rent strike toronto

People in Toronto say they're not going to pay rent on May 1

As we approach the end of our first full month in pandemic-mandated lockdown, renters in the exorbitantly expensive city of Toronto are once again rallying to stay in their homes under dire financial circumstances.

The "Keep Your Rent" movement remains alive and well going into May as provincial emergency orders keep all non-essential businesses closed — the same orders that, while undoubtedly necessary to fight the spread of disease, saw more than 400,000 Ontario residents lose their jobs in March alone.

Government officials have repeatedly told renters and landlords alike that evictions are currently suspended. Nobody can be kicked out of their home for failing to pay rent. Premier Doug Ford went so far as to tell tenants in late March that those who can't afford to pay rent simply shouldn't.

Despite this, reports continue to surface of Toronto building owners threatening tenants who don't pay up on time with future evictions, rent hikes and other retaliatory measures.

Tenants in precarious financial positions who banded together ahead of April 1 in a widespread, organized rent strike are once again sounding the alarm as May 1 approaches and encouraging their neighbours to follow suit.

This time around, however, renters are being asked to keep both their rent and their $2,000 monthly CERB payments from the federal government.

"On May 1, keep your CERB, keep your rent," reads the header of keepyourrent.com, a website central to the Keep Your Rent Toronto campaign. 

"We should keep our rent. Our landlords will be fine. We may not be. No tenant should feel forced to hand over so much money when faced with so much uncertainty," reads a link on that site to an FAQ section published on the website of Parkdale Organize — a community advocacy organization with much experience in this realm. 

"Whatever you have, hang on to it. Once you give it to your landlord, it's gone. You won't have it for food or for medicine. You won't have it for you, your family, your friends, your neighbours, or your co-workers – no-one. Your landlord will have it. It will go in their bank account and it will secure their investments."

Materials are provided on both websites to help renters find and organize their neighbours in solidarity, as well as to provide legal information and remind tenants of their rights.

Campaign organizers are reiterating that there is "strength in numbers" when it comes to withholding rent, writing on their website that "thousands of us deciding to keep our rent gives us the resources to better provide for the health and well-being of our families and communities."

"Social distancing helps stop the spread of COVID-19," continues the FAQ site. "It doesn't stop us from taking the collective action of keeping our rent."

And the resources available to those who participate in the movement go far beyond posters and advice: Parkdale Community Legal Services (PCLS) is directly assisting and backing up those who've been threatened by their landlords, free of charge.

With both rent prices and unemployment levels at unsustainable highs across the city, the Keep Your Rent campaign only seems to be gaining momentum as the lockdown period wears on.

"Toronto tenants were already living in unaffordable and inadequate housing. COVID-19 has only exacerbated this crisis," reads PCLS's website.

"It was reported that 25 per cent of tenants in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) were unable to pay April rent. May is fast approaching and there will be many more people having to choose between putting food on the table and paying rent."

Lead photo by

Keep Your Rent Toronto


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