How renters can organize a tenants association: Reasonable doubt

A tenant led, neighborhood-wide organizing and rent-strike campaign has ended in victory for residents of Parkdale. By organizing within their.

A tenant led, neighborhood-wide organizing and rent-strike campaign has ended in victory for residents of Parkdale. By organizing within their respective buildings, these tenants successfully took on their landlord and fought against disrepair, threat of mass eviction and unfair rent increases designed to force them out of their homes.

Parkdale tenants reflect a larger struggle across Canada where tenants are fighting for safe, affordable and well-maintained housing. In Vancouver, tenants have organized a Tenants Union and are pushing back against skyrocketing rents and renovictions.

In Hamilton, the Tenants Solidarity Network is building grassroots power to confront disrepair, tenant harassment and gentrification. Tenant led campaigns in Ottawa and Halifax are demanding their city councils adopt landlord licensing bylaws to hold negligent landlords accountable for disrepair in their buildings.

The tenants in Parkdale felt that traditional legal and political frameworks were not responsive to their needs and chose to organize and exercise power in other ways. Other tenant led campaigns, including some of the ones mentioned above, have chosen to organize within the system by advocating for new and enforcing existing legislation designed to protect tenants. No matter which approach is taken to tenant organizing, the above victories demonstrate that a shift in the balance of power between tenants and landlords can occur when groups of tenants work together to organize and build grassroots power.

Individual tenants may not have the power or resources to take on their landlord alone. This is especially true when dealing with large corporate landlords and management companies. Tenant organizing works to challenge this power imbalance by a) developing local leadership and b) building community, capacity, resources and, ultimately, power around this leadership. Through collaborative action, tenants can then use this power to advance their shared interests and values in a manner that holds landlords, political figures and the legal system accountable and responsive to the needs of their community.

The most common type of tenant organizing is the formation of a tenants association, which is a group of people who live in the same building that have decided to work together to advocate for better living conditions. A tenants association is a great way to share resources, concerns, experiences and ideas among fellow tenants to solve issues specific to a building or neighborhood. Once a tenants association is organized in a single building, members of the association can also collaborate with other tenants associations in their neighborhood or city to consolidate power and increase their collective ability to advocate for change.

Tenants may be reluctant to organize a tenants association due to fear of retaliation, including threats of eviction, from their landlords. It is important to know, however, that in Ontario, tenants have the legal right to participate in and/or organize a tenants association without fear of retaliation from their landlord.

The Residential Tenancies Act (the RTA) contains rules designed to protect tenants from landlord retaliation when tenants organize (or participate in) a tenants association and/or when tenants try to enforce or secure their rights as tenants.

Section 233(3)(h) of the RTA makes it an offense for any landlord to harass, hinder, obstruct or interfere with a tenants right to:

Section 83(3)(c)&(d) of the RTA requires the Landlord and Tenant Board to refuse to grant a landlords application to evict a tenant where the Board concludes that the landlords reason for bringing the application is because the tenant is:

If you are being harassed or intimidated by your landlord for trying to organize or participate in a tenants association seek legal advice and call the Ontario Rental Housing Enforcement Unit.

Are you interested in organizing a tenants association? Strike up a conversation with your neighbors and then access some of these resources about starting your own tenants association and/or organizing fellow tenants.

Tenant Organizing Manual, Federation of Metro Tenants Associations

Tips for Tenant Organizing, Hamilton Tenants Solidarity Network

Tenant Organizing: How To Door Knock, Vancouver Tenants Union

Equity for Organizers, Ontario Project for Interclinic Community Organizing

Outreach and Organizing, Ontario Project for Interclinic Community Organizing

Tenant Association Toolkit, Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations

Jonathan Robart is a tenants rights lawyer at Neighborhood Legal Services. Find him on Twitter: @jonathanrobart.

A word of caution: You should not act or rely on the information provided in this column. It is not legal advice. To ensure your interests are protected, retain or formally seek advice from a lawyer.

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