Posted January 20, 2020
In a week that revealed many Ottawa renters endured significant rent increases last year, tenants at one Carling Avenue apartment building decided Saturday that enough was enough.
Residents of the highrise at 2880 Carling Ave. owned by Timbercreek Asset Management protested a proposed increase that would see rents jump an average of $50 a month.
"Where is the justice for tenants?" asked Mavis Finnamore, an advocate with anti-poverty group Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), which helped organize the protest.
5.5 per cent hike
Tenants tried unsuccessfully to stop Timbercreek's application to increase rents by 5.5 per cent this year by taking their case to the Ontario Landlord and Tenant Board, although Timbercreek said it's still waiting for the decision to be formally approved.
Since the increase is higher than what's normally allowed, Timbercreek applied for an exemption in order to pay for "significant capital investment expenses" like garage repairs and renovations to the common area.
The company argued they needed that higher-than-usual rent hike in order to perform those repairs, something that's allowed under provincial legislation.
Finnamore said tenants presented documentation to the board, however, suggesting multiple problems with the building: apartments with no heating, troubles with vermin and mould, and broken appliances and elevators.
"The landlord tenant board is not protecting tenants," said Finnamore.
"These big increases are making life miserable for low-income people. They make people worry about being able to afford housing or whether they could become homeless."
Many of those who attended Saturday's rally declined to give their names, saying they feared repercussions for speaking out.
Bay ward Coun. Theresa Kavanagh told the group that while the province is in charge of rent control, the city can get involved by making sure buildings meet basic standards.
Kavanagh said she's concerned that people are living in poor conditions.
"Probably one of the most spectacular things happened when the bylaw officer came by to check out some of the complaints — and his foot fell through a stair," Kavanagh said.
"That happened. I just couldn't believe it."
The highrise is one of two towers in the area owned by Timbercreek, along with neighbouring 2900 Carling Ave. Tenants there joined joined the protest, concerned they would face the same increase if they didn't join the fight.
The protesters tried to deliver a list of demands to the office of the building's manager, but they were locked out. So for about 15 minutes they chanted slogans in the hallway like "Fight, fight, fight — housing is a right."
They left after reading a list of demands and posting it near the manager's door.
Beyond halting rent increases above the allowable rate, the tenants also want immediate repairs to apartments with outstanding work orders, starting with heating issues, as well as a meeting to address health and safety concerns.
Several hours after the protest, tenants began receiving notes under their doors saying Timbercreek would like to meet Jan. 29 to address those issues.
"The open house will give you an opportunity to chat," said the note, listing maintenance issues, tenancy matters, and "future capital improvement projects" as items for discussion.
A Timbercreek spokesperson confirmed to CBC that the letters were sent in response to Saturday's protest.
ACORN said it was pleased to see Timbercreek open to speaking with its tenants.
The protest took place the same week the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation released a report showing Ottawa experienced one of its largest year over-year-rent increases, at 8.4 per cent.
The average one-bedroom apartment rose from $1,184 per month in 2018 to $1,307 per month in 2019, the report said.
Article by Amanda Pfeffer for CBC News