Renovictions: Displacement and Resistance in Toronto

renovictions%20report%20coverThis report about renovictions in Toronto analyzes the conditions that give rise to renoviction, how landlords go about renovicting tenants, and how tenants facing renoviction have organized to keep their homes.

Authors: Cole Webber and Philip Zigman

Released: April 2023

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Report Summary

Renoviction is a much-discussed but poorly understood aspect of the housing crisis. This report analyzes the conditions which give rise to renoviction, how landlords go about renovicting tenants, and how tenants have organized in response to renoviction. We also examine the policy framework approved by the City of Toronto for preventing renovictions and discuss why it will likely be ineffective. The report is based on over 160 cases of renoviction in Toronto, with each case being a building where renoviction took place or is currently taking place, as well as extensive interviews with 23 tenants from 12 of these buildings.

Renoviction is when a landlord tries to push a tenant out of their home by claiming they will renovate the unit. It is a landlord strategy to permanently displace tenants from rental units based on the claim they will renovate empty units. The public discourse surrounding renoviction perpetuates the myth that tenants are being displaced as a by-product of landlords upgrading rental properties and that, therefore, a better knowledge of the law alone will protect tenants against renoviction. Renoviction is a specific landlord strategy for closing rent gaps, and landlords who renovict tenants draw from a consistent playbook of tactics. Our understanding of renoviction is further supported by public statements made by landlords. While discussions of renoviction focus on legal issues, landlords do not need to flout eviction rules to renovict tenants, and many renovictions happen informally.

Landlords rely on a set of legal and extra-legal tactics to renovict tenants. Renovictions are common when low-rise apartments change hands. Landlords often buy buildings via numbered companies and informally approach tenants to encourage them to move out because of extensive renovations, often with buyout offers. Landlords typically reduce building maintenance, dismiss on-site superintendents, and ignore tenants’ requests for in-unit repairs. N13 and other eviction notices significantly increase the pressure on tenants to leave their homes. If tenants do not move out after receiving N13 notices, landlords may try to harass and intimidate tenants to get them to move out; or, they may conduct disruptive renovations in other units, effectively turning the building into a construction zone. Finally, a landlord can apply to the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) to get an eviction hearing scheduled. If the LTB orders an eviction, the tenant must vacate by the termination date in the order or else face potential removal by the sheriff.

Tenants in Toronto have had success organizing and fighting back against renoviction. Through self-organization, non-reliance on legal strategy, and directly confronting their landlords, tenants have successfully pressured their landlords to withdraw evictions before they ended up at hearings in front of the LTB. Organized tenants have spoken out publically against renoviction, used poster and flyer campaigns to publicize fights against renoviction, held protests and other actions targeting their landlords’ businesses, and directly confronted landlords at their buildings and homes.

Municipal and provincial governments have acknowledged renoviction to be a problem but have done nothing to change the basic conditions which make renoviction possible and profitable. The framework for a renoviction by-law approved by the City of Toronto and measures recently put forth by the Government of Ontario are unlikely to help tenants. As governments continue to allow renoviction, tenant organizing has the potential to become the most powerful countervailing force against it.

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Above Guideline Rent Increases in the Age of Financialization

This research report looks at above guideline rent increases (AGIs) in Toronto since 2012, examining the impact AGIs have on tenants, how landlords view AGIs, which landlords apply for AGIs, and the rationales lawmakers have given for transferring certain costs to tenants through AGIs.

Authors: Philip Zigman and Martine August

Released: February 2021

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Report Summary

Toronto is in the midst of a housing crisis, and around half of the city’s renters are paying unaffordable rents. For tenants living in rent-controlled buildings, annual rent increases are limited to the provincial rent increase guideline. However, landlords can apply for an above guideline increase (AGI) if they incurred costs related to eligible capital expenditures or security services, or if they experienced an extraordinary increase in property taxes. AGIs allow landlords to transfer these costs on to tenants, increasing rents up to an additional 3% for three successive years. This report examines the increase of AGIs in Toronto over the past several years, the impacts of AGIs on tenants, the role of financialized and corporate landlords in pursuing AGIs, and the rationales lawmakers have offered for the policy.

The number of AGI applications has increased over the past several years. There were 296 AGI applications in Ontario in fiscal year 2012-13 and 758 applications in 2019-20. In Toronto, there were 117 AGI applications in fiscal year 2012-13 and 294 AGI applications in 2019-20. In each case, the number of applications in 2019-20 was two and a half times that seen in 2012-13.

An AGI can result in a tenant paying tens of thousands of dollars more in rent over the course of their tenancy. AGIs create financial strain for tenants and often follow disruptive repairs and a daunting administrative process, contributing to displacement and the loss of affordable rental housing in Toronto. Landlords frequently conduct renovations to justify AGIs while simultaneously failing to maintain buildings and being slow to respond to tenants’ maintenance requests. Despite rules restricting the expenses that may be included in AGI applications, whether a cost is eventually transferred on to tenants has more to do with whether tenants challenge it than its eligibility. Tenants can organize to fight AGIs outside of the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) process, and tenants in Toronto have had success fighting AGIs in this way.

Since the 1990s, large corporate and financialized landlords have been consolidating ownership of apartments. Financialized landlords view AGIs as a revenue-generating tool to help increase profits. For financialized and corporate landlords, AGIs may be part of an investment strategy and the decision to apply for one can be a political calculation. Financialized and corporate landlords accounted for 64% of all AGI applications in Toronto from 2012-2019. When considered as a percentage of units impacted by AGIs, these landlords were responsible for an estimated 84% of AGIs during this period. These landlords are also incredibly profitable, delivering large annual returns for investors and making millions in profits each year, based on publicly available information.

The stated rationales for AGIs do not justify transferring these costs on to tenants. According to lawmakers, the rationale for AGIs is to incentivize landlords to maintain their buildings—either because they will not be bothered to (the “lazy landlord”) or cannot afford to (the “cash-strapped landlord”). Against the lazy landlord rationale, we argue that there are ways to incentivize proper maintenance that do not harm tenants. Against the cash-strapped landlord rationale, we reiterate our evidence that landlords can afford to pay for these repairs themselves. Under current regulations, landlords are able to transfer major costs on to tenants without demonstrating a financial need to do so.

AGIs continue to exacerbate the affordability crisis. By allowing landlords to transfer these costs to tenants, we are prioritizing a landlord’s ability to maximize their profits over the affordability of housing. Tenants are asked to pay for repairs they were not consulted about and often do no want, and which their landlord can afford to pay for. The move to written hearings during the COVID-19 pandemic means that tenants’ ability to challenge AGIs through the LTB process is further restricted, which could encourage more tenants to apply pressure directly on their landlords when fighting an AGI.

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