YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE RICH to live in Parkdale. Rent strikes will help keep it that way say hundreds of tenants locked in battle with the biggest landlord in the neighbourhood just west of downtown Toronto.
The tenants live in six of the 19 Parkdale area apartment blocks owned by MetCap Living Management. They have been in open conflict with MetCap for years. Their confrontations with MetCap have included rent strikes, office sit-ins, street rallies and picketing of the landlord’s home in the posh Forest Hills neighbouhood.
One confrontation resulted in a MetCap employee almost running down a picketer will his truck.
All of the trouble stems from persistent tenant demands that their landlord main-tain and repair the buildings they call home. MetCap never does enough, soon enough or well enough say the tenants.
MetCap has an appalling reputation as a landlord in Toronto—and elsewhere. Tenants complain about being left without running water in their apartments. Many apartments are infested with cockroaches, mice and bedbugs.
Bogus eviction notices are common, according to Cole Webber, of Parkdale Com-munity Legal Services. When legitimate evictions have taken place, MetCap used to chase those former tenants for additional money—for not giving proper notice to quit!
The tenants’ battle with their landlord intensified in late 2016 when MetCap ap-plied to raise rents far above the level allowed by Ontario law. They claimed the cost of cosmetic changes they made to their buildings entitled them to extra high rents.
Saving a community
The tenants are not just fighting for fair rents, they are also fighting to save a com-munity where they feel safe and welcome.
It costs a lot to live in Toronto. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment there in December 2016 was $1776 a month. However apartments built before 1992 are rent controlled. There are a lot of pre-1992 buildings in Parkdale. A lot of regular everyday people can afford to live there.
In fact Parkdale has the densest population of tenants in all Toronto: 90% of peo-ple living there are renters. They are a diverse group, including many immigrants, seniors and millennials—almost all low income.
Newcomers to Canada arrive there in such numbers, in fact, that Parkdale is collo-quially known as “the landing strip.” As the term suggests, many eventually move on as they make their way in their adopted country. Many Tibetan immigrants have stayed put, however, forming one of the largest Tibetan expatriate communi-ties anywhere.
Dark method in MetCap’s meanness
But as the housing market in Toronto stays white hot bare-knuckle greed is threat-ening to tear communities like Parkdale apart.
The tenants see a dark method in MetCap’s meanness. They call it “eviction by another name.” Rent increases and repair delays are intended to force people from their apartments. This gives MetCap a chance to “renovate” the vacant units (sometimes just a coat of paint and a vacuuming), allowing the company to jack up the rent. It’s part of the infamous “gentrification” process, where low income people are driven out of their communities to make way for the well-off who can afford to pay more.
Not all clear sailing for MetCap
MetCap can ignore the tenants’ protests. But it cannot ignore the law. MetCap has to get permission from the Landord and Tenant Board to raise rents as much as it wants: in some cases an additional 3% over the annual provincial limit.
Dozens of tenants packed the halls outside the board offices in early June 2017 to delay and disrupt a hearing where MetCap was due to argue its case for super increases.
By June 9 2017 300 Parkdale tenants in six MetCap apartment buildings had joined the rent strike. How or when it would all end remained impossible to pre-dict.