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Toronto Star : A Mississauga retirement home is evicting its residents-but some are refusing to budge. Turns out they have the same rights as tenants - ACORN Canada

Toronto Star : A Mississauga retirement home is evicting its residents-but some are refusing to budge. Turns out they have the same rights as tenants

Posted May 14, 2024

Retirement home residents are tenants just like any other and under the law their tenancy can only be terminated by the Landlord and Tenant Board.

When Margaret Omielczenko received her eviction notice from Chartwell, owner of her Mississauga retirement home, panic set in.

She felt even worse after meeting with the relocation team appointed by Chartwell. They told her that because she was not considered a “triple-A” renter, one of the options she should consider was moving to a women’s shelter, she said.

“I was very upset,” said Omielczenko, 65, adding that she felt the suggestion was “insulting” and “demeaning.”

Omielczenko is one of the 205 residents of Heritage Glen Retirement Residence, located at Glen Erin Dr. and Battleford Rd. in Mississauga, who were told by the company in March that they were being evicted as of July 31 because the two-building property was being sold and would cease to operate as a retirement home.

The residence is being purchased by real estate giant Minto, which plans to redevelop the property into residential rental units for all ages.

This means the current residents have to find somewhere else to live. Many are paying below-market rents and can’t afford to pay the much higher rates now charged by similar residences, especially if they are on a fixed income. And some are refusing to budge: retirement home residents, it turns out, are tenants just like any other and under the law their tenancy can only be terminated by the Landlord and Tenant Board.

Chartwell says it has already helped more than 165 Heritage Glen tenants find alternative accommodations, part of an assistance package that also covers the cost of moving and compensation in the amount of three months’ rent.

The company added that it cannot speak on the transition team’s behalf about what was said to Omielczenko, but noted her circumstances predate the decision to close Heritage Glen and that a hearing at the Landlord and Tenant Board is scheduled for later this month “with respect to non-payment of a significant portion of rent owed.”

“Despite the impending hearing, the transitions team has given her relocation support, and they have provided her with options of alternative accommodations that are comparable to her current rental fees,” Mary Perrone Lisi, Chartwell’s senior director of communications and public relations, told the Star.

As for the situation facing all Heritage Glen residents, she said the company remains focused on supporting them in the relocation process and has been working with community partners to find accommodations “for the important group of residents whose rent requirements are significantly below the cost of living within the GTA.”

“Through these partnerships, we have successfully found new homes for many of these residents,” she said, noting that the company is covering all costs associated with the relocation process, including one-on-one transitions support through a third party and discounted accommodations at other Chartwell residences.

(The Star also reached out repeatedly to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing and its minister, Paul Calandra, for comment but did not receive a response).

Chartwell’s relocation plan has undoubtedly helped many, but some residents are taking a wait-and-see approach, in light of the fact that the rights of retirement home residents, unbeknownst to many, fall under the Residential Tenancies Act.

In its eviction notices to tenants, Chartwell stated that it required units to be empty in order for extensive repairs or renovations to be completed.

Dania Majid, a lawyer with the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, said that under the Act, tenants who receive an eviction notice for these reasons do not have to move out right away.

“The tenancy can only be terminated by the Landlord and Tenant Board,” she said. For tenants who do not move out by the landlord’s desired termination date, the landlord can file an application at the Landlord and Tenant Board, which will result in a hearing. She said the hearing may not be scheduled for weeks or months due to backlogs brought on by the switch to online hearings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Landlords are required to prove to the Landlord and Tenant Board that they intend to do the work described on the eviction notice and that such work requires the tenant to vacate the unit. Tenants also have the right to move back into their unit at their original rent once renovations are complete, as long as they inform their landlord in writing of their intention to do so, Maji noted.

However well-intentioned tenant rights are under the Residential Tenancies Act, they are little comfort for Heritage Glen resident Joyce Dodge, 92, who has lived at the home for nearly 20 years.

