Most tenants, when first faced with a large rent increase or eviction notice, refuse to accept that the Tenant Protection Act is there to protect landlords, not tenants. They mistakenly believe that landlord-tenant disputes are governed by a fair, impartial court system, and that by simply telling the judge their side of the story they can make a rent increase or unfair eviction go away. When they finally realize this is not so, that the "judges" are really hand-picked Tories whose tenure depends on their ability to deliver for the landlords, tenants routinely give up, and they become resigned to their fate. After all, why bother when the deck is stacked against you?
The answer is: because there is no choice. We must fight because to give up means losing one's home, it means accepting a poorer quality of life, with less money, fewer opportunities, under more difficult circumstances. Those that do fight are often frustrated by the difficulty of navigating through the intricate laws and civil proceedings and in the case of building-wide rent review they are frustrated by the apathy and resignation of their neighbours. Landlord greed and government complicity are certainly the obvious adversaries, but tenants are also plagued by denial, resignation, apathy, fear and ignorance of an arcane law in their battle to secure their rights.
The goal of Greater Toronto Tenants' Association has always been to help tenants to fight for their rights and to improve tenants' rights by organizing collective pockets of resistance to challenge rent increases, or any situation where there is a common injustice that needs correction. GTTA works with tenants who have gone beyond denial and resignation, and who want to fight and to win. We have shown through hundreds of rent review cases and dozens of eviction cases that it is possible to reduce rent increases and to beat the landlord at his own game by working together, despite the limitations of the so-called Tenant Protection Act.
Ultimately, of course, the law must be changed. This law is a travesty, passed by a government bought and paid for by corporate landlords through campaign contributions. The Tribunal is like a slaughterhouse for tenants, veiled by a thin veneer of legality; and it is the leading cause of homelessness and increased poverty in Ontario.
Just as tenants have to work together to fight rent increases, they must be prepared to work together to change the law. Depending on the welfare state and local governments to do this is suicidal. That sort of dependance and complacency is what allowed the Mike Harris government to enact a policy of slow strangulation of the 3.3 million tenants through vacancy decontrol.
Tenants became complacent when rent controls were in force. Now a rent freeze in Ontario is necessary to repair the damage. Tenants have the power of numbers on their side. If even one tenth of our population were politicized, the current system would crumble before the onslaught of voter discontent.
Historically, our rights were hard-won by activists in past decades going on rent strikes, and lobbying politicians for legislative change. This level of activism is possible and necessary right now, and it must not be not be stymied by charlatans and government bureaucrats claiming to be tenant advocates. Tenants must take responsibility for this fight themselves, or the fight is lost.
GTTA, run by tenants for tenants, has fought for more than two years, but at a high price. Many of our volunteer organizers have burnt out under the stress. New activists must take their place if the real tenants' movement is to continue. Becoming involved in the tenants' movement can be time-consuming, thankless and disappointing. And it is an enormous responsibility: people's lives are significantly affected by the outcome of the cases we work on. So why bother?
Our cause attracts people who chafe at the sight of injustice, who feel the need to right wrongs. Everyone can do something, even if it is writing a letter or flyering a building. As with any great challenge the key to success is perseverance. If we the tenants do not take a stand, who will?