Hamilton Spectator: ‘People are panicking’: Renoviction looms for east Hamilton tenants
Posted April 28, 2021
Posted April 28, 2021
Dawn Hoad’s plan to stave off eviction by renovation from her east Hamilton apartment building has evaporated.
She had hoped to move into an acquaintance’s basement while her landlord renovated the nine-storey building at 285 Melvin Ave.
Once the work was done, she’d exercise her right of return at the same rate under Ontario tenancy law.
But things haven’t worked out.
“She’ll take my cat, but she won’t take me,” Hoad says of her would-be temporary landlord.
That leaves her with even less hope about holding onto her $700-a-month, one-bedroom unit of nine years.
Hoad, who is 55 and gets by on a disability pension, is not alone.
The building’s landlord, Family Properties, issued notices to tenants in roughly 60 units to clear out by the end of March for renovations it says will take seven to 10 months.
The owner wants to tear down walls between kitchens and living rooms to make the units open concept and has told tenants the renovations include electrical and plumbing work.
Some residents took cash buyouts to leave. But many, like Hoad, have stayed put.
Their motivating factor? Dim prospects in Hamilton’s skyrocketing market where one-bedroom apartments now hover at $1,400 a month.
Faced with a potential struggle before the Landlord and Tenant Board, the mood is bleak, Hoad says.
“People are panicking. They’re really having a hard time. They don’t know what to do.”
Family Properties representatives haven’t responded to The Spectator’s requests for comment.
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.
This is not just an issue at 285 Melvin Ave. Tenant advocates say renovictions are a growing problem in Hamilton pricing people out of the local market or onto the streets.
Last year, the number of N13s filed with the Landlord and Tenant Board along with eviction applications in Hamilton was 33. In 2012, the annual count was six.
James Webb on Pearl Street South finds himself among the ranks facing displacement.
The single dad who lives with his 15-year-old son in the fourplex was handed a notice in January to vacate by May 31 for renovations. “This is the first time I’ve ever experienced something like this before.”
Webb, who works from home taking calls from customers of a telecommunications firm, says he pays $908 for his one-bedroom plus den apartment of about eight years.
Affording current market rents — a median rate of $1,700 for a two-bedroom unit, according to PadMapper’s April report — would be a stretch.
“I would have to cut back big time on everything. I would probably have to go to food banks.”
In February, Webb says, he looked into social housing, a gut-wrenching, psychological milestone for him. “My whole life I’ve never actually asked for anything.”
James Webb and his teenage son have been told to leave their Pearl Street South apartment for renovations. Webb says he has no place to go because of the skyrocketing rents in Hamilton.
His landlord bought the brick, two-storey building near Locke Street South and Main Street West for $865,000 late last year.
Emilio Fabris said via text Tuesday when he and partners took over the building, it was in very poor shape.
“Upon inspection, we saw many issues that aren’t to code, are potentially life-threatening hazards, and conditions not suitable for living such as animal infestation, five-foot icicles on the roof edge and bathtub water pouring down from the upstairs units.
“The remedy to these issues is quite extensive from plumbing, electrical and roofing, and would be impossible to carry out with anyone living in the units,” Fabris said.
But Webb is skeptical, pointing out he has never experienced plumbing or electrical problems, and questions that the work requires a year of vacancy to complete. “That just blew me out of the water.”
Fabris said he doesn’t have a “crystal ball” to say exactly how long the work will take. “We don’t want to overpromise and under-deliver.”
Advocates calling for local measures to shield tenants from displacement had placed hope in a council motion late last year directing staff to explore options, including policies in New Westminster, B.C.
Landlords in the Metro Vancouver community of roughly 70,000 people must have building permits in hand before terminating tenancies for renovations and demolitions.
Its licensing-based system also obliges landlords to arrange for accommodation for tenants they displace while work is carried out.
In a report last week responding to the 2020 motion, staff proposed more study as part of the city’s ongoing rental housing licensing review but flagged limitations under Ontario legislation.
Councillors also approved an expanded scope for the city’s $50,000 tenant defence fund, established in 2019 to help renters fight above-guideline increases at the Landlord and Tenant Board.
Applicants who need financial assistance to hire legal representation and experts to resist renovictions at the provincial tribunal will also be considered for funding.
That’s a start, but not enough, tenants said.
Dayna Sparkes, an east-end tenant, told councillors she and others were “pleased” with the fund’s expanded mandate but that alone wasn’t “exactly the bold action” they’d wanted.
“We urge the city, moving forward, to seriously investigate how Hamilton can restrict renovictions,” said Sparkes, a member of Hamilton ACORN, an advocacy group that fights for tenants’ rights.
The defence fund change was “immediate action” staff felt could be realized “very quickly,” housing director Edward John said, but noted a “robust strategy” could be examined in the “long term.”
Councillors asked for another report into what it would take to develop a “comprehensive renovictions strategy.”
“We’re losing affordable units in our city,” Coun. Nrinder Nann said.
Doing something to staunch the bleeding is crucial, suggests Steve Pomeroy, a policy research consultant who focuses on urban planning and housing.
Using Statistics Canada data, Pomeroy calculated the number of affordable rentals for households that earn no more than $30,000 a year — a rent of $750 or less — on the private market in Canada dropped by 322,600 units between 2011 and 2016.
That’s compared to the federal government’s National Housing Strategy, which has aimed for about 150,000 new affordable units over 10 years, he told The Spectator.
“So, basically, we’re losing them four times faster than we plan to create new ones,” said Pomeroy, who attributes this erosion mostly to the investors capitalizing on rising rents.
Coun. Chad Collins, who pushed for the tenant defence fund, says he sympathizes with renters who have few options in an increasingly unaffordable market.
But the Ward 5 councillor argues the shortcomings of the Landlord and Tenant Board and its related legislation are the Ontario government’s responsibility. “I think it’s something the province has left unaddressed at this point.”
The emergency and community services committee motions, which also call for a letter of concern to the Landlord and Tenant Board leadership and overseeing minister, await final approval at council Wednesday.
At 285 Melvin Ave., Dawn Hoad is unimpressed that the city isn’t doing more sooner, but instead “twiddling their thumbs.”
In the meantime, many low-income tenants in her building face the immediate, stark reality of homelessness, she warned. “There’s nowhere for them to go.”
Article by Teviah Moro for the Hamilton Spectator