent for one year, and it’s unclear when the dispute will end.

Last May, approximately 100 households at 71, 75, and 79 Thorncliffe Park Dr. launched a rent strike after they said that their landlord refused to withdraw applications for an above-guideline rent increase.

Starlight Investments, which co-owns the buildings in question with the Public Sector Pension Investment Board (PSP Investments), confirmed to CP24.com that currently 86 tenants are withholding rent, adding that the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) has since ordered them to make their payments to the tribunal while discussions around the requested rent increase continue.

A number of tenants taking part in the rent strike have also since received a notice from the LTB advising them that the landlord has filed to evict them for non-payment of rent. Those eviction proceedings, however, appear to be at a standstill. Tenant organizer Phil Zigman, of the Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations, told CP24.com that those affected are still waiting for their hearing to be scheduled.

“Our lives are in limbo. You can’t make a decision. People are worried about leaving on holidays because they might get evicted,” said Jawad Ukani, who has lived in a one-bedroom unit at 71 Thorncliffe with his wife and child since 2006.

“It’s constant stress.”

Thorncliffe Park tenants Jawad Ukani, left, M. Khan, and Iqbal Dar have been on a rent strike for a year in protest of above-guideline rental increases proposed by their landlord. (Joanna Lavoie/CP24)

Landlord wants to raise rent by up to 6.37 per cent

In 2023, landlords in Ontario were allowed to raise the rent on rent-controlled units first occupied before Nov. 15, 2018 by 2.5 per cent. Prior to 2018, the provincially-approved rent increase was 1.2 per cent per year. Anything above these amounts requires approval from the LTB.

Starlight told CP24 that it applied for rent increases varying from 5.33 to 6.37 per cent depending on the building in January 2022.

The landlord says that the Above-Guideline Increases (AGIs), which would be spread out over three years, are for structural building exterior and balcony restoration, lighting retrofit, and booster pump replacement.

The Landlord and Tenant Board, meanwhile, has yet to reach a decision on these applications, however if the board gives the go ahead the affected tenants will be required to pay the difference owed retroactively from last May when the first AGI was due to come into effect.

Iqbal Dar, who is also withholding his rent, has rented a unit of the same size in the same building as Ukani for the last 20 years.

“We really don’t have peace of mind with the way things are going,” he told CP24.com on Saturday evening, one day before a group of tenants and supporters gathered outside the buildings with placards and a large banner to raise awareness about the ongoing situation.

Dar said many tenants of the three buildings are low-income newcomers to Canada as well as seniors and people on social assistance and simply do not have the means to pay more rent.

“Basically, we can’t afford it. … We really don’t know what we’re going to do in the future, how we’re going to manage ourselves?” he said.

“If they raise up the rent how many more of my people are going to have to go to the food bank? It’s already really bad.”

A rally organized by Thorncliffe Park tenants on a year-long rent strike was held on April 28 in the east Toronto neighbourhood. (Phil Zigman/photo)

Landlord says it has invested $28.5M in the 3 properties

In a lengthy statement provided to CP24.com, Penny Colomvakos, vice-president of residential Operations for Starlight Investments, said that the company has “invested more than $28.5 million in capital improvements to the buildings” since acquiring them in 2019.

Colomvakos said that they have also “responded to over 18,000 maintenance requests in a timely manner, and offered a Resident Rent Assistance Program, allowing any resident to apply for a rent relief option based on individual needs.”

“At 71, 75 and 79 Thorncliffe Park Drive, we have made capital investments to ensure the aging infrastructure can continue to be a safe and welcoming place for more than 1,000 residents to call home,” she wrote.

“When we acquire any residential building, we conduct thorough due diligence with third-party engineering firms to ensure the safety, livability, and structural integrity of the residence, and allocate budgets to protect and restore the physical integrity of the residence. Starlight Investments follows the regulations as outlined in the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006 and other applicable provincial and federal legislation, as it relates to rent, rental increases and capital investments.”

Colomvakos went on to say that AGIs are “only filed for completed and essential capital projects as outlined by the Residential Tenancies Act and mandated by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing and Landlord Tenant Board,” noting that they are “limited to completed investments of a structural nature, such as balcony and building repairs, lighting retrofits and booster pump replacements for the safety of our residents.”

But, at least two tenants who spoke with CP24 claimed that the work that has been done on the buildings is only “cosmetic” in nature and does not justify hiking the rent.

“They’ve just done the renovations from the outside, but they haven’t done anything inside,” Khan said.

“Everything is a mess inside the units. There’s been no repairs for years,” Dar added.

Ukani told CP24.com said that the rent strike would “over tomorrow” if the landlord simply sat down with the group of tenants and agreed to drop the AGIs, while also making a commitment to renovating and maintaining the entirety of the properties, especially inside the units.

Colomvakos, however, pointed out that while all residents at the three buildings are eligible for rent relief none of the 86 units currently withholding rent have applied for it.

She said that Starlight does “value open lines of communication” with tenants and works “hard to ensure that members of our community are kept informed and updated throughout the structural revitalization process.”

“Property managers are available to meet one-on-one with residents to confidentially discuss their residency,” she said.

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