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More than 300 tenants at 2 Toronto apartment buildings have stopped paying rent

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More than 300 tenants at two apartment buildings in Toronto have been withholding their rental payments for weeks, claiming their landlord is failing to abide by rent control regulations.

On Saturday morning, roughly 100 tenants and union representatives rallied in front of 33 King Street in York-South Weston to bring awareness to the strike. The tenants marched from the buildings to the offices of both Local MPP, Michael Ford's office and Federal Housing Minister, Ahmed Hussen's office.

"I [moved] into my bachelor at $500, it's now almost $1,000," Elizabeth Thompson, a tenant who is retired living on a pension, told CTV News Toronto.

"I'm making ends meet, that's all I can say, at the end of the month is the next month, and the next month,” Thompson said.

The York-South Weston Tenants Union told CTV News Toronto that, in total, 220 tenants from King Street and almost 100 from John Street have joined the strike. King Street started in June and John Street started earlier this month, they said.

"We've experienced rent increases up to 25 per cent in 2019," said Anthony Alao, who lives at John Street with his two-year-old and wife, "crazy, unfair rent increases that has been making us decide if we're going to be paying our rent on time or maybe if we're going to be having food on our table," he said.

Residents say along with the rent increases, there has been a loss of amenities.

Alao said his building's elevators have not been working on and off for the last three years.

"[Two pregnant women] had to take the stairs. One from the 27th floor down to the 4th floor and the second was from the 17th floor to the 4th floor when they were due for delivery," he said.

Tenants march down Weston Road in Toronto. (Allison Hurst/CTV News Toronto)

Beverly Henry said at King Street their balconies are under repair, so they can't be used and the pool is closed.

"We are paying for things we are not getting," she told CTV News at the rally. "These corporate landlords are getting away with too much."

Residents say they're fed up with above-guideline rent increases (AGIs).

Ontario landlords of rent-controlled buildings can increase rent up to 2.5 per cent without making an application to the Ontario Landlord Tenant Board  (LTB). Anything higher than that is considered an ‘Above Guideline Rent Increase' and must be approved by the LTB.

According to the Residential Tenancy Act, a landlord can apply for these rent increases if, "the landlord's costs for municipal taxes and charges have increased by an 'extraordinary' amount", for "significant renovations, repairs, replacements or new additions to the building or to individual units", and if the "landlord's costs for security services increased, or the landlord began providing security services for the first time."

"If they're renovating they should use our rents to renovate," said Henry.

"People have seen rent increases that are three or four times above rent control," rally organizer Bruno Dobrusin said. "This building is supposed to be rent controlled."

Dream Unlimited, the landlord of the two buildings, sent CTV News a statement saying that 40 percent of the King Street building is now affordable housing and therefore exempt from the AGIs.

"The AGIs that are impacting the other 60 percent of the building was inherited by the previous owner for work completed prior to our acquisition, in 2016-2018," Hero Mohtadi, VP of residential operations and asset management, told CTV News Toronto.

"We’ve been working hard to resolve these AGIs and recently settled the prior owner’s 2018 AGI application, which included a significant reduction from the original ask."

Mohtadi said that construction has been "focused on ensuring the long-term viability and safety of the building," but that the work is independent of any AGI and that Dream Unlimited has not applied for any AGI for this work.

As for the balconies, he said the installation is critical for safety given the age of the building.

"As we work towards resolving the prior owner’s AGIs, we have made repeated offers to develop individual payment plans for residents," Mohtadi said. "To date, only 30 out of 239 residents have requested any sort of assistance.

In terms of the John Street building, it was also acquired the same year as King Street was, in 2021.

"As the building was occupied after 2018, West22 does not fall under the purview of the provincial rent increase guidelines," Mohtadi said. "We understand that affordability is a concern for many individuals and families, and have strived to keep the lease rates at West22 significantly lower than the market value. Even with recent increases, rents at West22 are still 30 per cent below market standards.

Dobrusin said they've met with the landlord before but that it didn't come with any solutions. Their goal is after this rally there might be more momentum.

"We're hoping after today's rally they're going to agree to sit down and negotiate a real agreement with tenants," Dobrusin said.

And they hope local government representatives will lend their voices.

Roughly 100 tenants and union representatives rallied in front of 33 King Street in York-South Weston, demanding the landlord respect rent control. (Allison Hurst/CTV News Toronto)

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