When she received her eviction notice on March 19, her first instinct, and that of her daughter Karen Santaguida, was to dig in and fight. Santaguida began meeting with other residents and their family members in an attempt to force Chartwell to a hearing at the Landlord and Tenant Board and stop the sale.

In the end, however, Dodge and her daughter decided the writing was on the wall and went in search of another place to live. They are now eyeing a small one-bedroom apartment at Holland Christian Homes in nearby Brampton.

Dodge says the whole ordeal has made her “anxious” and has disrupted her desire for a quiet retired life.

“I asked one lady down the hall who is moving out in two weeks if she was happy. She said, ‘No, I’m pissed off.’ I said I can’t blame you. So am I,” said Dodge in her spotless, eighth-floor unit.

Fellow residents Ted and Donna Snider, who moved to Heritage Glen just eight months ago, have not yet found an alternative place to live.

Ted, 82, penned a letter that was recently read out at a Mississauga council meeting in which he lamented that he was “being forced to do something by a large corporation that says they are in the business to care for seniors but are causing a problem in my life after I gave them my trust, so they can make a profit in real estate.”

Ted says he and Donna, 84, have considered another Chartwell location in Orangeville, but notes his rent, currently about $3,000 a month, will increase by at least $1,000.

“I’ll tell you, these big companies are really shafting seniors. They can see it’s low-hanging fruit,” he said, noting he is particularly concerned for residents on fixed incomes who cannot afford to pay increased rents. “Where are they going to put them if they can’t place them financially? What’s the answer for them?”

Jenny Caspar worries that her 94-year-old mother, Marion Sutherland, who has lived at Heritage Glen since 2009, might run out of money after deciding to move to another Chartwell facility in Oakville.

Caspar says her mother prefers to eat in her own unit as opposed to the dining room, and was told by Chartwell that it would cost $17 plus tax to have each meal delivered to her unit in the new home — adding some $1,700 to her new monthly rent, bringing it up to $5,450 from the $3,600 Sutherland is paying at Heritage Glen.

“You’re giving a 94-year-old a little over three months’ eviction notice; give her some kind of compensation,” said Caspar.

The plight of the residents of Heritage Glen has prompted weekend rallies in front of the home and calls for changes to regulations surrounding retirement residences.

ACORN, a national and community union of low- and moderate-income people that fights for tenants’ rights, has been advising some Heritage Glen residents of their rights. It is calling on the provincial government to stop renovictions at retirement homes, a tactic it says are increasingly used by corporate landlords to evict tenants, and to bring stricter regulations for retirement homes similar to long-term-care homes.

A recent report based on data ACORN obtained through freedom-of-information requests found that there was a 300-per-cent increase in applications filed at the Landlord and Tenant Board between 2017 and 2022 for evictions based on repairs or renovations so extensive that they required vacant possession of the rental unit.

ACORN Canada leader Marcia Bryan said Chartwell’s eviction of Heritage Glen residents was “against humanity.”

“Chartwell is evicting the most vulnerable people, seniors, many of whom are in their nineties and need care and support. This is unacceptable,” Bryan said, suggesting that the Region of Peel should have a right of first refusal to buy retirement homes that go up for sale, and that the federal government should fund non-profit retirement homes.

There are more than 28,000 households on Peel’s centralized waiting list for subsidized housing, according to a recent report published by the region.

Mississauga Coun. Martin Reid, in whose riding Heritage Glen is located, is also calling on the province to amend the Retirement Homes Act to require that written notices of eviction allow tenants 180 days to vacate their units, up from the current 120 days.

“In a business environment where a private company can sell their asset and potentially leave seniors homeless, we want to ensure that the least we can do is give our loved ones as much advance notice as possible,” said Reid, adding that he has received calls from seniors experiencing anxiety because of the pending eviction date. “That is not healthy at any age.”

Article by Kenyon Wallace for Toronto Star