Eviction crisis adds to pandemic pain

by | Dec 18, 2020 | City News, Headlines, News

Nutella sandwiches and Ramen noodles have become commonplace for single mother Cristina Carmo and her two children, aged 9 and 13, as she preserves every dollar possible to meet rent repayment deadlines.

“The fear of being evicted is always on my mind,” said Carmo, who lives in a Keele Street-Eglinton Avenue area apartment in Toronto. “I rarely do eight hours at work each day ever since the pandemic started so now I need to be very careful with how I spend my paycheques.”

Ontario’s eviction ban ended July 31 and the notion of home security vanished with it. Bill 184 was passed the same month with amendments allowing landlords to enter private rent repayment plans with tenants. Failing to meet these deadlines would allow landlords to issue eviction notices — a process that once required a hearing at the Landlord and Tenant Board.

In recent weeks, there have been 2,000 online eviction hearings across Ontario.

A banner hung at Weston and Oak after a nearby building increased rent -  threatening many tenants with eviction.
A banner calling for the end of evictions during the COVID-19 at Weston Road and Oak Street, south of Highway 401, in Toronto after a nearby building increased rent, threatening many tenants with eviction. (Jennifer Kozak)

“The Landlord and Tenant Board has always been notoriously pro-landlord but these online hearings being held in the context of a pandemic and economic recession are particularly dehumanizing,” said Cole Webber, a legal clinic worker in Parkdale.

Tenants can receive notice of eviction hearings through email and if they fail to read the message and miss the hearing they face an accelerated eviction process.

Webber believes the process was intentionally framed to get rid of as many tenants as possible in a short period. To counter it, communities have banded together to help residents keep their homes and some supporters have taken to withholding their own rent until negotiations are considered.

“Once we establish that no tenants will be evicted because they were unable to pay rent during the crisis, then those tenants who’ve been holding back their rent in protest are prepared to pay that money back,” Webber said.

Having to decide whether to stock the fridge or pay rent is a desperate situation, especially during a pandemic But it’s a decision many are faced with. One in five Parkdale residents is currently behind on rent, the Parkdale Organization, a local residents’ association, said in a news release.

In an attempt to discuss terms with MetCap Living CEO Brent Merill, more than 150 residents rallied outside his head offices. MetCap oversees more than 300 apartment communities.

“There’s no help coming from federal or provincial governments, the only way that tenants can get the help they need is through a class struggle,” said Dustin Brown, a member of Guelph Renters and Housing Association.

Brown urged tenants to work jointly with neighbours to support any tenant facing eviction threats and cited the power of rent strikes.

“You’re withholding the thing that your oppressor wants and need from you to gain some concessions,” he said.