Tenants Organize Despite Landlord's Scare Tactics
Hamilton Tenant: V01, I02
Since the beginning of the East Hamilton Rent Strike, InterRent REIT, owner of the Stoney Creek Towers, and its in-house property management company, CLV Group, have used scare tactics in attempts to crush tenants’ organizing. These tactics have escalated to such an absurd point that the Stoney Creek Towers tenants have concluded: InterRent is scared of its tenants!
The idea of a landlord being scared of its tenants turns the normal landlord-tenant power dynamic on its head. In this relationship, landlords normally hold all the cards and tenants have little recourse. This is a power imbalance is supported by the government, written into provincial law through the Residential Tenancies Act, upheld by the LTB, and, if need be, enforced by the sheriff. As tenants, we can see this imbalance in our daily lives as maintenance issues like broken locks and draughty windows go unaddressed for weeks, while landlords can give us eviction notices for being one day late on rent.
InterRent’s Failed Scare Tactics
When a billion-dollar landlord like InterRent begins to be frightened of the working-class residents of the Stoney Creek Towers, it means that the tenants are doing something right. In the beginning, tenants frightened InterRent into addressing certain maintenance and repair issues. Now, through their continued organizing and despite the landlord’s harassment and intimidation, tenants are frightening InterRent into paranoia. Here’s what has happened so far:
Threats of Eviction: L9s, N4s, L1s
Unsurprisingly, the threat of eviction has been InterRent’s primary scare tactic. At first the landlord filed L9 applications to try to collect tenants’ outstanding rent - a process that does not carry the threat of eviction. But when rent strikers and their supporters disrupted the LTB at the L9 hearings in July, InterRent suddenly recognized that their tenants can affect the government-controlled body that they had placed their faith in, got scared, and began pursuing evictions. Tenants began to receive N4s (notice for non- payment of rent) followed by the subsequent L1s (application for eviction for non-payment of rent). Over the course of the rent strike, tenants have attended hearings at the LTB multiple times. InterRent sends high-ranking executives from Ottawa to each of these hearings. No one has been evicted for their participation in the strike. For many tenants who are forced to pay back rent, a new tenant joins the strike.
InterRent has stated continuously that they want all matters to be resolved at the LTB. It’s easy to understand why. Landlords rely on the LTB as a tool that allows them to gouge their tenants and kick them out of their homes. This is often an individualized process, as the LTB doesn’t allow for collective defendants (such as the Stoney Creek Towers Tenant Committee) in the case of eviction hearings. This arrangement is ideal for landlords, who understand that an individual is an easy, vulnerable target, while a group of tenants is powerful.
Trip to Ottawa: Tenants Request a Meeting, the Landlord Calls the Cops In August, tenants travelled six hours to Ottawa to deliver a demand letter to InterRent’s head office and to speak with Mike McGahan, the CEO of InterRent REIT and CLV Group. As ten- ants approached the building, employees immediately locked the door. As tenants continued to rally outside the office, the police were called to provide protection to InterRent. Roseanne MacDonald-Holtman, InterRent’s Community Relations Man- ager, was so scared of the group of tenants that she requested a police escort to brie y speak to two of them. The next day, the tenants were followed by police cruisers en route to McGahan’s mansion, as they once again tried to deliver the letter. McGahan never left his house: a millionaire scared to address the concerns of the people whose rent pays for the very mansion where he lives. In theory, housing is a human right in Canada. But when the LTB courts and the police do more to protect landlords’ profits rather than tenants’ “right” to shelter, you begin to wonder what that even means. It seems this “right” is hollow.
