The Ontario Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) has granted a landlord’s request to expedite the hearings for contentious, above-guideline rent increase (AGI) applications at three high-rise apartment buildings in Toronto’s east end.
The above-guideline rent increases impact tenants at 71, 75, and 79 Thorncliffe Park Drive, dozens of whom have enacted a “rent strike” in recent months. Some renters at these properties in East York have withheld payment since as far back as May.
The tenants, many of whom are low-income newcomers to Canada, previously told CP24.com that they chose this course of action after Starlight/PSP Investments refused to withdraw applications to increase their rent beyond the annual allowable amount set by the province.
The renters have been trying to make their voices heard in recent months by holding a number of actions, including most recently an Aug. 1 rally in Etobicoke at the head office of landlord Starlight Investments.
In 2023, landlords in Ontario are permitted to raise the rent on rent-controlled units – those that were first occupied before Nov. 15, 2018 – by 2.5 per cent every year. 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 and PSP Investments, which jointly own the three aforementioned properties in Thorncliffe Park, have proposed rent increases varying from 4.94 per cent to 5.5 per cent in 2023, according to copies of notices provided to CP24.com. The landlord also sought a 4.2 per cent increase in all 3 properties in 2022.
One of the Thorncliffe Park apartment buildings where tenants are withholding rent amid a dispute with their landlord is shown. (Google Maps)
If the LTB approves these above-guideline rent increases, tenants will be required to pay the difference owed retroactively from May, when the first rent increase was due to come into effect.
According to the Residential Tenancies Act, above-guideline rent increases may be granted when a landlord’s costs for municipal taxes and charges have gone up by an “extraordinary” amount, when the renovations, repairs, replacements or new additions to their building or individual units are deemed to be “extraordinary or significant,” or when a landlord’s costs for security services increase.
“We don’t feel it’s our responsibility to pay for building upgrades. For us, we don’t want this rent increase. Most of the people in these buildings are living basically paycheck to paycheck,” tenant Sameer Beyan, who has lived in a two-bedroom suite at 75 Thorncliffe Park Drive with his parents for the last eight years, told CP24.com in June.
“After three years of pandemic, there are lots of job losses. People are off work and getting reduced wages, but we’re still paying our rent in full and the landlord is still making money. Now they’re asking for an almost 10 per cent rent increase.”
Beyan went on to say that the LBT is essentially moving to “break the rent strike.”
“We are being punished for organizing public protests against the rent increases and bringing attention to how the rent increases impact our community,” he said in an Aug. 22 release news release.
He and roughly 100 other tenants who are withholding their rent were recently notified by the Landlord and Tenant Board that written hearings for the AGIs had been scheduled after the buildings’ landlord asked the tribunal to shorten the time for their applications, which were filed in January 2022, to be processed. Some of those tenants have also received a notice from the LTB that the landlord has filed to evict them for non-payment of rent.
Egya Sangmuah, the Landlord and Tenant Board’s vice-chair, endorsed that request.
In his one-page decision, he noted that shortening the time to serve a Notice of Hearing and schedule an early hearing for these three AGI applications is not based on the delay in hearing the applications, which he called “not remarkable.”
Instead, Sangmuah said he took into account that the “landlord’s staff and their families have been subjected to intimidation and harassment by certain individuals who want to pressure (them) to abandon the applications and this campaign has escalated.”
“Furthermore, tenants are being encouraged to participate in rent strikes that may jeopardize their tenancies,” he wrote.
“The Landlord’s request has been made in good faith and is supported by evidence filed with the request.”
Sangmuah went on to indicate that the “prejudice to the Landlord may not be remedied.”
“The contentious nature of the applications is a matter of public record and all parties would benefit from shortening time to a hearing,” he said.
No hearing date has been set.
Khudija Vawda also lives in a rented unit at 75 Thorncliffe Park Drive and is on rent strike.
She said tenants will not benefit from PSP/Starlight being “allowed to jump the queue.”
In an Aug. 22 release, Vawda called on the LTB to “reverse its decision” and for the buildings’ landlord to withdraw the AGIs.
“We were not consulted about this decision and were not given an opportunity to respond to the allegations in the landlords’ request,” she said.
Tenant organizer Phil Zigman, who for several months has been helping renters at the three buildings in Thorncliffe Park understand their rights and work together to fight for them, said that this decision by the LTB set a “dangerous precedent that undermines tenant organizing in Ontario.”
“The landlords’ request not only mischaracterizes the organizing efforts in response to the proposed rent hikes, but makes numerous false claims and baseless allegations,” he charged.
CP24.com spoke briefly with Danny Roth of Starlight Investments on Tuesday, however he also serves as the spokesperson for Sterling Karamar Property Management, which is currently dealing with the aftermath of a five-alarm electrical fire over the weekend at one of its high-rise apartment buildings at 357 Rusholme Rd.
Roth told CP24 that for now his focus is assisting tenants impacted by the fire and would not be able to comment on AGI matters pertaining to the three properties on Thorncliffe Park Drive at this time.
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