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Another group of Toronto tenants refuses to pay rent, this time amid near 10% proposed hike

More than 100 tenants in a Thorncliffe Park apartment complex have stopped paying rent to protest proposed above-guideline increases of almost 10 per cent over the last two years, according to a tenant advocacy group.

The rent strike, which started just over a month ago, is the second in Toronto spurred on by above-guideline rent increases (AGIs) that CBC Toronto has reported on within the last week. 

Residents of a three-building apartment complex on Thorncliffe Park Drive were given notice of rent increases beginning on May 1, varying from 4.94 per cent to 5.5 per cent, according to copies of 2022 and 2023 notices shared with CBC Toronto by the Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations (FMTA). Last year, the proposed increase was 4.2 per cent. 

Khalil Aldroubi, who lives in the complex with his family, is one of the tenants protesting. 

“We [ran] away from the war, from Syria, to find peace and a comfortable life here in Canada,” Aldroubi said.

He said his family now considers the Thorncliffe Park complex as their home, and the increase, which would tack on almost $150 a month to their rent, is more than they can afford.

“We started feeling like someone [is] trying to kick out or push us out of our community and our home.”

A photo of an older apartment building panned upward.
Starlight Investments, one of the owners of the apartment complex, says they applied for above-guideline rent increases after making improvements to the buildings’ structure and safety. (Ken Townsend/CBC)

The Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) has not yet approved the AGIs. Without approval, landlords in Ontario are only allowed to increase rent for most existing tenants according to the province’s annual rent increase for inflation. This year that guideline is set at 2.5 per cent. AGIs allow landlords to tack on up to an additional three per cent per year for three years for capital expenditures, like major repairs or renovations. 

If the AGIs are approved, tenants who had not been paying the increase since 2022 could see the hike applied to their rent retroactively. Same for those who did not agree to pay the AGI proposed last month. 

“Unfortunately, these types of rent increases are legal and no one here is disputing that. But [the landlord] and their investors can pay for these renovations, can pay for repairs at the building, can pay to maintain the buildings and tenants cannot,” said FMTA organizer Philip Zigman.

Some received eviction notices: advocate

Tenants participating in the strike stopped paying rent on May 1 and more plan to join this month, according to Zigman, who is helping the Thorncliffe Park tenants fight the AGIs. He said some tenants have already received eviction notices. 

Tricia-Ann Israel, who has lived in the complex for 32 years, joined the strike out of fear she’ll have to move due to the increase. She said she feels “like nobody cares” about the residents.

“It is very mentally straining on us to think that we could be actually evicted out of our homes, especially after living here so long and developing such a good community, such a good neighbourhood,” Israel said.

A man sits in a mobility aid in front of an apartment building. He is wearing a blue shirt and his hands are folded in front of him.
Aldroubi says the proposed rent increases at the Thorncliffe Park apartment complex is more than his family can afford. (Ken Townsend/CBC)

Owner says it’s working to improve the buildings

The buildings are owned by Starlight Investments and the Public Sector Pension Investment Board (PSP Investments), which is a Crown corporation and one of Canada’s largest pension investment managers.

PSP Investments directed CBC Toronto to Starlight for comment, saying Starlight handles the day-to-day operations.

In a statement, Starlight Investments said it’s committed to ensuring its communities are “well maintained, structurally sound, safe and secure,” and that it applied for the AGIs after doing work to improve the buildings’ structure and safety.

“Given that the AGI remains currently unapproved, we are disappointed by those who are choosing to withhold full rent payments and believe that a call for a rent strike over a potential rent increase is both poorly timed and misguided,” spokesperson Danny Roth wrote in an email. 

“We also believe that those urging this course of action as a form of protest put the security of a resident’s tenancy at risk.”

A woman wearing a blue checked shirt and sunglasses stands outside of an apartment building.
Israel is worried that the proposed above-guideline rent increases could force her and her family to move. (Ken Townsend/CBC)

Starlight said it will continue to offer rent relief to tenants who are struggling to pay, but participating in the rent strike “will be viewed differently and seen as a potential breach of our rental agreement.”

Israel hopes the strike sends a message about the serious impact AGIs can have on tenants. 

“I just want to make sure that the investment company that owns the building realizes that these are people’s lives that they’re playing with,” she said. “Just be fair.”

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