Fighting for Repairs In Our Homes: Stories from Tenants Across Hamilton

Hamilton Tenant: Volume 01, Issue 02

The following article was written by Linda, a tenant from 77 Delawana Drive and member of the Stoney Creek Towers Tenant Committee.

The tenants of Stoney Creek Towers are facing many issues, but we are not isolated in our struggle. Bad repairs or no repairs at all, unwarranted Above Guideline Increases, and landlord harassment seem to be normal in this rental climate. I spoke with three tenants living in different parts of Hamilton about their experiences. Each has a different landlord but expressed similar frustrations. Names have been changed at their request, since they feared repercussions from their landlords.

Anna has been living in her unit for just over five years with multiple issues. Many work orders have been placed and each time the landlord sends an agent to assess her concerns, but rarely do problems get fixed. When electrical problems occurred in her bathroom and bedroom, she was told to dry her hair in the living room in order to prevent blowing a fuse. Leaking taps in the bathroom and kitchen created mildew and likely mould behind the walls. Smells emanated but her complaints were continuously dismissed. She has plaster problems, a screen door that doesn’t lock, a unit door that doesn’t open, no wheelchair accessibility, no assigned parking, etc. And her cockroach problems had to be taken into her own hands. “I place multiple work orders before any work gets done at all. I have medical problems and get very upset!” Anna said.

Terry and his wife have been living in their newly renovated unit for just over two years and have been plagued with cockroaches and bed bugs. Their unit has been sprayed for bugs more times than the number of months they have lived there. Terry’s wife even had to leave the unit for a few months due to stress and was uncertain if she could even return. This has put a financial strain on them but they have come to the realization that there is no other place to go. “So many buildings are having the same problems and the rent is even higher than it was two years ago,” he said. It wasn’t until they insisted on removing a dishwasher that the source of their bug problem was discovered and finally ad- dressed. And this is not the only issue they have: parking spots are unassigned, the landlord and its agents entering without permission, and the list goes on.

Akunna and his wife recently arrived in Canada. They are professionals working on getting their Canadian designations in order to resume their professional careers. Although they have had no serious issues since acquiring a rental home, they were forced to pay multiple months up front. They knew this was unlawful, but they felt they had no choice. “There aren’t many places available that allow us enough room for our family.” “We are lucky to have this,” they said. And yet Akunna secured a guarantor that could easily afford to pay should there be any issues. The unit was shown to them without a refrigerator and it seems likely that the additional months’ rent paid were to allow the landlord to purchase one without being “out of pocket.”

There are many other stories of landlord abuses from across Hamilton. You probably have your own. It seems that landlords get away with so many things: requiring several months rent ahead of time before signing a lease, refusing to rent to people on social assistance, refusing to rent to people with children, refusing to make necessary repairs to tenants’ units, neglecting to do proper pest control treatments to get rid of infestations, trying whatever they can to push tenants paying ‘below market rent’ out of their homes in order to bring in new, higher-paying tenants, taking advantage of people who may not know their rights or speak English very well to charge them extra fees, etc.

Landlords are able to get away with this because they have power and tenants don’t. Landlords have experience, money, and lawyers who know how to navigate the LTB better than tenants. Often times tenants don’t fight back because they don’t know how. Or they fear their landlord will retaliate against them if they make a fuss. Even if you do try to enforce your rights, it often goes nowhere. For example, tenants can file applications against their landlord at the Landlord and Tenant Board for such things as maintenance issues and harassment (i.e., Form T6: Tenant Application About Maintenance or Form T2: Application About Tenant Rights), but these hearings take months to be scheduled.

If you are just one tenant going up against your landlord, you won’t feel confident. If you are dealing with harassment, or pests, or disrepairs, chances are your neighbours are too. You will be stronger if you fight the landlord together. Talk with other tenants in your building about their concerns. Try to get people together to have a meeting: in someone’s apartment, in the lobby of your building, or at a local library or community centre. You could all fill out work orders requesting repairs and bring them to the property manager together. You could write a letter to the landlord, outlining your list of demands and setting a date when you expect a response. You could expose the landlord in the media, shaming them for how they treat their tenants. You could decide to collectively withhold rent, carefully setting it aside until the landlord makes the repairs you request.

At the end of the day, tenants and landlords want different things. Tenants want safe homes they can afford. Tenants want the security of knowing they can stay in the neighbourhood where they work and their kids go to school for the long term, without fear of being priced out and displaced by large rent increases. Landlords want to make money from their investment. Our homes are a business for them. Landlords want to save money on maintenance and make money by continually increasing our rents. This increases landlords’ profits.

Tenants do have power when we work together. We can force landlords to do the right thing. The fight for safe, affordable housing continues.

Left: On May 15, 2018, Stoney Creek Towers tenants delivered work orders to the property manager’s office en masse. Right: On June 9, 2018, Stoney Creek Towers tenants disrupted the landlord’s open house by holding their own open house to share the truth about the buildings’ conditions with prospective renters. Due to this collective pressure, the landlord has done repairs in many tenants’ units, including repairs tenants had been requesting since the new landlord took over a few years ago.