hen Covid first took over Toronto in 2020 Christopher Murch lost his job.
Like so many others in Canada’s second most unaffordable city, Murch applied for CERB, but the $2000 a month didn’t cover his $1300 rent for a bachelor apartment in one of Toronto’s more affordable neighbourhoods, his cellphone and internet bills, his food costs and other daily expenses.
Murch lives at 55 Triller Avenue, a 22 story apartment building that takes up a vast amount of the city skyline in Parkdale when looking west.
In 2019 the red brick building, also known as Parkside Place, was bought by Starlight Investments and joined the ranks of countless other apartment buildings in Parkdale that have been bought up by multibillion dollar corporations. According to residents at 55 Triller Avenue, the corporate landlord has neglected repairs in their apartments and refused to negotiate potential repayment plans during the pandemic.
“Basically management was only accepting 100 per cent of the rent with no negotiating at all,” Murch said outside Parkside Place on Saturday, surrounded by about 200 of his socially distanced and masked Parkdale neighbours at a rally put on by residents of 55 Triller Avenue and Parkdale Organize, a neighbourhood action group that protects renters from predatory landlords.
According to Parkdale Organize, Starlight Investments has become Canada’s largest landlord. Their website totes a total market value of over $20 billion in investments the company manages, $16 billion of which is Canadian multi-family real estate with over 600 properties. Over 160 of those properties are in Toronto alone.
When Murch lost his job he contacted 55 Triller Avenue’s offices and tried to set up a repayment plan, but the building’s management company, DMS Property Management, refused to budge. “So that led me to start working with Parkdale Organize because they were the only people making sense and saying keep your rent.”
From there Murch learned of Starlight Investments “total rent turnover policy,” a term used to describe the tactics carried on by mega real estate investment companies to push out longtime tenants from the buildings they buy. According to Parkdale Organize, they do this so they can charge renters significantly more per month than they currently do.
Some of these tactics, Murch said, include hours-long water shut offs for the whole building instead of shutting the water off for specific sections of the building. When Parkdale lost power in mid February of this year residents of 55 Triller Avenue were left without a generator for 12 hours while temperatures reached -10 C that night.
“And don't get it twisted, we don't think we're immune to power failures,” Murch said, “but when the power went off here the emergency lights turned off within the first two to three hours. The elevator stopped working and there's 22 stories in this building. There's elderly people in this building who rely on the elevators, and there was just basically no plan from Starlight [Investments].”
This, along with rodent and cockroach infestations experienced by other tenants, as well as inadequate heating through the winter, led Murch and many of his neighbours to request that Starlight Investments allow them to keep one third of their rent for the month of March as compensation for poor living conditions.
On February 22nd several residents of 55 Triller Avenue attempted to deliver a letter to the building’s management offices on the main floor and get it stamped to show proof that DMS Management received it. But according to Murch and his neighbours, management locked themselves in their offices for three hours and refused to speak to them, eventually calling the police. No charges were laid, but shortly after Murch and other tenants were served with N6 eviction notices alleging forceful confinement.
“They're alleging we trapped them in the office and that we had intended to do so,” Murch said. “We just wanted to deliver a letter. Honestly I thought it was going to be a half hour thing and it turned into a three hour thing.”
In response to the tenants’ organizing efforts Starlight Investments has hired Ontario law firm Cohen Highley to pursue the N6 evictions.
A Dangerous Precedent
At Saturday’s rally outside of 55 Triller Avenue, Ashleigh Engle, a representative of Parkdale Organize, spoke into a microphone to the crowd.
“The only thing that has gotten in [Starlight Investments’] way is organized tenants. And that is exactly the reason why Starlight is trying to find new ways to attack organized tenants. So when they issue N6 eviction notices for 'illegal acts,' what they are saying is that organizing should be a crime. What they are saying is that the only thing that can stop them, which is tenants organizing together, should be illegal.”
She went on to explain that if Starlight Investments is successful in evicting tenants like Murch who attempted to give DMS Management a letter outlining their concerns about inadequate heating and repairs being needed, it sets a dangerous precedent for the rest of Toronto renters.
“If they take from us the only thing that gives us power— the ability to organize together—then we will have nothing. So today we are here to draw a line in the sand.”
Jacqueline Pillon, another longtime resident of 55 Triller Avenue, told the crowd how she’d lost her three jobs because of the pandemic and has struggled to pay her rent.
“We've all driven past the camps and the people [living in] tents and we wonder 'how did they get there?' I'm the face of what it's like not to be able to pay rent because of Covid and to be asked to leave my home.”
Pillon explained that after she’d lost her three jobs she contacted DMS Management, just like Murch, and tried to offer them a repayment schedule. But DMS Management refused and told her they'd only accept all of the late rent she owed them or face eviction.
Pillon’s been served an L1 form, which means DMS Management and Starlight Investments will take her to the Landlord and Tenant Board for a hearing and attempt to evict her. If it’s passed, a sheriff will come to Pillon’s door and remove her from the building. If this happens, Pillon will be homeless.
Before leading the rally through Parkdale, tenants of 55 Triller Avenue delivered another letter to DMS Management’s offices. This letter demanded that Starlight Investments and DMS Management have an emergency preparedness plan in place in case another power outage occurs like the one in February. It also demanded that Starlight Investments and DMS Management stop threatening tenants with eviction, that they complete necessary repairs immediately, and that tenants should have adequate heating and hot water. The tenants slipped the letter through a letterbox in the door of DMS Management’s office.
Engle, Murch and several other tenants led the rally up Queen Street towards Jameson Avenue and then down King Street towards Dowling Avenue. The march was peaceful, with supporters holding signs that said “Repairs Not Threats” and “Organizing is Not a Crime.”
The organizers stopped at each Starlight Investments owned apartment building along Dowling Avenue and, using a loudspeaker, spoke to tenants who looked out their windows or sat on their balconies and explained their rights as renters, and that they can reach out to Parkdale Organize if they need help or representation.
"If Starlight comes for us, we will be coming for them,” Engle said. “If Starlight sends sherrifs to drag neighbours from their homes, we will be here to stop them."
On April 7th Pillon will face the Landlord and Tenant Board and a decision will be made about her possible eviction.
Do you live at a Starlight Investments owned building and have experienced unfair living conditions? The Hoser wants to hear from you. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org