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CBC News : With renters feeling squeezed, city holds 1-day tenant fair - ACORN Canada

CBC News : With renters feeling squeezed, city holds 1-day tenant fair

Posted March 25, 2024

A host of service providers set up a 1-stop shopping at city hall event

For London, Ont., renters like Xenia Osegueda, it’s not always clear which website to visit or what number to call when problems emerge in the tenant-landlord relationship.

She’s rented an apartment in a west London building for six years. Recently, her landlord applied for an above-guideline rent increase. Essentially, it’s a request for legal permission to raise rent above approved rates to pay for a specific building upgrade. In the case of her building, it’s a $40 monthly increase to cover new windows.

Osegueda and other tenants in her building have questions about whether or not the landlord is allowed to start charging the increase now, before it’s approved by the Landlord and Tenant Board.

To get answers, Osegueda came to city hall on Friday to attend the Tenant Support Fair, the first time the city has held such an event, which is designed to provide one-stop-shopping where tenants can connect with a host of different services.

“I wanted to see by coming here some of the resources I can access and answer questions about my rights,” said Osegueda. “The best thing is that everyone is in one spot. I can speak to everyone here and gather that information in one go.”

Organizations with tables at the fair included the poverty support group LifeSpin and the tenants’ advocacy group ACORN. The tenant fair also included information about applying for the province’s Ontario Disability Support Program.

London city Coun. Sam Trosow said the tenant fair offers a new level of service for renters, one that’s been made necessary by London’s ongoing challenges with supplying enough safe, affordable housing for people who need it.

“This is creating a very safe and non-threatening space for tenants to come and talk to people who can help them with some of their problems,” he said. “We need to be doing more of this.”

As rents rise, program that helps low-income Londoners sees soaring need

Trosow pointed to new service kiosks the city installed in recent months on the second floor to provide speedier processing of building permits. The Ward 6 councillor said he’d support a similar level of daily walk-up service for Londoners with questions and issues with their housing.

Help getting answers

One of the service agencies at the fair, the Salvation Army Centre of Hope, operates a Housing Stability Bank. The bank provides grants and loans to low-income renters who face eviction because they’ve fallen behind on rent or utility bills. They also often help renters get into housing by paying for first and last months’ rent for qualifying clients.

“I’ve had a chance to talk here to a lot of people who aren’t necessarily street homeless folks,” said Melissa Jeffrey, the stability bank’s program manager. “They’re kind of that invisible homeless, they’re couch surfing or they’re staying with friends and family. There’s a lot of frustration that they can’t seem to get ahead. People are just feeling a little frustrated and a little destitute.”

Nawton Chiles of ACORN said they’ve been directing people to legal aid if they run into dispute with their landlords. His organization has also been working with the city to draft a bylaw that would make it harder for landlords to oust tenants when their units are renovated, a process known as “renoviction.”

‘We won’t go’ tenants tell new landlord as renoviction protest heats up

“We hoping to get landlords to fully support tenants while the renovation is going on and remove the financial incentive for renovicting tenants,” he said.

Jacqueline Thompson of LifeSpin was busy handing out property standard request forms at the tenants support fair. The forms are a request to have city inspectors investigate complaints about the condition of rental units.

“It gets the request quickly to property standards enforcement rather than trying to navigate though a website where they might not find the form at all,” she said.

Thompson said an ongoing issue is dealing with the removal of pests, such as bedbugs, and a lack of supports to help low-income renters deal with them.

“If you’re a senior or disabled, you have to have help to deal with it,” said Thompson

Osegueda said tenants need help sorting out issues in their rental buildings because with rents increasing each year, it’s become expensive to move.

“Right now, just looking at different buildings, if I wanted to move out it’s almost impossible with how much things cost. It does feel a little bit impossible to rent in London right now.”

Article by Andrew Lupton for CBC News