Renovictions, deaths and now, charred wood

Osgoode Street drama continues

Larry Newman

I started following the mass eviction at 146-170 Osgoode Street in the summer of 2020. These Osgoode townhouses were rented as rooming houses to people who could only afford the $400 to $800/month required by 146 Osgoode Street Holdings, Inc. On June 30 of that year, the residents were all served with eviction notices so that their rooms could be renovated for rentals, particularly by students, for about $1500/month.

For some, this began a search for other housing. For others, it began a struggle to fight the eviction. They called it “renoviction,” a term I heard used for the first time. I recently saw it in use by the City of Ottawa officialdom. You can still see the Facebook page the tenants started, Tenants of 146-170 Osgoode St. vs. Renovictions.

Shortly after the renoviction, the original owners sold the properties to Smart Living Properties which adopted a “take no prisoners” attitude to the remaining tenants. Lawyer Ryan Deacon agreed to represent the tenants for whatever they could afford. Josh Hawley, a PhD student in sociology at Carleton University also acted pro bono for the tenants. Among the tenants were Jim and Rosemary with whom I spoke repeatedly over the several years that I followed this renoviction. Rosemary would not tell anyone her surname. Even her lawyer didn’t know.

Because of recent tenant deaths and the absence of any significant repairs to the units, the tenants hired Accurate Buildings Inspection, Inc to conduct a safety inspection of 170 Osgoode St. Their August 6, 2021 report lists over 100 safety violations. “The building has been completely lacking exterior and interior maintenance over the years. There are several life safety issues on the exterior and interior of the building. There is major structural movement in the foundation, walls, and floors of the building. The landlord would not allow access to the basement and the vacant apartments.”

After the death of the fourth Osgoode Street tenant, their Facebook page, on April 2022, showed their photos, all from numbers 168 to 170. The remaining tenants also started a petition on, calling for a coroner’s inquest into these deaths. “Since July 2020, four tenants have died at 168 and 170 Osgoode Street in the Sandy Hill neighbourhood of Ottawa”.We are demanding a coroner’s investigation into the deaths at this rooming house and the potential of criminal neglect on the part of the landlord, 146 Osgoode Street Holdings Inc., which is led by Tamer Abaza and his company Smart Living Properties.”

The living conditions in these buildings were scandalous. Jim showed me two rooms. We had to walk through a windrow of paper trash right after entering the building. There were holes in the walls and ceilings, rats, filth, roaches, and bedbugs.

“You don’t feel them bite” he told me. “It’s only after that the itching starts.”

The petition to the coroner’s office was successful and the investigating coroner, Dr. Susan Tector, was assigned the task of responding to the deaths and the inspection. The last information that I have is her March 2022 statement that her report will only be available to those who have initiated the investigation. Thinking that enough time has passed that a report may be widely available, I recently wrote an email to the Regional Coroner’s office, requesting a copy of her report but have not yet heard from them.

By June 2023, there were eight tenant holdouts including Jim and Rosemary. Six of the eight tenants’ complaints were heard at the Landlord and Tenants Board (LTB) that month. All six accepted an arrangement that would reserve the apartments at 170 Osgoode exclusively for their use at the same rental rate that they currently paid.

By 2024 there were two holdouts, Jim and an unidentified woman. Rosemary had disappeared from view. She had finally been successfully evicted, probably from lack of rent payment. She protested paying for these awful living conditions by withholding rent payment. Neither of her legal contacts know where she is. I’ve visited 170 Osgoode and talked to Jim again who, until the fire engulfed the building, was preparing to move his worldly goods to another, renovated room in the same Osgoode block.

I spoke to him the day after the fire and he said that he’s well pleased with his room in one of the townhouses not effected by the fire. “There’s a TV this big on the wall!” He has taken advantage of the LTB ruling that Smart Living must rent this renovated apartment at the same price that he was paying for a room in the old, dilapidated townhouse. He is not too sure how long this reduced rental will apply.

On February 1, 2024, a fire engulfed 166, 168, and 170 Osgoode Street. Numbers 168 and 170 were completely destroyed as well as part of Jim’s furnishings.

I have a freedom of information request, asking for a report on how the fire started. I hope to find out soon.

Stay tuned. If Rosemary contacts me, there may be more to this story.

Sandy Hill woke up to blaring sirens on February 1 as a massive fire destroyed several Smart Living rowhouse units on Osgoode Street.
Photo HS Canada / Philip Owen