Toronto tenants accuse property manager of freezing them in their apartments
Giovanna Scarpa moved into the apartment building at 215 Markham Rd. in Scarborough exactly 14 years ago, and she said she's been dealing with a constant lack of proper heating in her home ever since.
The Toronto tenant told blogTO she loves her apartment and her community, adding that she couldn't afford to move out even if she wanted to, but she said the units in the CAPREIT-run building are consistently below the City of Toronto's legal minimum required temperature of 21 C.
"Every year we have problems with the heating," she said. "It's not fair. We are paying with our own money and that's why we pay rent. They're supposed to fix our apartments and we shouldn't be cold, we shouldn't be wearing sweaters and hats inside the apartment."
She said the temperature in her apartment during the winter usually sits around 17 or 18 C, and Scarpa considers herself one of the lucky ones — as some tenants have reported experiencing temperatures as low as 13 C.
But Scarpa has double windows in her unit that help regulate the temperature, and her heating is also included in her rent since she moved in so many years ago.
Many tenants in the building aren't so lucky, and those who pay extra for electricity are also forced to spend even more money to run additional space heaters.
"Everybody buys their own heaters because it's not warm enough in our apartments," she said, adding that hallway temperatures sometimes dip as low as 10 C. "In the hallway, when you're waiting for the elevator for more than three minutes, you're very cold."
Lia Candido has been living in the same apartment building for nearly four years, and she said this winter in particular has been unbearably cold inside her unit.
"My hands would be freezing, my nose would be freezing and my feet would be freezing," she told blogTO.
At one point, Candido said she went down to the management office to tell them how cold she was despite already wearing layers of clothing and she was told someone would look into it, though they didn't even ask for her unit number.
"They just kind of brushed me off," she said.
Khalood, a member of the East Scarborough Tenants Union who did not provide blogTO with his last name, said tenants throughout CAPREIT's numerous buildings in East Scarborough have been complaining to building managers about cold apartments in the wintertime for years.
"One single mom complained she has to put on heaters in the bathroom every time she needs to bathe her baby. And she's not the only one," he said. "Everyone has the same complaint, and their complaints have been consistently dismissed by management for years."
After a letter sent to CEO Mark Kenney outlining the issue went ignored earlier this winter, members of the union decided to take action by starting a social media campaign to put pressure on CAPREIT, which is the largest apartment real estate investment trust in Canada.
The union members also posted a three-minute video on Instagram about tenants' experiences earlier this month, and Khalood said the company quickly deleted hundreds of comments left on their posts by angry residents demanding they turn up the heat.
Following the pressure, tenants recieved a letter stating that management would be looking into the heating issue, a copy of which was sent to blogTO by CAPREIT spokesperson Danny Roth.
"With the recent cold temperatures in Toronto, we were not surprised to receive a handful of reports from our tenants expressing concerns about the temperature in their units," Roth told blogTO.
"Immediately upon being alerted to these isolated concerns, management tested these specific units and all were found to be above the required 21 C."
The letter reassured tenants that anyone who believed the temperature in their unit was under 21 C could request a heat test and that the problem would be quickly resolved if this was found to be the case.
And in the days following the issuance of the letter, both Scarpa and Candido said the situation improved — temporarily.
"It seemed like they were doing it in good faith," Scarpa said. "They turned the heat up and everybody was happy."
But this week, tenants once again found themselves freezing in their apartments.
"When the letter went out, the heat went up, but I think they're already starting to put it down again," said Candido, adding that she woke up freezing in the middle of the night on Feb. 22 and had to get another thick blanket to put on top of her duvet.
"It was like the same thing as before the letter went out. Some people said their apartments were cold too."
Scarpa and Candido said this is consistent with how CAPREIT deals with many issues in their buildings including bed bugs and appliances that need repairs, explaining that they'll often offer cheap, quick fixes to problems that need long-term solutions.
"We have many other problems that they… they put make up on it," Scarpa said. "They never fix anything so we always feel like it's up to us."
Candido, meanwhile, said she didn't know the building was run by a real estate investment trust when she moved in, and she believes this is the root of many of the problems tenants are experiencing.
"I didn't realize it was traded on the stock market, that they have shareholders, that they're just trying to make a profit for their shareholders," she said. "When you have that dynamic, then you're just looking out for your shareholders at the expense of your tenants. I don't think where you live should be a business."
But despite the ongoing issues, Scarpa and Candido said they have no plans to move in the near future, both because they simply can't afford it and because they like their spacious yet somewhat affordable apartments.
And Scarpa in particular said she believes that's exactly what CAPREIT wants her to do, so they can raise the rent for the next tenant and increase their profits.
"Its really unfortunate that they're being this way with the heat because I love my apartment in other respects. They're nice and spacious, I have a great view, but it's just really unfortunate…because otherwise it could be a much nicer placer to live and we wouldn't have to be protesting so much," Candido said.
"I think it's really awful what they're doing. We're basically freezing in our own apartments."
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