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Tenants calling for rent relief during the coronavirus pandemic

With April 1 just one day away, tenants across the GTA are expected to make their rent payments during what is an unprecedented time in the city and country.

Luke Ottenhof, a renter in Toronto, told CityNews his landlords are using bullying tactics to ensure rent is being paid on time.

The freelance writer said he received an email from CloPark Management on Monday, which has left tenants who are concerned about rent in a difficult position.

“The cracks in these systems are being made really apparent by this pandemic,” Ottenhof tells CityNews. “This is frightening for tenants, but it also kind of backfired on them because now we’re able to organize, communication and hopefully advocate and stand-up for each other,”

The email, that appears to have been sent to residential tenants on Monday, acknowledges the financial impacts of COVID-19, but warns tenants not to “take advantage of the lack of evictions in the city.”

“Evictions can still be filed and followed through at the end of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the property manager said. “The landlord also has the right to contact credit-reporting agencies with this information, which in the long-term can hurt your credit report making it harder for you in the future to rent or buy.”

CityNews emailed and called Clopark Inc, but received no response from the landlord. When asked about the email, the property manager said she had no comment and hung up.

Ottenhoff says this leaves renters, who are in extremely precarious financial situations, worried about their futures.

“This leaves them wondering if, for the rest of my life, looking for housing and rent going to be impacted by these two folks who have zero compassion during an unprecedented health crisis,” he said. “This is also a health crisis.”

The email sent by the company states that the landlords requires paid rent in order to make their mortgage, also telling tenants that there are ‘government-funded programs’ they could tap into, however tenants have not had access to these resources.

MPP for Davenport, Marit Stiles, reached out to the landlord on Tuesday expressing concern about the notice that was sent to their tenants and also asking them to reconsider their approach.

“This is not the time to be making veiled threats,” the email read. “Other landlords have found ways to offer rent relief to tenants and I would be happy to discuss some of the approaches others have taken.”

Renters organizing

In recent weeks, Parkdale Organize has launched Keep Your Rent, in response to the unprecedented challenges being faced by tenants across the city. Many of which, according to member Bryan Doherty, are tenants who are sick with COVID-19, under mandatory self-isolation, or recently unemployed.

“There is a lot of fear and concern as the 1st approaches,” Doherty said. “I’m talking to people in my neighbourhoods and other neighbourhoods that don’t have the money or coming up with that money leaves them in a situation where they will have nothing left to provide for their safety and security in the coming weeks.”

The province has currently suspended most evictions, including for tenants who can’t pay rent as a result of the pandemic.

The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing says there are existing programs available to help those struggling to make ends meet, including $52 million that will go directly to those who need coverage for essentials, like rent.

During the daily provincial updates, CityNews asked the Premier what protections were in place for both renters and landlords, during a period of such uncertainty. Doug Ford said this was a difficult situation on both sides and called on both renters and landlords to work together.

“In a lot of cases, the landlords this is what they rely on, the people’s rent to pay their bills as well,” Ford said. “I highly recommend communicate with your landlord, work with your landlord and do your very best. Landlords are going to have to work with their tenants as well.”

Premier Ford adds that it’s critical for tenants who can afford to pay rent to do so, also that he wants to ensure that everyone has the essentials, because the other “items can be worked out at a later date.”

Doherty says the messaging from governments has been effective in addressing the real situation, adding that the landlords they’ve had contact have been “vague and non-committal.” He’s been hearing that some of the larger companies have responded to concerned tenants, only offering to discuss options of a repayment program.

“None of them seem to actually appreciate the severity of the situation that tens of thousands of people are in,” he said. “There are notices that are slipped under people’s doors that rent is due on the first, as though we forgot.”

Prior to COVID-19, Toronto was already faced with a housing capacity and now the pandemic is adding more pressure to the system. Doherty says tenants who find themselves in a crunch, shouldn’t be faced with fear-mongering or repercussions because this is a situations renters had no control over.

“This is a situation that tenants themselves did not create,” Doherty said. “We had no hand in COVID-19 tearing a swath through our neighbourhoods and through our workplaces. These aren’t situations created by us, they are situations we have to respond to.”

The response is for tenants to keep their rent for their safety and those around them. Doherty says a more reasonable response from landlords should be directed at their financial institutions and lenders.

It’s unclear at this point how much of an impact the pandemic will have in the long-run, but renters are bracing for the worst.

“Tenants should neither be intimidated or pressured with re-payment, that is impossible, or eviction, which would potentially be deadly,” he said.

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