For about two years, IMAGE has been following the “renovictions” and related problems facing low-income tenants in the rooming houses at 146-170 Osgoode St. The first eviction notice was sent June 2020; almost a year later, the complaints of the six remaining tenants were heard at a meeting of the Landlord and Tenant Board. After negotiation, on 27 April 2021, the tenants signed a lease with Smart Living Properties, Inc. (SLP) guaranteeing them a unit at the existing rent until renovations in the other units had been completed. The remaining tenants’ units were to be repaired but not renovated.
Rosemary is one of the last three original tenants, the others apparently have accepted an offer from the landlord, Smart Living Properties (SLP). She plans to continue to live in one of these buildings after renovation and has applied to do so. She believes that, after renovation, she has the legal right (Residential Tenancies Act, 2006, 53-3) to rent it for the same price she is paying now — $400/month.
She has so far resisted entreaties from SLP to move, including one offer that she said would have paid her as much as $20,000 to leave immediately. Rosemary knows that studio apartments cost three times what she now pays and is afraid that $20,000 won’t last until SLP renovates their final unit. She also doesn’t believe their promises and, given SLP’s failure to meet other obligations, this skepticism seems understandable (for more on its building code violations, see IMAGE April-May 2022).
I inspected the unit that Rosemary lived in until recently. It was in very poor repair. I immediately noted a large hole in the wall that could easily accommodate the rats and mice that Rosemary describes living with. When she had a cat, she felt she had to take it with her wherever she went as there were so many rats in her unit (17 at one count) that she feared for its life. I saw a hole in the ceiling which, she explained, “cause[d] me to get wet when I slept, and if multiple containers were not put under the hole, a significant puddle developed, soaking my books that happened to be on the floor and my bedding.”
Rosemary has lived in this property since 2018. Because of the deplorable conditions in her building and “treatment by SLP employees” she has withheld her rent of $400/month since 2020. She also describes not being “able to receive mail when living in either of my units until SLP finally delivered the actual key to my mailbox in May of 2022.”
Because of her refusal to pay rent, SLP opened a case against her at the Landlord and Tenant Board. The hearing was in January 2022 and she was served with an eviction order. In response, she filed a Review of the Order, stating that neither she nor her legal representative, Josh Hawley, had been informed of the hearing and asked for another opportunity to make her case. At the next hearing, the decision was made to elevate the case to the Divisional Court of the Superior Court of Ontario, which has not yet ruled.
In the meantime, some of the other units have been renovated but Rosemary has not been told she can move in. I was invited by a new tenant to look at his renovated unit in 146 Osgoode. The one-room unit was small and the hallways still showed their age, but there was a large, modern communal kitchen and a
spacious lounge in the basement. I was told the rent was $1,400/month.
Will Rosemary ever get her renovated unit?
Will the Divisional Court finally require Smart Living Properties to really repair and maintain her current building?
It’s been well over two years since the first eviction notice and Rosemary’s story isn’t over yet.
‘Renoviction’ formally in the City’s lexicon
In June 2022, the City of Ottawa’s joint Planning and Community and Protective Services committees met to offer four recommendations to City council about how to deal with the issue of renovation-driven evictions. To the author’s knowledge, this is the first time the word “renovictions” was referred to in an official City document.
Included in those recommendations was the suggestion that Mayor Jim Watson, on behalf of council, take up the issue of protecting tenants and affordable rental housing stock with the provincial Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. The committee recommendations also said the City should explore amending the demolition control by-law so full or partial demolition of a rental property of six or more units would require a City-issued permit.
The full list of recommendations can be found by reviewing the Ottawa City Council agenda from June 22, 2022. Mathieu Fleury’s office did not respond to requests from IMAGE about whether these recommendations are being acted upon. —Larry Newman