Inthehammer: Hamilton residents fighting to stay in apartment building slated for demolition
Posted January 9, 2024
“We have two encampments near us, so the reality of being homeless is staring us right in our face,” says Esther Stam, a resident of 35 West Ave. N. in Hamilton who recently received notice that the part of the building she lives in must be vacated for demolition.
Stam and other tenants have connected with ACORN, an anti-poverty group that represents lower-income Canadians, to fight the eviction of several residents who have been asked to leave their units so they can be demolished. According to ACORN, six of 11 units in the building are occupied and the owner is planning to demolish three units.
Bob Nuttall, manager of building inspections with the City of Hamilton, told inthehammer.com in an email that the city currently has no active Building Division-related files for any proposed construction or demolition at the address in question.
Despite the demolition not yet being raised with the city, tenants held a rally in front of the building in November 2023 to demand the owner, 2509739 Ontario Ltd., stop the eviction process.
Tenants such as Stam also claim the building’s property management company, BlackBird Property Group, is behind on routine maintenance and that tenants are dealing with a number of issues, including pests (namely bedbugs), garbage accumulation and “general disrepair.”
A BlackBird representative did not respond to a request for comment.
“BlackBird Property Group seems more interested in driving tenants out of the building than maintaining it,” ACORN said in a post on its website.
Stam said she found out about the eviction last summer.
“It was in July that we got the demoviction notice. I also received an N13 (eviction notice) in July and I also got a notice saying they wanted to evict me last year for ‘harrassing them’ and ‘making false accusations’ for asking for simple maintenance requests,” Stam told inthehammer.com.
Stam alleges the property management company ignores and disputes maintenance requests.
“They either don’t respond or come back telling me that I’m lying and making false accusations, and I have to take pictures to prove that I’m not. They don’t get back to me or if they do, they make up some reason why it’s all my fault,” she says.
Stam, who has lived in the building for approximately 10 years, says she’s been fighting a bedbug infestation since the summer.
“I’ve reported bed bugs since August and I had to get the city bylaw office involved. The first treatment they provided me was [in the fall]. They’ve gone as far as saying that I changed my locks so they couldn’t come in, but I never changed my locks. Throughout this whole situation, they’re not responding to me whatsoever.”
Oliver St. John, a representative of the owner of the building, disputes Stam’s claim that bedbugs are ignored and that she was denied treatment. He also told inthehammer.com in an email that his company does not evict tenants in order to raise the rent.
He also alleges that Stam locked management out of her unit when they came to conduct maintenance.
“Suffice to say my property manager responds very quickly to tenant requests, as a representative for the owners we do not want to break any rules. The tenant in question has had her unit treated multiple times, most of the time they report no pest activity,” he says.
“We do not remove tenants to increase the rent…I am happy to keep tenants in place at inherited rates and with the guideline increases.”
Stam insists that other requests for maintenance have been put off or ignored, adding that there’s a leak in her bedroom and a persistent clog in her bathtub.
She believes the eviction notice was given in bad faith and plans to fight to stay in the building.
“They said they’re demolishing a quarter or a third of the building, which is impossible. I’m on the right side on the top floor. Another couple who has been asked to leave are in their 80s, and the husband is on oxygen,” she says, adding that the owners did not tell her that, once the rebuild is complete, she can return to her unit.
“I simply can’t afford to move. I can’t afford my apartment in the city that I have right now.”
Another tenant told inthehammer.com that he left the building because of ongoing maintenance and pest issues.
“I left at the end of October, but the process of moving started in early October when bed bugs reached my unit. I had also been involved in the beginnings of organizing the tenants union there, which started over the summer,” JC Culp, a former tenant, told inthehammer.com.
“We had been talking about [organizing] because we noticed a pattern around basic maintenance and requests not being acknowledged. This is the second of three places I’ve lived in in Hamilton since COVID where I’ve had to flee due to bed bugs.”
Culp, who goes by they/them pronouns, said they lived in the building just shy of two years before leaving.
They told inthehammer.com that while living there, management was slow to respond to requests regarding issues with the roof, leaks and garbage pickup.
They said that while they’re happy they were able to help organize a tenants’ group, the organizing might have come too late.
“We did the right thing in terms of organizing and finding out how to get the city to respond, but we did it too late. By the time we did the first meeting, people were already moving out due to water damage, bad plumbing, etc. and it was going to be a fight.”
Culp, who is on disability for anxiety, says they’re lucky they were able to move in with family once they decided to leave the building.
Culp was not one of the tenants who received an eviction notice.
“I’m lucky that I have the option of somewhere to go. Rents are cheap [at 35 West Ave. N) and everyone has things going on–medical issues or language barriers that make it harder to fight.”
Like Stam, Culp says they suspect the units slated for possible demolition will eventually be rejuvenated and rented out at higher rates.
“They’re hanging on to get rid of these guys to spruce it up and upsell the units. It’s a beautiful building structurally. I like the railroad style, and the 100-year-old feel. I’ve been trying to get a foothold in Hamilton since Toronto became unreasonable,” they say.
As for what options tenants such as Stam have explored, she said she plans to seek legal representation and fight the eviction before the Landlord and Tenant Board.
“I’ve been in non-stop contact with the city, especially about the garbage they don’t take, as well as the bed bug issue. I’ve contacted the city about property standards and maintenance. I will be applying for affordable housing with the city if I eventually get demovicted or lose my apartment. I haven’t been able to concentrate on that because I’m living with bed bugs and it’s all-consuming,” she says.
Stam alleges that management has scheduled bedbug treatments and then not sent anyone on the days she was told to expect exterminators.
“I work from home and bed bugs were crawling all over my desk while I was working. I’ve lost days and hours and hours of work to accommodate them and for them not to show up. I’m not physically and mentally capable of this while I’m working.”
While she hopes to remain in her home, she also wants management to take a more compassionate approach.
“I just want the owners and management to stop trying to displace us and respond to urgent pest and repair concerns. We need protection from this. If [management can’t] keep up standards, you should lose your licence to be a property manager. It’s been a really, really horrible experience. I just want to make sure it never happens again.”
Article by Ashley Newport for Inthehammer