Here's how Toronto landlords are dealing with the April rent strike
It's April 1st: judgment day for the landlords of Toronto. Will this be the beginning of a revolution or the end of an era for capitalist greed? Maybe neither. Maybe both. Only time will tell.
What's normally a date known for silly pranks has taken on a new meaning this year in light of the global COVID-19 pandemic as millions of people across the world find themselves unemployed and unable to pay rent.
In cities like Toronto, where the average one bedroom apartment currently leases for $2,240 per month, scads of restaurant, bar, retail, hotel, gym, entertainment and other industry professionals are in precarious financial positions after recently being let go thanks to the government-ordered closure of all non-essential businesses.
It sucks, and the people in charge know it: Ontario Premier Doug Ford stated clearly last week that anyone who can't afford to pay rent simply shouldn't.
Rules are in place to ensure that such people can't be evicted... at least not right now, and federal aid is on the way for the estimated 44 per cent of Canadians who now find themselves unemployed or losing hours as a result of the outbreak (though the money may take some time to reach them.)
📢Tenants, listen up:— Marit Stiles (@maritstiles) March 27, 2020
⏩ Your landlord cannot charge you late fees on your rent
⏩ There’s a moratorium on evictions during the #COVID19 pandemic🚨
Please ☎️ or email me if you are in my riding & your landlord threatens/tries to evict you#DavenportTO #Toronto pic.twitter.com/7m1qeDGENh
Toronto Mayor John Tory, like Ford, has asked local landlords over the past week to be flexible with tenants in need given these unprecedented global circumstances.
"I want to reiterate again today a message to landlords and to tenants," said the mayor during his daily COVID-19 media conference on Tuesday. "Tomorrow is April first and many residents and businesses have rent to pay."
"While the city does not have the power to compel landlords to help tenants who've lost their jobs due to the pandemic, I strongly urge landlords to work with their tenants to help them stay in their homes and business premises," said Tory.
The mayor noted that, while tenants and homeowners who haven't lost their jobs due to COVID-19 should continue to pay their rents, mortgages and property taxes, those struggling should be given leeway.
"These are unprecedented times requiring unprecedented actions," said Tory on Tuesday. "Many landlords have already stepped forward to do the right hing to help tenants, and I would encourage others to be just as accommodating."
i love to hear from my landlord that if their tenants can’t pay rent in full on wednesday, theyll evict them post-covid and will contact credit agencies to fuck them over when they’re looking for more housing! tight pic.twitter.com/s0tJXScXVk— Luke Ottenhof (@lukeottenhof) March 30, 2020
For all of the horror stories circulating online about ruthless property management companies demanding rent on the first of the month today, Tory isn't wrong — many landlords are quietly making deep concessions for the sake of their unemployed tenants, sometimes at the expense of their own livelihoods.
"It's just a really difficult situation," says landlord Manminder 'Lucky' Singh, who owns a couple of condominium apartments in downtown Toronto that he rents out.
Singh, 31, counts himself lucky to own investment properties at all — though most of us would say that he very much deserves them for living at home until the age of 27 to save up.
The marketing manager said by phone on Tuesday that, while he's still working now, it is likely that he'll be laid off in the coming weeks. Being that he relies on his rental properties as part of his income, this is problematic.
And yet, Singh has decided to waive April's rent completely for his tenants — not defer it, not discount it, not extend the deadline for payment, but completely forgive an entire month's rent.
This, despite the fact that Singh is still paying off mortgages on his units, and despite the fact that his bank told him last week that the CBA's much-touted six-month "mortgage deferral" program doesn't actually apply to investment or rental properties.
My sister, who lives in downtown Toronto, received this message last night from her landlord.— Dale (@DaleV73) March 31, 2020
She sent me this. I don't know Chris personally, but you are a loving, caring person and you should be recognized for this. ♥️ pic.twitter.com/UWauPvCSj4
"Obviously, I'll be paying from my own pocket," said Singh by phone on Tuesday. "It's okay, it's fine right? These are the kind of risks involved [in investing], and you have to be prepared for these kinds of obstacles."
Singh's tenants include a childcare worker and someone in manufacturing, both of whom don't know where their next paycheques are coming from in light of the coronavirus outbreak.
"I just said listen, you don't have to pay for April at all," said Singh.
"You know, the tenants have been there for a while.... they've been there for a few years... I haven't had any issues from them in terms of damaging property or late rent or anything like that, so... yeah I didn't mind doing it, just because they're good people and they've treated me well."
Saint Lucky, as I have personally dubbed him, isn't the only landlord treating his tenants as people (versus faceless revenue sources) in these trying times.
Last week, a real estate investment firm called Greenrock, which operates at least nine apartment buildings across Toronto, announced that it would not only be allowing tenants to use put their last month deposits toward April rent, penalty and interest free, but that it would be giving $100 grocery cards to each of its residents and donating $300,000 to local charities to help those affected by COVID-19.
Not all landlords, however, are as well-positioned (or willing, it seems) to support renters who come up short this month.
Tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people who don't have the cash as of April 1 — the first rent due date since COVID-19 prompted Ontario to declare a state of emergency — have stated their intentions to withhold this month's rent through organized campaigns such as Keep Your Rent and #CancelRent.
It remains to be seen how these campaigns will pan out on the whole, but advocates for the nationwide cancellation of rent and mortgage payments in Canada hope that such mass actions at least send a message to government officials who can actually help.
Claire Gallagher is a senior campaigner for Leadnow, an independent, registered, non-profit organization that encourages young people to fight for a better Canada.
Her organization is behind the website cancelrentnow.ca, a campaign that calls upon Canada's federal and provincial governments to provide both rent and mortgage relief during the COVID-19 crisis.
Dear @JustinTrudeau and Canada's Premiers, nearly 1 million people across Canada are calling on you to cancel rent and mortgages during #COVID19.— Leadnow (@leadnowca) March 30, 2020
Please read our letter. @acorncanada @torontotenants @YVRTenantsUnion @bcgeu @wearenorth99 @cdnChange #CancelRent pic.twitter.com/9YU9VvJob8
"We are giving people a means to pressure the government to try and implement more support for renters and home owners," said Gallagher by phone on Tuesday.
"There are renters all over the country who are not going to be in a position to pay their landlord, and people are worried about not making their rent payment tomorrow, or on May 1, or however long this is going to last."
Leadnow, in collaboration with ACORN Canada, Change.org, FMTA, Vancouver Tenants Union, BCGEU, and North99, had solicited nearly 1 million signatures in support of suspending rent and mortgage payments in Canada for people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic as of April 1.
"We know if tenants need a break, landlords will need a break too which is why we're asking the government to take action," said Gallagher.
"We don't want people to be in a position where they lose their homes because of something not under their control."
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