Posted August 14, 2019
A decaying Hamilton multiplex on King Street East is expected to be vacant by Oct. 1 with some residents accepting buyouts from the landlord to leave.
But tenant advocates are concerned about how the landlord is clearing out 610-612 King St. E. to renovate and rent it anew.
"In our world, this is more closely aligned with a renoviction than a benevolent service to the broader community," Larry Huibers, executive director of the Housing Help Centre, said Tuesday.
Freelance property manager Adam Kitchener rejected this characterization, arguing the building, which had been neglected for years before his client bought it in the spring, is in desperate need of repairs.
"We're here to clean it up. This isn't a renoviction," he said.
The Toronto-based owner, 610 King St. Inc., purchased the twin adjoined buildings for a little more than $1 million from Gregory Bezdziecki in May.
The new landlord hired Kitchener to vacate the three-storey building by offering tenants buyouts. But the residents — many of whom are on fixed incomes — rejected initial offers when tenant rights' advocates intervened.
Some didn't know their rights and felt pressured to leave without fair compensation, said Mike Wood, chair of Hamilton ACORN.
Wood said the scenario is not unlike others across the city with property owners pitching lowball offers to displace tenants outside the confines of the Landlord and Tenant Board. This is forcing tenants to the margins of an escalating rental market and into homelessness, he said.
"If the city does research on this, and comes up with a no-displacement policy in Hamilton, we would see that stop."
ACORN wants the city track renovictions, make better efforts to educate tenants about their rights and require landlords to find displaced renters comparable units.
At 610-612 King St. E., Edith Hardman has paid $1,200 a month for a basement apartment with low, leaky ceilings and two mouldy bedrooms for about a year-and-a-half.
The 50-year-old, who gets by on a disability pension, and her handyman husband, Brian Simpson, 61, are fed up with the building's problems and want out.
They signed an agreement to leave by Oct. 1 in exchange for $2,000 in compensation and rent-free living for the remainder of their tenancy.
"None of us were expecting this. They just sold the building and then the new owners took over," Hardman said. "There's not much we can do."
Others in the 14 units that remain in the building — some have been boarded up — accepted similar offers.
A 51-year-old woman who paid $850 a month for a mouldy, leaky unit out of her disability pension was evicted for not paying rent.
Hardman said that woman is living with a friend, but her roommate, who had no source of income, resorted to sleeping behind the building outside.
Huibers, of the Housing Help Centre, suggested it won't be easy for the displaced residents to find places for under $1,000 a month.
"Prior to the rapid rent increases in Hamilton, folks could move around with some degree of flexibility because they could always find a similar place for similar value." But "renovictions" have put much of that stock out of reach, he said.
Some assistance has been extended to the tenants of 610-612 King St. E. since their woes were first publicized two weeks ago. A city spokesperson said housing division and municipal law enforcement staff accompanied Housing Help Centre workers to 610-612 King St. E. on Aug. 1.
"Following the visit, Housing Services staff are working with four households to identify temporary and permanent housing options," Laura Botelho wrote in an email Tuesday.
No housing units are immediately available, but staff can help displaced residents look for rentals in the private market, Botelho said. Staff can also help residents access social assistance, apply for a special rental benefit and, as "a last resort," refer them to shelters or transitional measures, she said.
A longer-term prospect is placement on the city's social housing wait list, Botelho added.
Article by Teviah Moro for the Hamilton Spectator