Tenants at a building in north Etobicoke have joined forces to fight what they say is an unfair rent increase after almost two years of renovations that have disrupted their lives.
The owners of the apartment building at 240 Markland Dr., near Bloor Street West and Highway 427, say they want to hike their rent by three per cent over the cap on annual increases mandated under Ontario's rent control system, which is 2.5 per cent for 2023.
That works out to a 5.5 per cent hike.
Mike Reid, who has rented a three-bedroom unit for eight years, says the renovations have made life difficult for his family.
"There's just no consideration for existing tenants. It's been horrible," he told CBC Toronto.
Shortly after buying the building, the owners started renovations, including updates to the exterior and a new geothermal HVAC system, meaning exposed pipes and new ductwork in most of the units, Reid says.
The owners have applied for what's known in Ontario as an "Above Guideline Rent Increase" (AGI) to help pay for the renovations. Reid and his neighbours say that's unfair, given their living conditions.
The property owners, Carttera Management Inc., haven't responded yet to CBC Toronto's requests for comment.
Constant noise and dust
Reid, who pays $1,650 a month for his family's unit, says there's constant noise and dust, as well as unfinished, poorly done projects all over the building.
He also says there's an abundance of garbage strewn all across the property, but the installation of the HVAC system has been especially disruptive.
"It entailed smashing the wall through to my living room to my daughter's room, and then from my son's room into my bedroom. And then they left those holes just exposed for about eight weeks," Reid said.
The biggest issue is a lack of communication, he says, adding that tenants weren't told the scope of the renovations and often aren't given proper notification.
"I'll get a notice saying this certain job's going to be done on Monday but no one shows up," Reid said.
"I'll get the same notice again on Wednesday, and nobody shows up. Nothing happens and then all of a sudden on Friday the work's starting to happen."
To make matters worse, a new three-storey development has been proposed on the site of the building's current parking lot. The new build is set to include underground parking for the tenants of 240 Markland, but while it's being built they will have to park in a smaller, temporary parking lot or at one of two nearby buildings.
But it's the proposed rent increase that has forced the tenants to come together. Sara Ashtiani, an organizer with the Federation of Metro Tenants' Associations, was called in to teach them how to work together to oppose the increase.
"It's so important for tenants to organize and come together," she told CBC Toronto.
"Because really, if you aren't organized, then you're isolated, and then it's so much easier to be taken advantage of."
Ashtiani says, while legal, it's not fair for the property owners to expect tenants to pay extra rent to cover renovations.
"They have like $6 billion worth of development," she said, referring to the owners.
"Why do you need an extra three per cent from these tenants that are already working class tenants or seniors or people on a fixed income?"
Housing lawyer Caryma Sa'd told CBC Toronto landlords often apply for AGIs when they want increases above what rent control dictates.
"That can happen either because there's an extraordinary increase in municipal taxes and there are operating costs relating to security for the building or ... there are eligible capital expenses that the landlord needs to incur," she said.
"This could be extraordinary or significant renovation and repair replacement additions to the building."
But the tenants do have a legal path forward, she says: they can express their concerns at a Landlord and Tenant Board hearing.
"The purpose of the hearing is to determine the numbers, essentially," she said. "So the landlord is asking for what they're asking for, but it's not confirmed until there's a hearing."
When an amount is determined, tenants could also be on the hook to provide backorders on their rent payments, she adds.
Ashtiani says she doesn't have much faith in the Landlord and Tenant Board.
"Those hearings usually do result in maybe a very, very minor decrease to the Above Guideline Increase that the landlord wants, but it's not very significant," she said.
She says the decrease is usually "so little that I've actually heard a lot of tenants say, 'This was a waste of my time.'"
That's why she encouraged the tenants at 240 Markland to take action.
The group organized a small protest outside the building on Wednesday to raise awareness about what's happening to them so it won't happen to others around the city.
"We're just trying to garner up some extra support and hope that we can make a change in the community," Reid said.
"It's just not right."