Posted on December 23, 2020
Bruce McPhee rhymes off the virtues of his one-bedroom apartment on the Mountain.
It’s a short walk to the brow and pleasant vistas. It’s near a bus stop. It’s nothing fancy, but comfortable.
And, perhaps, most important of all, he pays $750 a month.
That’s why McPhee is reluctant to accept his landlord’s cash offer of $2,630 to leave 816 Concession St. at the end of April.
He knows that won’t go far in today’s rental market, and even less so when he turns 65 in spring and is left to get by on meagre pensions.
“It’s going to be hell,” says McPhee, who expects to pay “well over $1,000” elsewhere.
Faced with these dim prospects, he has joined a tenant advocacy group, ACORN, and contacted the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic for advice.
“We may not win in the end, but at least we’re not going down without a fight.”
It’s a common wager renters in Hamilton have made in recent years with investors displacing tenants, renovating buildings and cashing in on higher rents.
The phenomenon, which advocates say is unabating, coincides with steadily rising rents in Hamilton.
A report by Bullpen Research, based on units advertised on Rentals.ca, found an average one-bedroom unit in Hamilton was $1,453 in November.
“People cannot move out because they cannot afford it,” said Veronica Gonzalez, Mountain chair for ACORN.
McPhee’s neat, brick, three-storey building on Concession is not unlike several others along the commercial strip.
His landlord bought the 11-unit building for about $2.15 million in January but has since said it will be demolished.
In legal notices to residents, Q Force Investment Corporation says they must leave by the end of April so it can do the work.
Derek Sinko, Q Force’s lawyer, describes the work his client plans as an “internal demolition” but not a renovation.
“This building, from what I understand, is a bit of an older building. There’s no separate HVAC or metered services.”
In Ontario, landlords can evict tenants to do extensive renovations that require units to be vacant. But tenants can reserve the right to return at the same rent once they’re completed.
That doesn’t apply in the case of 816 Concession St., Sinko said. As part of the “substantial upgrade,” one-bedroom units will be combined into two-bedroom apartments.
So in “many or all of the instances,” there’s “simply not going to be a unit to return to once the demolition is completed.”
Sinko said his client has gone “above and beyond” legal obligations in the offer to tenants.
The landlord plans to obtain the necessary city permits to carry out the demolition and is finalizing plans with a contractor, he said.
Tenants have been given N13 forms, notices property owners give tenants when they want them out for major renovations, demolition or conversion to non-residential uses.
Between Jan. 1 and Nov. 30 this year, the number of N13s filed with the Landlord and Tenant Board along with eviction applications in Hamilton was 49. In 2012, the annual tally was six. This is only a snapshot, however, and only reflect cases in which tenants mounted challenges at the provincial tribunal.
In east Hamilton, David Pegg and residents in roughly 60 units at 285 Melvin Ave. have received N13s. They’ve been told to leave by the end of March.
“My fear is not being able to find a place to live, and ending up living on the street or in my car,” said Pegg, who after 15 years in the highrise, pays $633.
The landlord, Family Properties, wants to tear down walls between kitchens and living rooms to make units open concept. The city has issued building permits to this effect.
A letter from the property manager says the renovations, which also includes electrical and plumbing work, is expected to take seven to 10 months.
Mike Wood, formerly of ACORN and now chair of Hamilton Tenants in Unity, questions whether the renovations require tenants to leave. But if so, they could be placed in other units while staggered work progresses.
Wood says many, including seniors, are on low incomes. “Where are they going to go next?”
Pegg, who is 55 and relies on a disability pension, says he has been offered $4,000 to leave, but he and others aren’t biting.
“We’re planning to take it the full course,” he said, referring to the provincial tribunal. “We’re fighting to stay because these are our homes.”
The property manager didn’t respond to call requesting comment. The North York-based firm, which advertises one-bedroom units at 285 Melvin for $1,400, didn’t respond to an email, either.
NDP MPP Paul Miller has joined residents of the building in pushing the provincial government for stronger protections for tenants facing renovictions.
His party also aims to scrap vacancy decontrol, a provincial policy that allows landlords to hike rents as much as they like between tenancies, which it sees as an incentive to force out long-standing residents.
Tenant displacement to make way for upgrades and higher rents has also generated renewed concern of city councillors in recent weeks.
Coun. Brad Clark asked city staff to explore policies, including anti-renoviction measures in New Westminster, B.C., to help weed out bad actors.
Clark said he fielded roughly six complaints about such tactics in a span of a month.
He said landlords offer tenants money to vacate, but in reality, the rents end up spiking “so dramatically,” they won’t be able to afford it even if they opted to return.
“So we’re pushing more people into the affordable housing list, or in some cases, they don’t have any place to go.”
Teviah Moro for the Hamilton Spectator