Tenants of 1001 Talwood Drive are considering filing an application with the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) over new fees their landlord is charging for the use of their visitor parking lot.
In February, signs were erected in visitor parking lots throughout the apartment complex stating that parking costs $1.50 for 30 minutes or less and $7.00 for up to 12 hours. Vehicles without a valid permit will be ticketed or towed, the signs warn.
Parking in the visitor lots used to be free, and that’s why some tenants believe they may have a case at the tribunal.
Patricia Young, a longtime resident of 1001 Talwood, is hoping to organize tenants to submit a T3 application to the LTB as a group. A T3 is an application for a rent reduction to compensate for the removal of a service that tenants previously enjoyed.
“There’s a decent argument that removing visitors parking could be characterized as the discontinuance of a facility,” says Caryma Sa’d, a Toronto-based lawyer who specializes in landlord and tenant issues. “Tenants could file a T3 to have the matter adjudicated.”
The Talwood Towers are a complex of high-rise apartment buildings that were built in the city’s west end in the 1970s. Today, four of the five buildings are owned by Starlight Investments or its subsidiaries. With hundreds of apartment buildings across the country, Starlight Investments is one of Canada’s biggest landlords.
Starlight’s Peterborough buildings are run by Toronto-based property management firm Sterling Karamar.
“We are making changes to our parking program to ensure tenants can provide visitor parking for their guests,” a spokesperson for Sterling Karamar wrote to Peterborough Currents when asked why the change had been made.
Tracy Lovejoy, who has lived at 1001 Talwood for about a decade, says she was “ticked” when she found out about the new parking fees. Lovejoy has grown children who sometimes visit, she explains, and she calls it “ridiculous” that they would have to pay when they come to stay for a few days.
Lovejoy is also concerned for the many seniors who live in her building and receive in-home health care. “Why should a person who’s receiving that kind of care be forced to have their [nurses] pay for parking in here?”
“I don’t think it’s fair that anybody should have to pay for the extra parking,” Lovejoy says. “It’s just a money grab.”
The Talwood Towers are home to 53 rent-geared-to-income units with rent supplements paid through the Peterborough Housing Corporation, according to the City of Peterborough’s Community Housing Map.
Not their first trip to the LTB
This wouldn’t be the first trip to the Landlord and Tenant Board that residents of 1001 Talwood Drive have made in recent years.
In 2016, more than half of the building’s tenants came together and successfully applied for a rent rebate to compensate for the temporary loss of their balconies during a construction project.
Each tenant was awarded 25 percent of one month’s rent as compensation. The landlord appealed the decision, but at a subsequent hearing in 2017 lost that appeal.
“The last time we fought, the corporation didn’t like it because they weren’t expecting this many people to fight back,” Lovejoy says. “They had 70 of us fighting … and we won.” Lovejoy says she’d like to see at least 20 tenants sign up for the T3 application regarding the new parking fees.
Both Young and Lovejoy participated in the case concerning the balconies. Between the two of them, they have also made successful applications over the loss of other amenities such as locker rooms and social rooms.
Young says she also worked on a challenge to an above guideline rent increase (AGI) that their landlord sought in 2016, and managed to have the AGI reduced.
But at the time of these previous LTB hearings, the tenants had a different landlord — Northview Real Estate Investment Trust. Northview was the landlord until late last year. In November 2020, Starlight Investments purchased Northview, in partnership with KingSett Capital, for $4.9 billion.
Having added Northview’s portfolio to its own, Starlight now controls over 60,000 apartment units across the country, according to its website.
Could a bylaw prohibit visitor parking fees? The experience of other Ontario cities
Some Ontario municipalities, such as St. Catharines and Ottawa, have recently considered introducing a bylaw amendment to prohibit landlords from charging for visitor parking.
A rule like that was included in the City of Toronto’s zoning bylaw in 2013. But last year, a group of apartment building owners successfully appealed to the Local Planning Appeals Tribunal (LPAT) to have the bylaw amendment struck down.
The City of Toronto’s argument for the bylaw wasn’t affordability for tenants, but parking management: the idea was that charging for visitor parking would cause visitors to opt for free on-street parking instead, leading to spillover that would strain the City’s own public parking facilities. The LPAT adjudicator found this argument to be unjustified in a decision released in March 2020.
That ruling at the LPAT will likely put to bed the efforts of other municipalities to introduce something similar. Both St. Catharines and Ottawa had been awaiting the results of the appeal before moving forward on bylaw amendments of their own.
But in Oakville, a different approach is taken. There, fee-for-use parking is considered its own commercial land use, and that land use is not permitted in residentially-zoned areas. As a result, neither tenant parking nor visitor parking can be charged for by residential landlords.
In their review of bylaw options, St. Catharines city staff noted that Oakville’s approach did not allow for the unbundling of the cost of a rental unit from the cost of parking. Unbundling these costs is advantageous for affordability and for transportation demand management, staff wrote, and they did not recommend this approach.