New tenant resource tracks renovictions and rent hikes in Toronto
Toronto's housing crisis has never been more urgent, as many fear mass evictions as a result of the pandemic and renovictions and above guideline rent increases (AGI) continue to affect vulnerable tenants across the city.
It's for this reason that Philip Zigman and Patricio Davila launched a new website called RenovictionsTO, with the aim of helping renters document and track these landlord practices.
"The purpose of the website is to document renovictions and above guideline rent increases in Toronto, while also supporting tenant organizing by providing resources and information. There's not enough information available about things like renovictions because no one is tracking them," Zigman told me.
"Not only does this mean that we don't have a good sense of the scale of the problem, but tenants who are facing these things may feel isolated or powerless. Renovictions and AGIs are among the practices that are reducing the affordable housing available in the city and worsening the housing crisis, so they're of public concern and this information should be public."
Every day, renovictions affect residents in our communities. Data, evidence and resources are a critical in stopping this. Check out this important mapping tool and resource hub for Toronto. #TOpoli #ONpoli #housing https://t.co/0jbaQ9xMxG pic.twitter.com/nxtfrNVOH7— Brad Bradford✌️ (@BradMBradford) June 17, 2020
For those who don't know, a renoviction is when a landlord uses the excuse of conducting major renovations on a building in order to evict tenants.
According to Cole Webber, a legal clinic worker in Parkdale, there's no limit on how much landlords can raise rent prices on a vacant unit, meaning there's a built-in incentive for landlords to evict sitting tenants — especially if they've lived there for a while and are paying below-market prices.
"Landlords often mislead and pressure tenants to get them to leave, then violate a tenant's right to return," notes the RenovictionsTO website.
AGIs, on the other hand, are when landlords apply to charge rent increases of 3 per cent a year over three years due to incurred expenses, often in an effort to transfer costs to tenants for things such as repairs, building maintenance, or simply to make more money.
"Landlords engage in these practices to drive up their profits, often displacing longstanding tenants with deep ties to their community, many of whom are vulnerable," the website states.
Tenants at 295 Dufferin in Parkdale are organizing against an above guideline rent increase sought by Starlight Investments, the landlord responsible for 11% of all AGI applications since 2018. https://t.co/KJzpIUyk2J— Parkdale Organize (@ParkdaleOrg) June 17, 2020
The new site allows tenants to anonymously report landlords who are engaging in these practices, and the data is then shared publicly for anyone to see.
A map on the site displays renovictions and AGIs throughout Toronto in order to help residents locate buildings in which these practices are occurring, and a tracker offers a different way of viewing the data by allowing people to search by landlord.
The website also provides resources for tenants who may be experiencing a renoviction or AGI, including a page called Know Your Rights.
This! New @renoviction seeks to map & track renovictions and AGIs in Toronto to give tenants the tools/info they need to organize & fight back against their landlords. You can report a renoviction or AGI on their site: https://t.co/O5KQ3Hgcqv #topoli #affordablehousing pic.twitter.com/ZMdm48oGNR— Advocacy for Tenants Ontario (@TenantAdvocacy) June 17, 2020
As someone who works directly with tenants experiencing renovictions and AGIs, Webber says the phenomenon has been on the rise over the past few years due to the high demand for housing in Toronto, the limited number of housing options, and the fact that the main way for landlords to increase returns on their investments is by removing tenants.
"It has become more and more common as predatory investors are buying up buildings and trying to cash in on the rental market," Webber said.
When asked what his advice is for renters who find themselves in this situation, Webber said — first and foremost — don't move out.
"An eviction notice is never something you can ignore, but it's always something you can fight," he added.
He also said it's important for tenants to work together as a group, organize, fight, and put demands to the landlord directly.
This is something renters across the city have been doing for a long time, including one example where tenants of 394 Dovercourt Rd. have been fighting their landlord's attempt to evict them for more than two years.
Now, Zigman and Davila are hoping their new resource will help make the fight just a little bit easier for tenants of the city, especially as the threat of mass eviction looms for residents who've been unable to make rent throughout the pandemic.
A reminder that as more #COVID19 restrictions are lifted this week in #Toronto, to avoid a second wave, evictions and forced rent payments for unpaid rent during the lockdown must be taken off the table.#NoCovidEvictions— Keep Your Rent Toronto (@KeepYourRent) June 22, 2020
"We hope to support tenant organizing and bring more attention to these landlord practices. While there's lots of organizing going on in different parts of the city, we hope that by bringing information together in one place we can help connect different efforts, provide the tools tenants need, and help tenants share stories," Zigman said.
"When tenants are organized they can fight back against AGIs and renovictions. We also hope that by tracking these cases we can shine some light on the landlords engaged in these practices and provide housing advocates with data to support their work."
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