A small group of Toronto tenants were threatened with eviction for taking part in a rent strike to protest rent increases above official guidelines, as well the building manager's failure to fulfill work orders.
Signs reading "May 1 Rent Strike" hung from the balcony of Barb Livesay's and Daphne Vasquez's apartments as part of tenant efforts to push back against a 2.8-per-cent above-guideline rent increase that has been approved for their building. (The official limit for a rent increase in Ontario in 2017 is 1.5 per cent).
The tenants insist the building hasn't been kept up to the appropriate standards and that undealt-with cockroaches and mice roam the apartments. Organizers say as many as 200 residents have joined the rent strike as of Monday.
The property management company of 135 Tyndall Ave., MetCap Living, says the issuing of eviction notices to Ms. Livesay and Ms. Vasquez was a miscommunication and the notices have since been rescinded.
"It was a screw up and shit happens, they screwed it up," MetCap CEO Brent Merril says when asked about the evictions.
Ms. Livesay says she had workers show up at her apartment at 6 p.m. on Good Friday, April 14, insisting the strike banner be taken down because it violated lease provisions that don't allow objects to be hung off balconys or railings. She says MetCap employees also followed her around the building as she spoke with other tenants about the strike.
"I was telling them to very clearly, leave me alone," Ms. Livesay says.
Ms. Livesays says she believes she and Ms. Vasquez were particularly targetted for being vocal members of the rent strike.
Ms. Vasquez, who is in a wheelchair after being hit by a car, says she had a similar encounter with MetCap management in her building.
"I got a visit from building management and he was very persistent knocking and he knows in my condition that I can't just jump up and answer the door," says Ms.Vasquez. "I finally get to the door and answer and he has his foot in my door holding my door open and he tries to ask me in three or four different ways to let him in to take down the banner."
Ms. Vasquez says she had to ask the MetCap worker to leave.
Among Ms. Vasquez's concerns are the pests in her apartment as well as the above-guideline increases. She also says there's only disability access into one part of her building's lobby and she has to struggle to gain entry into the rest. Ms. Livesay also complains of a cracked ceiling and negligible water pressure, both of which she says have not been dealt with despite making requests for the repairs.
At a March 16 rally, when MetCap tenants attempted to deliver boxes full of complaints about maintenance and pest issues, MetCap refused to take them. However, MetCap has since sent a letter to tenants to contact the head office for any repairs. However, Ms. Vasquez says workers who repaired the light switch in her bathroom made the problem worse. Now, her bathroom switch turns the hall light on too.
On April 22, Ms. Vasquez and Ms. Livesay received a letter stating they needed to remove the banner or face eviction.
Ms. Livesay says in addition to forms asking for the banners to be removed she received an N6 eviction notice, which is generally reserved for criminal behaviour, such as drug dealing.
MetCap have since claimed the threatening paperwork was a miscommunication.
"They were worried they'd done something that was too drastic," Ms. Livesay says about the company's change in position on the evictions. "We think it's gentrification of the neighborhood, if they can force people out that can't afford the rent increases they can raise the rents here higher than they currently are and bring in other tenants."
"I don't think it should be grounds to be evicted at all, this is our home, we should be able to make it feel like our home," Ms. Vasquez said.
MetCap insists the threats of eviction were a mix-up made between management and its lawyers, who send out the notices. But Mr. Merril insists the balconies and windows of each unit belong to the property and not the tenants. "I asked my lawyer and my legal counsel again to reissue a letter that we were withdrawing [those eviction notices] and would not be proceeding with them," Mr. Merril says. "However, our position still stands that you need to remove these things off the balcony and we may reissue them if you don't remove them."
He also says work orders are being completed seven days a week and regular customer service meetings are conducted to make sure everything is being logged and finished.
"We're right on top of any single repair the resident has made us aware," Mr. Merill says. "I am abiding by the law as far as I'm concerned, I would like my residents to abide by the law in Ontario."
The tenants' Parkdale Legal Clinic has a different perspective.
"It's pure retaliation against tenants who are organizing with their neighbours in the building," says Cole Webber, a worker at Parkdale Community Legal Services. "The tenants are using the rent strike as a way to press for their demands, which are that MetCap withdraw the above-guideline rent increases from the six buildings and do the repair and maintenance work."
Ms. Livesay says she and Ms. Vasquez took down their banners last week but will continue with the rent strike.