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Working class people in Hamilton fight greedy landlords

Ritch Whyman

April 12, 2023
Working class people in Hamilton have been facing a deepening housing crisis over the past decade. 
Recent reports show that rental costs have skyrocketed over 13- 20% in just the past year. This is on top of several years of similar increases.
At the same time corporate landlords and developers have continued to increase the practice of renovictions. In 2019 a year after Ford removed rent controls, the Landlord and Tenant Board (notorious for routinely siding against tenants) saw 21 applications to evict tenants due to “renovations” in Hamilton. That has soared to 103 eviction applications in 2022.
A common and routine practice has been for landlords looking to cash in on skyrocketing rental costs is to refuse needed repairs, or to create serious issues in order to evict tenants so they can jack up the rent.
While the City of Hamilton council and staff talk about the housing crisis, they ignore the role played by senior city managers and city policies that actually promote and condone this practice and increase the deepening housing affordability crisis in the city.
One of the recent cases of attempted renoviction showed not only the depth of the crisis, but also the lengths landlords and property management corps and their allies at the City of Hamilton will go to try and evict tenants.
Tenants at 1038 Main St. E, smack dab in the centre of the lower city, found themselves without water on December 28th 2022. The landlord had already been trying to drive tenants out. It now appears that they manufactured this crisis by allowing pipes to freeze during a cold snap. 
The city by law department, run a previous candidate for the Tories, refused to pursue the corporate landlord through a stricter set of charges instead opting for a course that would allow nearly unlimited appeals and left the tenants without water for nearly 3 months. 
The city’s own senior staff then sided repeatedly with the landlord in granting appeals and supported the landlords’ assertion that they had to clear everyone out to make the repairs. 
Tireless tenant organising and an inspection from a local UA (plumbers union) activist exposed the landlords claim that no repairs could be made until all tenants were removed. The independent investigation showed that the city clearly did not inspect the building to verify the landlords claims.
As we go to print the landlord has been able to restore cold water to all the units.
Socialist Worker interviewed long time anti-poverty and working class activist David Galvin who is a tenant at the building.
Socialist Worker: It’s widely acknowledged that there’s a housing crisis in Hamilton. Much of this spurred by corporate investors “renovicting” tenants in order to jack the rent up. Prior to the landlord refusing to fix the water in your building, had they been working on ‘renovicting’ tenants? Were they driving tenants out prior to this?
David Glavin: Malleum, who bought the building about 4 years ago, undertook a campaign of buyouts and renovictions on the King St. side.  Over the next two or three years other tenants were evicted for legitimate reasons such as non-payment of rent or unlawful behavior.  By the time the current owner allegedly issued N13s in March 2022 there were 10 occupied units out of 60+ total.  Three households have since left due to deteriorating conditions, leaving 7 units occupied.’
SW: What sort of support have you received, if any, from organisations – ACORN, labour, other community groups and local politicians?
DG: Tenants have received tremendous support from ACORN and its local organizer Olivia O’Connor. Local media have been invaluable in getting our plight publicized.  The Mayor’s office and City Council, and in particular Ward 3 Councilor Nrinder Nann and her staff, have steadfastly supported us in words and deeds. The city water department has pitched in with regular deliveries of water.  
The city’s Tenant Defence Fund has proved invaluable in allowing us to secure legal representation. Mike Wood, from Hamilton Tenants in Unity, has spent hours on the phone with me personally, bolstering my spirits. Anthony Marco of HDLC, other union representatives and members have been highly supportive.  
Newly elected MPP Sarah Jama has showed the flag, so to speak, by visiting our building. Tenants at 1083 have joined together to support one another emotionally and logistically in a communal spirit I’ve never before seen manifested in our building.  If I’ve left anybody out, I hope they forgive me, their efforts are equally appreciated. Unfortunately members of the bylaw and building departments have been largely unhelpful.
SW: What made you decide to fightback against the ‘renoviction’?
DG: I love the place where I’m living and don’t want to give it up.  Also, because I’ve lived here for so long my rent is relatively low.  My income is also low, so that I can’t afford to live anywhere else (except of course for subsidized housing, which is difficult to access).
SW: What role do you see senior city management and some councilors playing in assisting developers and ‘renovictions’?
DG: Staff in the building and bylaw enforcement departments seem to be heavily biased toward developers.  They have betrayed 1083 tenants at every turn. For example, instead of invoking the Vital Services By-law, which would have allowed immediate action against the landlord, including large fines, they chose to rely on the Property Standards By-law, which affords longer compliance times, multiple levels of appeal and less severe fines.  City Council, and especially Councilor Nrinder Nann, have been very supportive of tenants at 1083.
SW: Do you think you would have had any success in bringing this to light without support from organisations such as ACORN?
DG: ACORN has been indispensable in this fight. They helped kick off the original news coverage by CHCH. Without all the publicity we’ve received we might not have got as much support from City Council.
SW: How important is it for tenants to unite to and fight back against the situation they are facing across the city, province, and country?
DG: It is vital for tenants to organize, fight back and support tenant-friendly politicians at all levels of government.
SW: What solutions do you think are necessary to support tenants i.e.: stringent enforcement of by-laws to defend tenants as opposed to landlords, stronger push by the city to license and fine landlords, return to rent control and long term investments in geared to income housing?
DG: We need stronger bylaws to protect tenants, for example against renoviction. But even more important, we need bylaw officers who will actually do their jobs. We need a landlord registry, the return of rent controls on vacant units and of course a huge increase in the supply of affordable housing. Some of these things are provincial responsibilities, so we must await a change in provincial government to see them taken seriously. Hamilton can and should act immediately on matters in their own purview, such as anti-renoviction bylaws and landlord registration.
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