The North Star


Victory for Scarborough Tenants

East Scarborough Tenants Union Secures Reduction in Rent Increase

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Members of the East Scarborough Tenants Union (ESTU) living at 25 Cougar Court have just registered a win in their struggle against a pair of above-guideline rent increases (AGIs). After a year and a half of fighting against one of Canada's largest landlords, tenants obtained a 50% reduction to expected AGIs.

The tenants also secured a commitment that there will be no AGIs for the next two years and no AGIs for cosmetic repairs. Management company MetCap Living and building-owner Starlight Investments—one of Canada's largest landlords—were seeking to impose back-to-back AGIs totalling over 10% in rent increases for existing leaseholders over a three-year period. 

"Given inflation, poor unit conditions and the cost of living increasing every year, an additional AGI felt outrageous to me," said Zainab, an ESTU tenant who was involved in the negotiations, in an interview with The North Star.

"Even though we didn't remove the whole AGI, we know that our effort was able to save people 50 percent," said Zainab. "For a lot of people this money is medicine, transportation, grocery."

The union's limited victory comes after a long and difficult struggle with the landlord. Tenant organizers reported to North Star that they faced opposition and harassment from management over the course of months.

"Our residence manager started treating us differently when they found out that we are part of the tenants' union," says Zainab. "They stopped being professional and providing customer service." Tenants were told that they could not gather in the lobby to organize, but they insisted that it was their right to be in their own building. 

In January of 2023, multiple people in the tenant union's WhatsApp group received "prank calls" from unknown individuals who harassed and threatened active tenants and their families. The tenant union believes these calls were a tactic to scare tenants from organizing. 

One ESTU organizer told The North Star that "these calls were a deliberate attempt to intimidate and scatter the tenants' struggle. Tenants faced calls threatening sexual assault against family members and other forms of threats and harassment. Nothing materialized out of these threats, but it did rattle some people, and it also made many others even angrier and more willing to fight." 

Management also falsely told tenants on multiple occasions that it had no power to reduce the AGI and that tenants should seek out a solution at the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB). Leaders of the union insisted on fighting the AGI outside of the LTB and eventually succeeded in pushing MetCap Living to concede.

"The LTB is a landlord-oriented board, not a tenant-oriented board," ESTU tenant Abdul Kadir told North Star. While tenants can technically dispute an AGI at the LTB, a 23 October 2022 investigation by the CBC found that 88% of AGI applications were granted both provincially since 2017 and in Toronto since 2010. 

"We knew that it was going to be hard to fight this AGI, but our struggle came from understanding that there are people who can't fight for themselves, such as elders or people working multiple shifts," says Abdul Kadir. "If you do not fight, the landlord will increase your rent until you cannot afford it anymore and you are forced to give up your apartment and move out of the neighbourhood."

The win by ESTU tenants is noteworthy, given how notorious Starlight Investments is for filing AGI applications across its buildings. The CBC's investigation revealed that Starlight accounts for more AGIs than any other corporate landlord in Ontario. 

The victory for the tenants of Cougar Court comes in a year that has seen major rent strikes in two other Toronto neighbourhoods: one in Thorncliffe Park and one associated with the York-South Weston Tenants Union.

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