“Right now, I can either pay my rent or eat”: These Torontonians are keeping their rent on April 1

“Right now, I can either pay my rent or eat”: These Torontonians are keeping their rent on April 1

With the city on virtual lockdown and non-essential businesses closed until who knows when, thousands of Torontonians have lost their incomes for the foreseeable future. The big banks have deferred mortgage payments, but renters, who make up almost half of Toronto households, have limited relief. There have been calls for a rent freeze and even a growing rent strike movement. We talked to seven Torontonians about what they’re going to do about their rent on April 1.

Mauricio Rodriguez, 36, event photographer
“My business is dependent on events and gatherings of people. Now my income has almost completely dried up. I approached my landlord, and she was very understanding and said we would play it by ear, but we haven’t agreed on anything yet. I have $170 left in my bank account, which is not going toward rent. It’s barely enough to get groceries for me and my wife. I don’t know yet how my landlord will take it when I tell her I have $0 to spend on rent this month. She might ask for a payment plan or something like that, but she did say she wasn’t going to evict us, as these are extraordinary times.”


Photo by Sherry Craig

Megan Kinch, 38, construction electrician
“I had to walk away from my construction job mid-month because my site was too risky. Sanitation was terrible, workers were coming and going all the time, and people were coming into work right after vacations in Europe and the U.S. Plus I’m a single mom, and with everyone I know self-isolating, how can I ask them to watch my daughter and put their families at risk? A big company recently bought my building, and they have been trying to evict all the existing tenants to jack up the rent. I’m worried. But you can’t squeeze blood from a stone. I just have to survive now and keep my money for food and emergencies. I’m trying to keep my family safe, but I’m being forced into a position where I either work in an unsafe environment or risk losing my housing.”


Zak Jones, 31, PhD student, teaching assistant and bartender
“Teaching assistants are always precariously employed at best, and there is no guarantee of summer or even fall employment at this point. I had hoped to pad my teaching paycheque with a few extra bartending shifts, but that’s not happening now, for obvious reasons. So I’ve written to my landlord, through our property manager, and asked him for an immediate act of mortgage and rent amnesty until the state of emergency has drawn to a close and people can return to work. I explained that their investment is no different than a stock portfolio, and that the rental business comes with risk. They have yet to reply. I hope to come to an agreement with my landlord. If they are unreasonable and do not reduce or freeze the rent, I will be keeping my rent on April 1.”


R.J. Pitcher, 27, artist and coat check attendant
“The bar where I work shut down at the beginning of the pandemic. My work runs from late fall to early spring, and usually I am able to plan for the summer break and have savings set aside. Now I’m not going to have the money to make it through to next October. This is why I have chosen not to pay rent April 1. With everything going on, the last thing to be concerned about should be where to sleep at night. Our landlords should recognize this. I’ve been putting up rent-strike posters, but they keep getting torn down. I’ve resorted to hanging them in my windows. I will not be silenced, even if I have to stand alone on my block.”


Ryan Boon, 28, account manager
“My job has been deemed essential for the moment, but I’m not sure how much longer that will be the case. Also, my pay is commission-based and my partner lost her job earlier this month. I live in a building with 200 units, owned by a giant corporation. What we are doing here is putting landlords on notice. Our sincere hope is that landlords will refrain from attempting to collect rent and from attempting to evict tenants who reallocate their rent to more immediate needs. I’m keeping my rent on April 1 in support of my neighbours who cannot afford to prioritize the wealth of their landlords over the well-being of their families.”


Emma Mangalam, 59, massage therapist
“My income has been affected badly. I’m a self-employed masseuse working at a clinic near my home. This job is already hard at my age, and being unable to work because of Covid-19 makes the situation worse. Even basic needs like food and accommodation will become a huge problem. Right now, I can pay my rent or starve. I have not approached my landlord or building management. It is easy for the government to advise renters to skip rent, but there are no further steps provided for the consequences we will have to face if we do so. It’s like asking us to take a pill for a disease that the FDA has not approved. What are the side effects? Will it keep us alive or will it kill us earlier?”


Philip Elliott, 27, writer and freelance editor
“Coronavirus has exposed the flaws in our cannibalistic system of unrestrained capitalism. Pre-pandemic, my wife and I could barely pay the rent for our tiny bachelor. Some weeks, we rationed food. Now, one of my clients cancelled a major project when she lost her job, and my wife lost her serving job—we’re both without income. Extortionate rents in Toronto mean we have no savings. Now we don’t know what the future holds other than we can’t pay rent. We understand landlords have bills, too. Rather than punching down at the poor, landlords should pressure government to cancel rent and mortgage costs during this crisis. We live in a society, not an economy: we’re all in this together.”