North York tenants join hundreds of Torontonians striking against above-guideline rent increases

Addila Safi, a resident at one of the buildings at 1440 and 1442 Lawrence Avenue W., is one of over a hundred tenants who've decided to withhold rent payments in an act of protest against above-guideline rent increases. (Spencer Gallichan-Lowe/CBC - image credit)
Addila Safi, a resident at one of the buildings at 1440 and 1442 Lawrence Avenue W., is one of over a hundred tenants who've decided to withhold rent payments in an act of protest against above-guideline rent increases. (Spencer Gallichan-Lowe/CBC - image credit)

More tenants in Toronto decided to go on rent strike on Sunday, joining hundreds in the city already withholding rent payments in protest of above-guideline rent increases.

More than 100 tenants at 1440 and 1442 Lawrence Avenue W. are now striking in hopes their landlord, Barney River Investments, provides immediate and regular pest and bed bug treatment, elevator repairs and disinfection of frequently-touched surfaces in line with the city's COVID-19 health and safety measures.

"It's too much. It's not manageable. It's not easy," said Addila Safi, who lives in one of the buildings.

The mother of two, who has taken on two jobs to make ends meet, said she's been living there for some 15 years. Her rent increased from $900 to $1,400 in the last few years alone, she said.

"I want them to be fair."

Residents at 1440 and 1442 Lawrence Avenue W. started a rent strike on Sunday in protest of above-guideline rent increases, among other maintenance issues at their buildings.
Residents at 1440 and 1442 Lawrence Avenue W. started a rent strike on Sunday in protest of above-guideline rent increases, among other maintenance issues at their buildings.

Residents at 1440 and 1442 Lawrence Avenue W. started a rent strike on Sunday in protest of above-guideline rent increases, among other maintenance issues at their buildings. (Spencer Gallichan-Lowe/CBC)

The tenants are joining hundreds of Torontonians that have been rent striking for months, all largely aimed at pushing back against above-guideline rent increases and soaring rents in the city.

While the immediate goal is to get landlords to reverse course on the increases and attend to pressing matters in their buildings, the longer-term goal is a lasting solution from the province, says the York South-Weston Tenants Union, which is helping to organize some of the strikes.

"They have to take seriously our pain," said Yogesh Katri, a recent member of the union.

CBC Toronto has reached out to Barney River Investments for comment.

Building needs maintenance, repairs, say tenants

After organizing, tenants found out many who raise problems go weeks without hearing back from management, Katri said,

When they do, often the problem doesn't get resolved, he added.

"They are waiting a long and long time, but there's nothing really happening," said Katri.

Mylene Morada says problems became pressing when new management took over her building. Since then, bed bugs have become a norm, she said, as well as smelly garbage in the hallways.

No matter how much they complain, little is done, she said.

The union says things have gotten so bad that, at one point, Canada Post put up a notice stating they won't deliver mail to one of the buildings due to health and safety concerns.

"They don't just respond [to anyone] and it's just so frustrating for the tenants," said Morada. "We're paying enough, but I guess the services of the management is lacking."

Two pictures from the York South-Weston Tenant Union shows Canada Post stopped delivering to residents at 1442 Lawrence Avenue West due to health and safety concerns.
Two pictures from the York South-Weston Tenant Union shows Canada Post stopped delivering to residents at 1442 Lawrence Avenue West due to health and safety concerns.

Two pictures from the York South-Weston Tenant Union shows Canada Post stopped delivering to residents at 1442 Lawrence Avenue W. due to health and safety concerns. (Submitted by the York South-Weston Tenant Union )

Rent strikes won't necessarily 'fix the problem'

Tenants at 33 King St., 22 John St., and a complex on Thorncliffe Park Drive are also on strike, citing poor maintenance and above-guideline increases.

LISTEN | Rent strike organizer explains why tenants are banding together:

Former York South-Weston MPP Faisal Hassan, who was present at the strike, said the tenants — many of whom are front-line, minimum wage workers and immigrants —  "need a balancing act."

"They are decent, they're hard working, they have contributed so much. And it's not fair that every year their rent is uncontrollable," Hassan said.

"All they're asking [for] is a fair, fair rent," said Hassan.

Lawyer Jordan Donich says the frequency of rent strikes is telling.

"It's really a symptom of a larger problem, or a failure of the system to really address certain people and their living conditions," said Donich.

Conflicting interests between landlords and tenants have been exacerbated throughout the years, Donich said. While rent strikes can draw attention to the issue, it doesn't mean they're going to solve the root of the problem, he said, as they'll likely just end up before the Landlord and Tenant Board.

Long-term, the solution lies with policy changes, like building more affordable rental housing, he said.

"Really what we need is leadership from the government," said Donich.