Tenants protest outside east-end Toronto building, say landlords using loophole to raise rent

Dozens of tenants demonstrated in an east end square in Toronto on Saturday to show their opposition to above guideline rent increases that are happening during the COVID-19 pandemic.

These rent hikes, or AGIs, are “massive loopholes” through which rent is increasing in residential buildings across the city despite a provincial rent freeze, according to Toronto ACORN, an anti-poverty group that organized the demonstration outside Main Square Apartments, 2575 Danforth Ave., at Main Street and Danforth Avenue. 

Even though the Ontario government has frozen rent at 2020 levels, landlords can seek approval for these increases from the Landlord and Tenant Board and have them applied to 2021 rents if the increases are covering the costs of capital repairs and security services.

“We want to see a true rent freeze,” Maryanna Lewyckyj, a member of Toronto ACORN, told CBC Toronto. 

“Theoretically, there is a rent freeze in the province, so you are only supposed to get a zero per cent rent increase but there’s a giant loophole that allows rent increases to occur. That’s occurring in this building and it’s occurring in many buildings across Toronto. And the timing is terrible,” she said.

“Tenants typically have less money. They are losing money because of COVID-19. And also they are getting hit with increases.”

Lewyckyj said above guideline rent increases are putting financial pressure on tenants at a time when many are living day to day and struggling to pay for basic necessities. A rent increase means they have less money for groceries and less money to support small businesses struggling during the pandemic, she said.

“Essentially what they’re doing is the landlords are shifting capital repairs to tenants. Costs that should be part of maintenance are just being offloaded to tenants.”

Lewyckyj said landlords are then giving the money to investors. 

Maryanna Lewyckyj, a member of Toronto ACORN, says: ‘We want to see a true rent freeze.’ (Keith Burgess/CBC)

At the rally, people held placards, chanted slogans and listened to speeches. They also delivered what they called a demand letter to the offices of Realstar, the landlord. Realstar did not respond to requests from CBC Toronto for comment.

Walter Zenyk, a tenant at Main Square Apartments for 41 years, agreed, saying above guideline rent increases are a way for landlords to force out lower income tenants. He said he fought back against a hike because the landlord demanded the increase on his lease without applying to the Landlord and Tenant Board for it.

“I’d like to see justice done for all tenants,” he said. “They want the low income people and seniors out so they can bring people in here who have money to jack up the rent to market value. I don’t think it’s right what they are doing here. Where are you going to go?”

NDP MPP calls for above rent increases to be banned

NDP MPP Rima Berns-McGown, who represents Beaches-East York, said Premier Doug Ford should provide rent support to tenants struggling during the pandemic. She said she wants AGIs banned.

“My heart is broken for tenants who have been working so hard with everything they got to stay housed and COVID has made that very difficult,” she said.

“AGIs are a loophole through which corporate landlords are driving trucks to raise the rent even though there is a rent freeze. And it’s criminal because people are losing their housing and their health. It’s a just a nightmare. It’s the opposite of the kind of compassionate society we should be building during the pandemic,” she said.

In a news release, Toronto ACORN said: “ACORN is concerned about massive loopholes, called Above the Guideline Rent Increases, through which rent is still increasing and tenants are forced to move out of their homes in a pandemic.

“The rent freeze the Ontario government has announced for 2021 does not cover AGIs. This is a massive loophole that big corporations like RealStar are using to take advantage of tenants in a time of a worldwide crisis.”

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