The ‘No Loitering’ Policy
On September 10, after months of holding regular meetings in their buildings’ lobbies, landlord staff told tenants they could no longer meet in the common areas. They claimed that the meetings were ‘safety violations.’ This was a transparent excuse. It was clear that they just didn’t want tenants meeting and organizing. Tenants and members of the Hamilton Tenant Solidarity Network made it clear that they would continue to hold meetings. Soon after this, every resident of the Stoney Creek Towers received a copy of the new ‘No Loitering’ policy in their mailboxes, and signs were hastily put up around the four buildings. Rent strikers responded by taping a Cease and Desist letter to the door of the office, asserting their right to the buildings’ common areas and warning InterRent to stop interfering with their organizing efforts. In the weeks that followed, Regional Property Manager Selim Dedej, Property Manager Oliver Filip, additional InterRent and CLV employees, and hired security guards again and again attempted to break up the lobby meetings, making various claims that the assembled tenants were blocking the building entrances and interfering with other tenants. Members of HTSN were given ‘no trespass’ notices, banning them from all four buildings. Despite these heavy-hand- ed tactics, rent strikers have defied InterRent’s bogus policies and continue to meet in the lobbies, space that is rightfully theirs to use.
Once InterRent realized that they couldn’t stop their tenants from meeting in the lobbies, they decided to force tenants out by making the lobbies physically inaccessible. At 50 Violet and 77 Delawana, InterRent built literal walls to keep tenants out of the meeting areas. Lobbies are recognized as shared, common spaces that all tenants are entitled to by virtue of paying their rent. Under their previous landlord, DiCenzo, tenants would use the lobbies for seasonal celebrations, such as handing out Christmas gifts and Halloween treats to children. Now that the rent strikers have been using these spaces for organizing, InterRent has taken them away. Walling off the lobbies is not only another failed attempt to stop tenants from meeting, but is most certainly a punitive action taken in retaliation for the rent strike. These lobbies have become a commodity: something that can be given and something that can be taken away, rather than a shared space that all tenants have the right to use. We should not be surprised! For InterRent, the ten- ants themselves are nothing more than numbers on a spreadsheet. If one tenant pays less rent than another, then that tenant has to be pushed out. If an employee needs to enter a unit, then they will do so without proper notice. InterRent is a 1.7 billion dollar company and it owns the Stoney Creek Towers. Period. This is a business to them, not a home. But InterRent has made a mistake by blocking off the lobbies. They believe their actions are lawful and calculated, but they were sloppy. And they will pay.
More Threats of Eviction: N5s
After the wall was built, tenants held a rally to protest the loss of their common areas. The walls were built to keep tenants out and keep us from organizing, but instead they provided us with another issue to collectively rally against. Once InterRent realized that the walls did not accomplish what they wanted, they began to hand out N5 eviction notices (for interfering with other tenants or the landlord) to tenants based on the bogus ‘No Loitering’ policy. This is yet another example of InterRent using the threat of the LTB when they get scared of their tenants. The difference here is that with the N5, InterRent is claiming that the rent strikers have interfered with others’ reasonable enjoyment of the building by loitering, when in fact it’s the ‘No Loitering’ policy itself that is doing just that. As of yet, InterRent has not pursued any of these eviction notices. Likely because they realize they would lose.
Since the ‘No Loitering’ policy, InterRent has ramped up its security to such a degree that it cannot be considered anything but surveillance. Tenants report that they feel like criminals in their own buildings as security guards constantly patrol the floors and 75 new cameras have been installed. This increased ‘security’ has little to do with tenant safety and everything to do with tenant policing that is targeted at organizing work. Lobby meetings continue at the one building where they are still possible to hold. During these meetings, three security guards stand and watch tenants speak to each other. InterRent wants tenants to be intimidated and scared and to remind us that the lobbies belong to them. This has only emboldened tenants to continue to claim the space and exert their rights to organize. At the end of each meeting we clap in celebration and defiance to let InterRent know that their scare tactics have failed.
InterRent is scared of its tenants. They are terrified that the tenants have decided to work together as a collective. From the perspective of a 1.7 billion dollar company, the proposed rent increase that the tenants are fighting, is pennies. So why has InterRent pushed back so hard? It’s simple. They do not want tenants organizing. InterRent and other landlords are aware that the rent strike is building tenant power and that the pendulum is swinging the other way. Nothing that InterRent has done to scare us has worked. We are still here and still fighting.