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NEWS: Keep Your Rent campaign emerges (Apr. 2020)

May 1st, 2020 · 3 Comments

CIBC report says 30 per cent did not pay rent on April 1

NICOLE STOFFMAN/GLEANER NEWS

By Nicole Stoffman

Who should take the biggest hit during the economic shutdown of the coronavirus pandemic: renters, landlords, or the big banks? How one answers that question depends on whether one believes in the power of the individual or the collective.

With the high cost of rental units in the Annex, some renters who have lost jobs due to the pandemic are discovering most of their federal financial relief will be going to rent, leaving them a mere pittance for other necessities. That is why the “Keep Your Rent” campaign has found a small but growing base of support in the neighbourhood.

The campaign was launched by “Parkdale Organize,” which has links to Parkdale Community Legal Services (PCLS), a legal clinic specializing in poverty law and advocacy.

Annex Keep your Rent organizers Chris Loose and MaryAnne Icaro, have assembled a group of 40 tenants and their allies. The would-be strikers have found themselves in a precarious situation, because, Like Loose and Icaro, they work in the gig economy. “What we’re trying to do right now is to develop a tenant association, so that in the future, we’d be able to organize a rent strike,” says Loose. 

The Residential Tenancies Act of Ontario protects the rights of tenants to organize and belong to a tenant association.

Premier Doug Ford has asked tenants to talk to their landlords, but the Keep Your Rent movement argues this approach weakens the position of tenants. Such individual arrangements usually involve agreeing to a payment plan that could leave tenants with unmanageable debt post-pandemic. 

Nor has Ontario enacted legislation to protect tenants from future eviction for being unable to pay during the current crisis, legislation that Councillor Layton (Ward 11, University-Rosedale) has been advocating.

Keep Your Rent is asking for rent forgiveness for the duration of the pandemic. Big corporate landlords can weather a few missed mortgage payments, they reason.

They argue that being part of a larger group, with legal support and advice provided by PCLS, empowers otherwise isolated tenants. 

For example, some of those who did not pay rent April 1 – about 30% of the city’s tenants, according to a recent CIBC report- have since been asked to provide records of employment and employer contact information to confirm they have lost work as a result of the pandemic.

PCLS has advised that this is a privacy violation. They have also advised that no tenant is legally obligated to accept a deferment plan.  

“A lot of people just don’t have the money and think it’s good there are other people doing this,  and we’ve got each other’s backs,” says Loose. 

The Keep Your Rent movement would rather see landlords apply upward pressure on their banks. They might be pleased to learn that is exactly what the Federation of Rental Providers of Ontario has been doing. 

“We’ve been lobbying since March break,” says FRPO President & CEO, Tony Irwin. They have proposed a rental assistance program to the Ontario government, similar to British Columbia’s, the only province to give up to $500 directly to landlords to subsidize the rent of qualified tenants. 

The FRPO has also been lobbying for banks to include investment properties in their mortgage deferral programs, now principally awarded to primary residences. 

“It shouldn’t surprise anyone based on the environment we’re in, that some people are simply not going to be able to pay,” reflects Irwin. “If they had some means to pay their rent for April, they may not have that at all for May.”

Irwin appreciates that Toronto’s deferment of some utility and property tax, as well as the federal assistance programs for individuals are good for short term cash flow. 

However, he insists that over the long term, landlords must be paid for the shortfall in rents. 

This is where the power of the individual over the collective comes in: those who can pay make up for those who can’t. Therefore he is advising his members to work with tenants on a case by case basis.

“We employ people, we have workers, front line staff in our buildings who are working tirelessly to keep them clean for our residents, and they need to be paid. There’s a cascading effect for the economy,” he explains. 

Tenant advocate Dan McIntyre recently wrote in a blog post that 30-40% of rent would be a reasonable amount to ask tenants to pay, as it would cover operating costs, including staff. 

But Irwin thinks that’s low. “To suggest there should just be a rent holiday doesn’t make sense, because there are many people who are perfectly able to pay their rent.”

There are almost 19,000 renters in the Annex Gleaner’s coverage area representing $30.5 million in monthly revenue, according to the 2016 census. 

The Keep Your Rent movement could gain traction in the weeks ahead, if businesses are forced to stay shuttered. 

At least both sides agree that the potential to work together is there. “I think we all have to try to be a bit kinder to one another these days,” says Irwin. We’re all kind of on edge, but we really have to try to help out one another, and work together.”

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Tags: Annex · News

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