Over a hundred tenants from two northwest Toronto apartment buildings are initiating a rent strike this Sunday, thereby joining nearly 500 residents who have been abstaining from rent payment since the onset of summer.
Occupying buildings located at 1440 and 1442 Lawrence Ave. W, these tenants have raised voices against Barney River Investments, their landlord, accusing the firm of failing to respond to urgent repair requests while trying to implement unwarranted hike in rents.
The general sentiment riding high amongst the tenants is frustration, as voiced by Chiara Padovani, co-chair of the York South-Weston Tenant Union. However, today the air seems thick with newfound confidence that a movement is growing.
At around 2 p.m., the tenants announced their move at the residential complex. Barney River Investments, however, remained unresponsive to requests for comments on the rental issues raised by the tenants.
Amongst the many concerns, crucial ones include a severe insect infestation undermining the living conditions of the apartments. The situation has escalated to such a degree that even Canada Post has paused mail delivery citing unsafe working conditions.
According to Padovani, the buildings’ dysfunctional elevators are a regular occurrence, causing accessibility issues for several residents and there is constant neglect in maintaining the garbage chutes. Fronted by an unpleasant smell whenever navigating through the hallways, the tenants are pushed to survival mode in their own homes.
Rashid Limbada, a tenant and organizer of the protest, stated that the building has perpetually been in a state of disrepair ever since Barney River took ownership.
It was the landlord’s attempt to increase the rent above guidelines despite the prevailing circumstances that led the group to initiate a rent strike. As Limbada pointed out, their request for basic maintenance often falls on deaf ears while the announcement for rent hikes seems to always make it through.
In a collective effort, a petition demanding improvement in maintenance and halt in rent increases was presented to the landlord this April. The petition carried signatures from the majority of the residents. Up till now though, Barney River has abstained from responding to their tenants’ requests.
The residents of Lawrence Avenue now stand united with hundreds of tenants from 33 King St., 22 John St., and 71, 75, and 79 Thorncliffe Park Dr. in Toronto who have all been withholding rent payment, most since June. Their unified protests denounce above-guideline rent increases and deplorable living conditions.
With the number closing in on 500, this marks the largest collective rent strike in the history of Toronto. Padovani observes that never before have so many buildings gone on a rent strike over the same issue.
Enduring their fifth month of striking are the tenants from the buildings located at King and John streets. Dream Unlimited, their landlord, continues to avoid negotiating with the tenants, as reported by Padovani. Instead of active involvement, the landlord only recently began issuing eviction notices.
Expressing shock at the situation, Padovani pointed out that it is rather astounding for a landlord to choose evictions over discussion on tenants’ genuine concerns. She also shared that despite Thornciffe Park tenants attending eviction hearings, the collective demand for a rollback of above-guideline rent increases still stands.
And while a company statement from Dream asserts that the firm has always been willing to accommodate tenants in distress, it also highlights the risk tenants put themselves at by withholding rent which warrants eviction. It also maintains that 22 John St., constructed post-2018, is exempted from rent controls while the perceived above-guideline increases were already in place when property ownership transferred to Dream in 2021.