‘Even though they’re renting, it doesn’t mean it’s not a home’
Residents of a central St. Catharines apartment building are worried they’re going to be the latest tenants to be “renovicted” in what housing experts say is becoming an all too common occurrence in the city.
Occupants of the 11-unit building on Napier Street said they received letters this month informing them the new building owner wants to end their tenancies and is offering negotiable compensation for their troubles.
But some residents say they’ve been in the building for years and will never be able to afford rent in other buildings with much higher rates.
“We’ll all be homeless,” said Sandy Daniels, who’s lived in her apartment for seven years.
Daniels has been paying $797 plus hydro for a one bedroom. She’s called as far away as Welland to find something in her price range but is finding one-bedroom units for $1,300 and up.
“There’s nothing out there to get,” said Linda Arsenault, a resident of two and a half years. “And winter’s coming and they expect us to jump up and move.”
Kevin Billings said he’s concerned about his neighbours, some of whom are elderly people or have major health issues.
“They’re trying to throw people out of here who can’t afford it.”
The company that owns the building hasn’t issued any eviction notices — yet.
Joshua McDougall, a licensed paralegal from MNK and Associates representing the numbered company owner, said the building is old and a massive overhaul needs to happen throughout.
“The tenants have kept very good care of it for the most part, but it still requires some love and modernization,” he said, estimating it hasn’t had any meaningful renovations in two decades and the new owners want to take care of their asset.
McDougall said the letter to tenants was an offer to amicably part ways. He said the company was willing to go above the Residential Tenancies Act that requires tenants get three months of rent compensation on renovation work and go as high as six or seven.
“We were just trying to make it nice and easy on everybody. The alternative is that we’re going to have to go down the tribunal avenue, which I’ll be following down to the letter, which is they only get three months, they’ll get the applicable amount of notice, and then we will ensure that we have all the permits and move forward with forcibly ending the tenancy — which is something we did not want to do.”
That means an N13, which is a notice to end a tenancy because the landlord wants to demolish a rental unit, repair it or convert it for another use.
Tenants told The Standard they are seeking legal advice.
They’re not the only ones.
St. Catharines MPP Jennie Stevens said she’s been hearing more and more stories from residents who are facing “renovictions.”
In many cases, she said out-of-town developers buy property with the intent to evict people, give tenants incentives to leave and those tenants get pushed out of the market while rental rates skyrocket.
“At the end of the day, what they are doing is they are driving our rental prices up, our housing prices up and now we’re going to see more non-affordable housing,” she said.
“You’re creating a crisis here in St. Catharines.”
People working at Niagara Regional Housing, YWCA Niagara and Community Care of St. Catharines and Thorold have said they are seeing clients from renovictions and the practice is adding to Niagara’s affordable housing crisis.
Stevens said it’s getting worse and it’s pushing out young families that want to stay in Niagara and seniors who are living in buildings they can afford.
“Even though they’re renting, it doesn’t mean it’s not a home,” Stevens said.
Stevens is working on a private member’s bill that would add a compassionate clause to the landlord and tenant legislation to protect seniors of a certain age or with terminal health problems who are forced from their homes because of renovations.
At city hall, Coun. Karrie Porter has plans to ask staff for a report on what kind of municipal tools the city can use to protect residents from renovictions.
“It’s happening non-stop. It’s happening to people I know,” she said. “Unfortunately, I believe that sometimes they give these notices and they don’t act in good faith with it.”
Porter said renovictions are a way of getting tenants out who are paying much lower rent than market rent because they’ve been there for a long time.
Ontario doesn’t have rent control between tenancies, so when a tenant leaves, a landlord can increase the price of a unit as much as they want for the next tenant.
“People become casualties,” Porter said. “They sometimes don’t know their rights.”
Porter said when tenants are offered financial incentives to leave a building, they may think it sounds great but find themselves struggling later when they realize they can’t find anything remotely affordable or close to what they were paying.
Ursula Hudson, advocacy chair of CARP Niagara Chapter 31, has received one of those offers and has been cautious.
She and her neighbours received N13 eviction notices after their six-unit north-end building was sold this summer. She said the residents are all seniors, with the oldest person aged 86 and the longest tenancy 26 years.
They are paying under $1,000 for two-bedroom units. She said the owner offered compensation of $3,000, but that won’t get them far if a new rental is $1,500, the price she’s found for one-bedrooms.
“We’re all on limited income and we can’t afford that. That would be absolutely asinine for us to go and commit to something like this.”
She said they will fight it, even though the process will take at least six months before a hearing and they are left in limbo in the meantime.
Under the Landlord and Tenant Board’s rules, if a tenant has to move out because a renovation will make the unit uninhabitable, they are given first rights to get the unit back at the same rental rate.
The problem is how long a renovation could last and what the tenant does in the meantime.
McDougall said the owner of the Napier Street building can’t pinpoint how long it’s going to take for the renovations, which is another reason they were seeking to end tenancies.
Billings, who’s lived at the Napier Street address for six years, said it would be a pain to move out all his belongings, find a place to store them, live somewhere else and move back in, but it may be worth it.
He took a look at a one-bedroom unit for $1,390 plus hydro, far more than the $796 he’s paying now plus hydro. He isn’t going anywhere and he’s encouraging his neighbours to think carefully about their decisions, too.
“You must look at the long term — you can be back in here at an affordable rental rate again.”