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TheRecord : Tenants at 250 Frederick feel the chill of renovictions. What can government do? - ACORN Canada

TheRecord : Tenants at 250 Frederick feel the chill of renovictions. What can government do?

Posted April 30, 2024

Housing is a human right, we’re often told.

But if that’s the case, why is it so easy to push people out of their homes?

Frightened tenants at 250 Frederick Street, a 15-storey apartment building in central Kitchener, are the latest group to feel the chill of “renovictions.”

The building was sold in November. The new owners have already sent eviction notices to some of the tenants, saying that they need to do extensive renovations. They say tenants must be out by May.

Rents are currently low in the building, about half of today’s market rents. That’s because this building is covered by rent control, and tenants tend to stay a long time.

Although tenants are legally entitled to return to their units at the same rent when a landlords’ renovations are complete, that has rarely happened in the past. Instead, the landlord often brings in a new person who pays a much higher rent.

The tenants’ rights group ACORN held a meeting Wednesday in the building lobby, to advise tenants of their rights, to highlight that affordable housing is disappearing, in part because of increased renovictions across southern Ontario, and to sign up interested tenants who want to stay informed.

“Landlords who do renovictions are destroying our communities in Ontario,” said ACORN leader Jacquie Wells.

Tessa D’Achille is one of the tenants who got the eviction notice and said she feels “very frustrated.”

She is 31 and said the $1,100-a-month apartment she rents with her fiance is helping them both save for a down payment to buy a home of their own.

If they had to pay market rent, over $2,000 a month, saving wouldn’t be possible.

“We’re fighting” this new development, D’Achille said. “We’re educating ourselves as much as possible.”

Only a small number of tenants have been issued eviction notices so far. But the others are afraid, and watchful. They fear that they’ll be next.

Winn Habel, 74, began to weep as she talked about what it’s like to wait for her eviction notice.

She described the soft sound of a piece of paper arriving through the letter slot in her door, and falling on the floor: “Whenever I hear that, I panic,” she said.

Habel lives in a one-bedroom apartment and pays $811 a month in rent. Her only income is from government pensions. She can’t afford to live in a place at market rent, which would be more than double what she pays now.

Representatives of the property management company, 250 Frederick Inc. of North York, did not respond to my request for an interview.

Eviction notices were sent Jan. 31 to some of the tenants, saying that the landlord is embarking on “significant” renovations that call for the units to be vacant.

“After a through evaluation of the work involved, it has been identified as a critical health and safety concern,” says the note. “Unfortunately, during the renovation period, your unit will not be suitable for habitation. We take your well-being seriously.”

“Regrettably. we are left with no alternative but to conclude your lease effective May 31, 2024.

The eviction notice indicated that the landlord had not yet obtained a building permit from the city.

The landlord offered a $6,000 payment to anyone who vacated their unit before the end of February. A few people have already left.

The tenants can contest these eviction notices at the Landlord and Tenant Board. But many tenants don’t know their rights.

It is one of the deep ironies of this housing crisis that nonprofits and governments struggle to build more affordable housing, at the same time that renovictions are making affordable rental homes in older buildings disappear.

Governments at the local and provincial level could be doing much more to protect tenants, says housing expert Brian Doucet, a professor in the school of planning at University of Waterloo.

Buildings that were constructed after 2018 aren’t covered by rent control, a provision put into place by Ontario Premier Doug Ford. He needs to reverse that move.

Doucet also said that rent control needs to apply between tenants. Right now, even in an older building covered by rent control, the landlord can raise the rent significantly after one tenant moves out and before another comes in.

If that were no longer legal, it would “erode a lot of the incentive to evict sitting tenants,” ’ he said. “That would be huge.”

But right now, the only province that has this protection is Prince Edward Island, Doucet said.

Municipalities have some power, too.

Cities can help by having information at city hall for tenants on their rights and responsibilities. They could also offer a defence fund to pay for legal representation.

In Burnaby, B.C. the landlord has to find alternative accommodation for the tenant if the unit has to be vacant for renovations. The landlord must also pay for the tenant to move into those alternative accommodations, and back into the renovated unit later.

Closer to home, the City of Hamilton has passed a new tenant protection bylaw.

Among other things, it requires landlords to apply for renovation licences from the city. Landlords must make arrangements for other temporary accommodations for tenants who exercise their right to return to their homes without spikes in rent, once the renovations wrap up.

The Region of Waterloo and its cities are watching, Doucet says.

“There’s a lot of talk at the regional and city level about how to do this, and I think we will see some action,” Doucet said.

“It’s down to cities to do what they can.”

Article by Luisa D’Amato for TheRecord