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High-rise tenant claim victory over landlord

Globe and Mail - April 9, 1989
by Sean Fine

Tenants of a Toronto apartment bulding who withheld their rent for three months say they got what they wanted from landlord Philip Wynn out of court -- and must pay only half of the rent they withheld.

"We're really encouraged by the settlement," David Bull, vice-president of the tenants' association at 125 Lawton Blvd., said yesterday.

Fifty-six tenants of the 12 story building, north of St. Clair Avenue near Yonge Street, began a rent strike in July to force improvements to their building.

They said that in the year since Mr. Wynn's numbered company bought the 30-year-old, 116-unit building, management let the building fall into disrepair in a bid to push tenants out.

Some vacated units, were converted to more lucrative rooms, with shared washroom and kitchen, while rents on others were raised to illegal levels.

Mr. Wynn tried to evict tenants who withheld rent payments, but they successfully fought the evictions and turned the tables, making him the defendant in Ontario Supreme Court.

After one day, the two sides agreed this week to settle, avoiding what could have been a costly trial. Mr. Wynn's secretary said yesterday he was at a meeting and could not return phone calls. Mr. Bull said Mr. Wynn agreed to meet several demands:

  • Repairs will be done, based on a schedule drawn up by the tenants. Mr. Bull said tenants have been able to get repairs only when these were ordered by the City of Toronto.

  • Proper temperatures will be maintained in winter. Mr. Bull said the temperature in his apartment was often as low as 10 in January, and that Consumers Gas Co. records show a 20 per cent decrease in gas consuption from the year before.

  • A full-time superintendent will be hired to replace the one who was fired after Mr. Wynn bought the building.

  • There will be an improvement in general maintenance, including grass cutting, replacement of light bulbs, cleaning of ashtrays and repair of the security lock for the front door. Mr. Bull said maintenance has been irregular, and the front door lock has been broken for more than a year.

  • Illegal rents will be rolled back and the extra money collected will be refunded.

The lesson for tenants, Mr. Bull said, was that "when they work together and use the tools available to them within the law, (they) can conquer undesirable cirumstances."

About one-third of the tenants are senior citizens, said Mr. Bull, a data processing manager at the University of Toronto.

He said he pays $396 a month for this one-bedroom apartment, and acknowledged the rent is well below average levels in Toronto.

He said that if the landlord had explained to the tenants that he could not keep up maintenance levels at the low rents, they would have supported his requests for higher rent at the Residential Tenancy Commission.

Instead, "it's been a difficult 20 months since he bought the place and I regret that it had to go this far," he said.

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