By Andy Crosby

Herongate residents rejected an “above guideline” rent increase at a Landlord and Tenant Board hearing in Ottawa on Jan. 18.

Landlord Timbercreek Asset Management Inc. filed an application with the board for two of its 16-story apartment buildings at 2850 and 2870 Cedarwood Drive.

Herongate residents rejected the rent increase, citing multiple maintenance issues and lack of services.

Around 20 residents attended the hearing while a handful of supporters and family members waited outside the room after being refused entry by a security guard.

Timbercreek was represented by Director of Operations John Loubser and David Lyman from Dickie & Lyman Lawyers LLP. Dickie & Lyman is a high-rolling real estate law firm which claims on its website to have “long standing relationships with officials and politicians,” and that “we often know of a coming change before it is made public.”

Inside the Herongate rent increase meeting. Photo: Herongate Tenant Coalition

Inside the hearing, Lyman complained that existing rents were not reflective of the current market value. He said that Above Guideline Increases were necessary for landlords to try and keep up with market rent for occupied units.

Lyman’s remark that Timbercreek was only asking for a 3.87 per cent increase was met with groans by the tenants. Lyman responded that they were welcome to move out. Vacant units have no restrictions on rent increases and thus can be raised to whatever landlords and realtors deem as “market value.”

According to Josh Hawley of the Herongate Tenant Coalition, landlords follow a logic of maximizing profit.

“There’s a whole logic of financialization there that makes so much sense to the real estate folk, and burdens tenants with skyrocketing rents and no maintenance,” Hawley said.

Herongate residents rejected the rent increase, citing multiple maintenance issues and lack of services.

According to the Notice of Hearing prepared by the Landlord and Tenant Board and obtained by The Leveller, “if the parties don’t reach an agreement, a second hearing (Merits Hearing) will be scheduled to resolve the application on a later date.”

Timbercreek applied for an Above Guideline Increase to offset costs associated with “capital expenditure work” including elevator renovations, security cameras, roof replacement, and an “energy retrofit project.” Based on the claim of $1.47 million in expenses, the Landlord and Tenant Board calculated an Above Guideline Increase of 2.07 per cent in addition to the maximum 1.8 per cent annual rent increase.

Despite Timbercreek’s “energy retrofit” that cost over $1 million and was clarified in the application as “necessary to maintain the heating system,” tenants delivered multiple work orders at the Board hearing that expressed ongoing problems related to lack of heat and hot water.

On Jan. 19, a tenant posted a photo of a space heater in his apartment on Facebook noting, “This is one of 2 heaters keeping my apartment warm the registers have heat coming out but no circulation.”

The Herongate Tenant Coalition responded calling on Timbercreek to turn up the heat in 2870 Cedarwood, noting that “Tenants are cold and footing the electricity bill for a problem caused by Timbercreek.”

On Twitter, the coalition, referencing 2870 Cedarwood lacking heat last winter, claims that this was not a stand-alone incident but a pattern of neglect and abuse.

Timbercreek claims under its motto that it is “actively creating value” – but for who? The millions it rakes in for its investors are a result of squeezing revenues out of lower-income tenants through maximizing rent increases, keeping maintenance costs low through systemic neglect, pushing existing tenants to move out so that rents on vacant units can be raised to “market value,” and gentrifying through the eviction and demolition of neglected housing.

Timbercreek has undergone two rounds of eviction-demolitions, or demovictions, since 2013, displacing dozens of lower-income, racialized and immigrant families to make way for construction projects offering “resort-style living.”

Timbercreek manages over $8.5 billion in assets, and is deemed a “financialized landlord,” according to academics Martine August and Alan Walks. In a 2018 Geoforum article, the authors characterize Timbercreek as “cherry picking” properties in gentrifying communities and actively seeking to “capitalize on gentrification pressures, and to forcibly gentrify its own buildings.”

Their study notes that in Toronto, Above Guideline Increase applications increased by 800 per cent between 2011 and 2014 as part of a trend of deregulating rental protections in Ontario.

Ottawa is currently experiencing a crisis in affordable housing, record-high rents and record-low vacancy rates, creating a ripe situation for predatory financialized landlords to deepen the crisis through gentrifying practices.

According to Hawley, one building, the Richlin, located on Walkley Road across from where the Herongate evictions took place, saw landlord Osgoode Properties raise the rent on vacant two-bedrooms from $1205 in May 2017 to $1550 in January 2019, an increase of 28.6 per cent.

“The mass displacement in the south Ottawa neighbourhood of Herongate has no doubt played a large role in creating one of the worst years on record for tenants in Ottawa,” Hawley concluded.

See Tips for Tenants to learn more about above guideline increases.

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