Posted on March 13, 2021
When Dawn Hoad says the only way she’ll leave her east Hamilton apartment is “feet first,” she’s not really joking.
Hoad, 55, has lived at 285 Melvin Ave. for nearly 10 years and plans to resist her landlord’s efforts to vacate the building by the end of this month for renovations.
“People are ending up homeless all over the place, and I’m terrified that I’m going to be one of them,” she said.
“That’s why I say they’ll take me out feet first because I won’t last on the street, no way,” explained Hoad, who uses a walker and has a chronic lung disease.
She isn’t alone in her predicament.
The landlord, Family Properties, has served her and tenants in about 60 units in the nine-storey building with legal notices to clear out by March 31.
The owner wants to tear down walls between kitchens and living rooms to make the units open concept. In August, the city issued building permits for the work.
The property manager has told tenants the renovations, which also include electrical and plumbing work, are expected to take seven to 10 months.
Family Properties didn’t respond to requests for comment.
In Ontario, landlords can issue N13 notices to vacate properties for extensive renovations that require building permits and must be empty to do the work.
There’s no rent control between tenancies in Ontario. Once units are vacant, landlords increase rents as high as they like for future residents.
Hoad pays $700 a month for her one-bedroom apartment out of disability support payments.
Like others in her building, she dreads the thought of trying to find another place in Hamilton’s skyrocketing market.
Some who were served the notices have accepted the landlord’s cash incentives to leave their apartments.
But Hoad says she declined a $4,000 offer, knowing it would only last so long with rents double of what she pays now.
“How long is that going to last?”
During a rally outside the building Friday, residents and members of advocacy group Hamilton Tenants in Unity echoed her concerns and vowed to fight eviction.
“I don’t think they should displace me because they don’t like my wall,” 11-year-tenant Margaret Guzzo told the group. But Guzzo, 59, added, “we’re not going anywhere.”
For years, local advocates have called for government policies to protect renters from losing their homes to renovations — a process known as renoviction.
More recently, they’ve pointed to anti-renoviction policies New Westminster, B.C., has implemented.
The licensing bylaw adopted last year obliges landlords to have building permits in hand before issuing notices to terminate tenancies for renovations or demolitions.
Landlords must also arrange for accommodation, permanent or temporary, for any tenants they displace while work is carried out.
New Westminster, which is part of Metro Vancouver, used to see two or three renovictions a year, Coun. Jaimie McEvoy recalled. “And then we were getting up to a dozen a year.”
The “character” of the city started to erode as displaced long-term residents faced market rents they couldn’t afford. “We’re talking 500 or 600 people a year, and we’re a town of 70,000.”
McEvoy said he heard of a person who was renovicted for a countertop replacement and another for a bathroom paint job.
“If we had not done anything, at some point, we could have gotten a well-deserved political backlash, but we had positive reasons for responding.’
So far, the new policies are working, McEvoy said.
“We haven’t had anybody who’s tried to insist that they have to evict all of the tenants in order to do the work that they want to do. That’s not happening anymore.”
Hamilton tenant advocate Michael Lopez hopes local civic leaders can show the same “political will” to protect renters. “Long story short, show the same leadership.”
The model is already there, said Lopez, a member of Hamilton ACORN’s east-end chapter. “This is not something that’s reaching into the unknown. I mean, it was already done.”
A city staff report on possible measures, including New Westminster’s approach, is expected before the emergency and community services committee in April.
“We have to do something. The status quo is not working,” said Coun. Brad Clark, who pushed for the report, said Friday.
As a lobbyist between council terms, Clark authored a report on behalf of the Hamilton and District Apartment Association in 2018 that argued against a rental licensing regime.
But given the limited wiggle room within the Ontario Building Code, licensing seems to be the only way to get at renovictions, the Stoney Creek councillor says.
“I have researched it and looked for options, and I can’t see any other option available to the City of Hamilton now to prevent or prohibit such behaviours.”
But licensing — debated in Hamilton more than once — won’t likely solve the problem, a longtime apartment industry veteran contends.
Landlords with badly maintained properties won’t sign up, says Arun Pathak, past president of the Hamilton and District Apartment Association.
“They know they’re not going to get a licence. Why would they apply? They’re going to stay underground.”
Pathak said the “big issue” is the aging buildings left after a decades-long stagnation in rental construction.
For certain upgrades, tenants don’t have to leave, but in some cases, “it just becomes too much of a nightmare” to do the work properly, he added.
Tenants at 285 Melvin Ave. say the landlord could let them stay in vacant units in the building while renovations are carried out.
“They could, but they don’t want to,” said Linda Marrello, 70, who has lived at the address for 26 years.
Hers isn’t the only building in Hamilton where tenants are at a crossroads over pending work.
In December, The Spectator reported on residents in an 11-unit building on Concession Street facing an end-of-April move-out date due to a planned “internal demolition.”
And not far from Melvin, at 309 Strathearne Ave., Darlene Wesley is also resisting her landlord’s legal notice to leave by March 31 for renovations.
The 63-year-old, who also has a chronic lung condition and gets by on disability support of $1,200 a month, pays about $665 for her one-bedroom unit.
“It’s been great,” she said of her home of nearly 20 years. “It’s close to everything.”
Wesley, too, plans to fight to stay put, fearing she won’t find anything she can afford.
“I feel like I’ve been stabbed in the back for being a loyal tenant.”
Landlord Kevin Moniz declined to comment on the situation.
Notices left with tenants in November say the plan is to do a “complete renovation” of the aging two-storey walk-up just south of Barton Street East to “increase its value, as well as to ensure the safety of its occupants.”
The landlord will start “gutting each individual unit once he gains vacant possession” and is “in the process of applying for the necessary building permits” from the city.
Unit walls are to be knocked down and electrical and plumbing replaced, the letter says, noting the renovation could take about six months.
“It would not be safe, nor practical, for anyone to inhabit the building while the work is being completed.”
This week, the city noted a building permit application for 309 Strathearne Ave. calling for two more units in the basement of the “four-unit dwelling” is under review.
Wesley points out there are already five units in the building, including one in the basement. “There are no safety issues that I’m aware of,” she added.
On Melvin, Dawn Hoad’s potential backup plan is to rent a room in the basement of a home for $700 a month — what she pays for her one-bedroom apartment — until renovations in her building are finished.
Then, she’ll exercise her right to return at the same rent she paid before, Hoad says.
But due to her limited mobility, using the stairs to get in and out of that basement would be a problem. Putting her stuff in storage is another consideration.
It’s all weighing heavily on her as the days go by.
“I’m in an absolute panic,” Hoad says, noting she has bipolar disorder. “I’m wandering around trying to figure out what the hell I am going to do.”
Article by Teviah Moro for the Hamilton Spec