Another group of renters in the Parkdale neighbourhood of Toronto have succeeding in standing up to their landlord with a rent strike. Over 50 residents at 1251 King Street West stopped paying their rent in February when they were faced with an annual increase of 3.4 percent—an increase well above the government-recommended guidelines.
Now, about two months into the strike, their landlord, Nuspor Investments, has withdrawn its application for the above-guideline rent increase.
At the corner of King West and Jameson streets around 8 AM Tuesday, a gathering that was to be held in protest turned victorious.
Jennifer Rosser, a resident of who has been participating in the rent strike, has been living in Parkdale for four years. “The reason why I participated in the rent strike is because what they’re doing is really an attempt to push people out of the neighbourhood,” Rosser told VICE, holding a red sign with “VICTORY” written across it. “It’s classism, it’s racism, it’s sanism.”
Rosser is single, in career transition, and lives in a one-bedroom unit with her orange tabby cat Burrito. She said that Nuspor choosing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, in part on remodeling the building’s lobby—which now features gleaming, stark-white modern aesthetic—was at odds with the upkeep of individual units and not supported by residents. She cited cockroach infestations and lack of proper ventilation in the hallways and her bathroom as major issues that have yet to be resolved. Her rent is currently $1,176.79 per month.
“Being afraid of homelessness is something that’s been part of my reality for a long time,” Rosser, 39, said. “I’m proud of standing up to bullies.”
Toronto is currently in the midst of a housing crisis, with the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom hitting $2,000, according to one online posting tracker.
In May 2017, hundreds of renters living in notorious Parkdale landlord MetCap’s buildings also staged a rent strike. The strike came to an end after three and a half months, with the landlord agreeing to lower than planned rent increases.
Cole Webber, a community legal worker at Parkdale Community Legal Services, helped organize the rent strikes against both MetCap and Nuspor. He said the success tenants of MetCap had last year helped pave the way for those living in the Nuspor property.
“They were inspired at 1251 King to take up the fight,” Webber said. “Tenants of the building started to organize, go door to door, have conversations with their neighbours, hold meetings in the lobby in the building, and talk about what they could do to fight this rent increase.”
In a letter posted throughout the King Street West building, Nuspor maintained that the rent increase it had applied for was aligned with recent repairs in the building. The company instead cited “harassment from Parkdale Organize against tenants, our employees, and their families” as its reasoning to drop its application for above-guideline rent increases.
During the Parkdale Organize demonstration this morning, Webber pointed to a nearby apartment building on Jameson Avenue where balcony repairs were going on. Balcony repairs, he said, are regularly cited in reasoning for above-guideline rent increases by landlords. Other typical repairs used in these applications, he said, include window replacements and changes to front lawns—changes that affect outside aesthetics of buildings and could serve to lure in new tenants willing to pay more for rent.
Meanwhile, longtime residents in buildings that experience these sometimes disruptive construction projects may be facing perpetual issues with disrepair in their own units, such as pest infestations and water damage.
“I think that the model for landlords is to try to come in and upscale these buildings—but through struggles like these rent strikes, people are putting the breaks on that process,” Webber said.
“We got together, refused to raise rent, and we got what we wanted—for now,” Rosser said.