“Fight! Fight! Fight! Housing is a human right!”
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The rally, organized by London ACORN, a tenants’ advocacy group, falls on the heels of ongoing landlord struggles after multiple residents at Webster Street Apartments say they’ve been pressured to leave their units to allow for the new landlord to renovate the buildings.
“It’s absolutely unconscionable and the landlords in charge of this should be ashamed of what they’re doing,” said Nawton Chiles, co-chair of the Carling-Stoneybrook Acorn chapter.
Twenty tenants at the two apartments at 1270 and 1280 Webster Street received N13 notices near the end of April from the landlords, informing them they would need to vacate their home by the end of August for renovations to take place.
Advocates say the landlords are trying to kick out longtime tenants so they can almost double the price of rent.
Global News has repeatedly attempted to contact the property owners over the last few months, but inquiries have gone unanswered on multiple occasions.
Last week, deputy mayor Shawn Lewis as well as Ward area councillor Peter Cuddy wrote a letter to the Ministry of Housing requesting a moratorium on eviction notices for renovation purposes.
“They [tenants] are feeling intimidated and bullied,” Lewis told Global News on Tuesday. “They’re desperately worried that they’re going to end up on the street and we cannot afford to put yet another 200 people out of home with no place to go.
“We don’t have enough places for the people who are already experiencing homelessness. So, we certainly can’t start adding to that by allowing greedy profiteering landlords to just start evicting people.”
Chiles said that while the moratorium is a good start, residents need a “more permanent solution.”
“The issue with moratoriums is that by their nature, they’re temporary,” he said. “We need regulations on these companies so that people have a way to live in healthy and safe homes.”
As the rally made its way towards the steps of city hall, London ACORN members said they’re looking for the city to implement landlord licensing, rent eviction bylaws, as well as a tenant defence fund.
“You need a licence to fish, to own a business, and so on, so landlords should have one too,” Chiles said. “We’re looking for a rent eviction bylaw that puts the onus on landlords to accommodate tenants if they do rent renovations so that they don’t renovict them.”
He added that the purpose of the tenant defence fund would be to “alleviate inequality” between landlords and tenants.
“Landlords are multi-billion-dollar companies and tenants are not, so there is inequality of bargaining power there but the Tenant Defence Fund will try to alleviate some of that inequality from a municipal standpoint,” he said.
But as deputy mayor Lewis told Global News, “it may not be that simple.”
“We can’t bylaw these things,” he said. “Our bylaws speak more to property standards and about how we require landlords to fix problems like plumbing, to deal with pest infestations, to deal with windows that are no longer keeping the air out or in. Those are the kinds of things that our bylaw can address. We can’t address landlord-tenant issues.”
He added his frustrations towards Tuesday’s rally.
“You should be rallying in front of your MPP offices because the fix is not at city hall. This is a provincial issue,” he said. “As city councillors, we’re advocating with the province for you. But we can’t fix this.
“The Residential Tenancies Act is a piece of provincial legislation. Its consequences are having an impact here in London on the residence of Webster Street, obviously, but it is not limited to London,” Lewis continued.
“It’s happening in cities across this province, (and) the Webster Street tenants are the London example of something that you could find in every big city right now in Ontario.”
Two years ago, the B.C. Court of Appeal upheld New Westminster’s anti-renoviction bylaw to prevent landlords from evicting tenants for the purpose of making renovations and then increasing the rent. The city passed the bylaw in February 2019.
More recently, Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, released a statement Wednesday after the latest housing bill, the Helping Homebuyers, Protecting Tenants Actwas passed.
“The people of Ontario re-elected our government with a strong mandate to get 1.5 million homes built over 10 years. With this bill, we are making sure Ontario is ready to build more homes while strengthening rental and affordable housing protections,” he said.
“We will continue to take the necessary steps to protect tenants and support affordable homeownership across the province.”
Clark said that the NDP voted against the bill, saying that by doing so, they’re voting against the following:
- Allowing air conditioning installation for tenants
- Cracking down on bad actor landlords with higher penalties
- Protecting renters against renovictions.
- Doubling capacity at the Landlord and Tenant Board to get applications and decisions done sooner
- Expanding access to First Home Savings Accounts
- Freezing 74 different provincial fees to help keep costs down on housing
“The NDP complain about the problems, and then vote NO to the solutions,” he continued. “By voting against these common-sense measures to protect tenants and build more homes, they fail to understand that Ontario is in a housing supply crisis.”
Ontario housing minister admits parts of 1.5 million homes pledge ‘out of my control’
However, federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh spoke out against eviction notices in London late last month.
He said that the NDP would push to introduce two pieces of legislation to “help prevent situations like what is being seen on Webster Street.”
ACORN London said that there is a town hall meeting for Ward 3 and Ward 4 residents happening Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Stronach Community Recreation Centre where councillors Peter Cuddy and Susan Stevenson will be “discussing landlord and tenant issues.”
— with files from Global News’ Marshall Healy and Jacquelyn LeBel.