Two members of the Parkdale Tenants Association hold signs at the rally.
Lots of people hate their landlords, but it wouldn’t occur to most of these unhappy tenants to take a bus across town, to their landlord’s corporate headquarters, in order to shout at them from the sidewalk through a loudspeaker. And yet that’s exactly what happened yesterday, in front of the Richmond Street East offices of MetCap Living, which manages 12,000 units in Ontario, including a few dozen apartment buildings in the GTA—many of them aging, and ten of which are located in Parkdale.
The crowd was about twenty strong, and the occasion for the gathering was the presentation of the Golden Cockroach Award, a modified sports trophy given at irregular intervals by the Parkdale Tenants Association to honour (or dishonour) whomever they deem to be the Worst Landlord of the Year.
At the microphone, Bart Poesiat, a community worker with Parkdale Legal Services who had helped organize the event, accused MetCap of a long litany of slumlord behaviour. The company, he said, allows apartments to deteriorate until they’re barely livable. He also accused MetCap of bringing tenants to the Landlord and Tenant Board frivolously over rent disputes, and then delaying proceedings after tenants have already taken time off from work.
“Gandalf” prepares to present the Golden Cockroach to MetCap.
MetCap is, of course, only one of many corporate landlords in Toronto with upkeep and tenant relations problems; the award is somewhat arbitrary. Even so, they refused to accept it. “Our buildings are fully occupied and if things were really an issue, I wouldn’t be able to lease the building,” said MetCap president Brent Merrill to the Star yesterday. “The rent is reasonable and we try to take care of everybody. If some are not satisfied, it’s not for lack of trying.” Merrill attributed the frequent court battles with tenants to his company’s diligence in rent collection, which he said is necessary in order to avoid thousands of dollars in losses due to bad debt.
Not that MetCap would have been able to accept the award if it had wanted to. “We had a situation where a landlord came down and grabbed it, said ‘thank you very much,’ and we told him he couldn’t have it,” said Poesiat.
There is only one Golden Cockroach. It’s like the Stanley Cup.
A man named Louis, who had moved out of his previous Parkdale apartment building when MetCap took it over about five years ago only to have his current Parkdale building also taken over by MetCap, is convinced that the company mistreats its properties and the people who live in them. After MetCap took over his new building, he said: “Everything went downhill. We started getting cockroaches, and mice, and bedbugs. Now the whole building’s infested with bedbugs.”
Bedbugs are now a citywide epidemic, especially prevalent in large apartment buildings. Several MetCap properties are listed in the international Bedbug Registry, as are many hundreds of non-MetCap properties.
“My cat is only forty-one weeks old,” continued Louis, “and he already caught sixty-eight mice.”
Louis pays $820 per month for his one-bedroom apartment, which he shares with his wife. They are both elderly, and thinking of moving out.
The City, for its part, has spent the past two years aggressively ramping up inspections of apartment buildings. In 2008, Municipal Licensing and Standards conducted only fourteen building audits. In 2009, they conducted 187, and this year they plan to do at least two hundred. Meanwhile, the Mayor’s Tower Renewal program is in the early stages of retrofitting the city’s stock of concrete apartment buildings to make them more energy efficient. On the provincial end of things, Bhutilla Karpoche, an assistant to Cheri diNovo, MPP for Parkdale-High Park, told the crowd her boss is planning to table a bill at Queen’s Park to institute “real rent control and landlord licensing.” Until then, tenants with grievances can complain directly to Municipal Licensing and Standards to expedite inspection of their building or unit.
The official grievance process doesn’t do much to lift the spirits, though. The Golden Cockroach, on the other hand, does. It was presented by a man dressed as Gandalf the Wizard, who said he had come from Middle Earth to give the statuette to the “lord of the slums.” (Apparently Gandalf is attracted to things with “lord” in their names.)
No official complaint has ever been met with so much applause.
Photos by Joel Charlebois/Torontoist.