Two Toronto tenants are facing eviction after taking part in the Keep Your Rent campaign.
After losing work because of the pandemic, MaryAnn Icaro, 21, a freelance graphic designer, and Christopher Loose, 23, a banquet server, decided to withhold rent for April and May as part of the Keep Your Rent movement. The campaign encourages tenants to skip their monthly rent payment in solidarity with people who can’t afford to part with that money during the pandemic.
Currently, because of the economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic, evictions are temporarily on hold in Ontario and across most of the country. But emergency evictions are still being considered for cases involving “illegal acts or serious safety concerns.”
Earlier this month Icaro and Loose received an emergency eviction notice from their landlord for “causing serious problems” in their apartment.
The notice cites a police visit on April 23 regarding “an altercation that took place whilst you were illegally postering the neighbourhood and your direct involvement in the Keep Your Rent movement—during COVID-19.”
The eviction notice also cites “detailed reports of numerous visitors to your apartment and their grave concern for their safety and security given potential disclosure of address by you to your movement.”
Loose said the altercation refers to a physical attack on him on April 20 when a stranger claiming to be a landlord shoved him as he and Icaro were putting up Keep Your Rent posters. Icaro shared video she took of the incident with VICE which shows the assailant pushing Loose across the street for several metres.
Toronto Police confirm to VICE that there was an assault investigation regarding a physical confrontation but no charges were laid and the case is closed. Police followed up with a visit to Icaro and Loose’s home on April 23.
Landlord Lucinia Marques told VICE she had received complaints from other tenants in the home about Icaro and Loose’s “constant comings and goings.” She says she contacted the Landlord Tenant Board and was advised to file an emergency eviction notice if she was concerned about the safety of other tenants.
Icaro said that they had some visitors, as well as people picking up bundles of Keep Your Rent posters from their front porch, but all without breaking physical distancing rules.
“Obviously her issue with us is nonpayment of rent,” said Icaro. “She thinks she’s found some sort of loophole to the eviction ban by filing for an emergency eviction, used for people accused of criminal activity like drug trafficking, guns, gangs. This is a scare tactic to intimidate us.”
VICE reached out to one of the other tenants in the home but they did not wish to comment.
In an interview with VICE, Marques said safety was her primary concern. But she also said, “My intention, to be honest with you, was to serve for nonpayment at some point in time because the intention is there to ride the pandemic out and not pay any rent.”
Kenneth Hale, the legal director of the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario (ACTO), said this emergency eviction notice appears to be a “sneaky” way for the landlord to get around the eviction ban, and that based on the eviction notice there was no evidence anything happened to endanger other tenants. “The issue seems to be involvement in the Keep Your Rent movement. People’s political expression, whether we agree with it or not, is still protected in this country,” he said.
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Several instances of landlords pressuring tenants to pay rent have surfaced in the past few weeks.
In late April people at two buildings in Scarborough in Toronto’s east end received notices to end their tenancy for non-payment of rent, as reported by Global News. Some tenants even said they received visits from people representing the landlord demanding rent payment with a debit machine in hand.
In Parkdale, a west end Toronto neighbourhood, residents told VICE they had sought legal help after receiving letters warning that their landlord was sending representatives to their apartment units to discuss nonpayment of rent. In a letter shared with VICE, the residents said they were not comfortable with visits that would not allow them to properly physically distance, and the visits didn’t happen.
Hale said these tactics are “abhorrent” but technically legal—although residents may not realize there’s an eviction ban and they don’t have to pay or move out. “I’m sure many households have put themselves in real peril because they’ve just gone along with it thinking the most important thing is having a roof over their head,” he said.
He said that as the crisis continues, lawyers and agents might encourage landlords to issue eviction notices so they have a paper trail in place when the court system is back up and running.
“They don’t think about the impact it has on individual people to get an eviction notice. Even if you know that it's not valid, it’s still very unsettling,” Hale said.
Loose and Icaro are worried about their situation, but they’re following legal advice to stay where they are and wait to see if the case is granted a hearing, over the phone, before the provincial tribunal. No date has been set. If and when it does proceed, Hale said the couple can explain their side of the story and stand a good chance of winning.
Icaro and Loose said this highlights the importance of talking to your neighbours and fellow tenants, and seeking legal advice.
“If we were alone in this, it probably would have scared us to the point where we would have just buckled and paid even though it might not be the smartest move,” said Loose. “Without the security in numbers we would have been frightened. Know your rights and get organized.”
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