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Long-time renters of a Kitchener, Ont., townhouse complex say the last six months have been stressful and full of uncertainty as a mysterious new landlord took possession of their building and told them they must move out by the end of April.
Jason Carroll, James Clarke and Nevin Kanji are among dozens of tenants living in the 14-unit complex on Blucher Street, some of whom say they are being "renovicted" from their homes.
The interior of the units is being demolished and renovated to become condominiums, reads a letter the tenants received from the new landlord's paralegal in November 2022, and which CBC News has seen.
The letter also tells tenants the landlord would be permanently terminating their tenancy and "due to the nature of the demolition and the subsequent work, the rental unit as it exists for you shall no longer continue to exist after the construction work."
In December, the tenants received what is known as an N-13 form (a notice to end a tenancy for demolition, repair or conversion to another use), which said they would need to leave by April 30.
"They want us out because they are going to be converting those units into condominiums," Kanji said. "For them, it's in their best interest to just make sure we're all out and they can sell the units or rent it to people who are going to pay a lot more."
Steep rental market
Carroll, his wife and their five children have been living at Blucher Street for over 10 years in a five-bedroom unit. Kanji has lived in her three-bedroom unit for 18 years; recently her son moved back in to help pay the rent.
Clarke has also been living at his five bedroom unit with his wife for 18 years and shares the home with his sister and a roommate.
Carroll, Clarke and Kanji pay between $1,500 and $1,800 a month for their rental units — well below the current market rate for new tenants in Kitchener. All three say what they pay now is what their families can afford, and worry they won't be able to find a new home that meets their needs and their budgets.
"I tell you right now, there's nothing in the market that we fit for," Carroll said. "You find the odd [5 bedroom] place for $4,500 or $5,000 and that's not gonna work. I make just under $4,000 a month."
"It's scary. I don't know what's gonna happen after all this. I'm hoping, crossing my fingers that there will be some compassion," he added.
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Carroll and Kanji said they were offered four months' rent in compensation from the landlord, but say it's not enough to cover moving costs, storage or first and last month's rent even if they can find a place to live.
They say the complex community is mostly made up of seniors and families, and worry their neighbours also won't have anywhere to go after April.
"You're thoughts are everywhere, 'What am I going to do?'" Kanji said. "You're lost. You feel lost."
New landlord unknown
Carroll, Clarke and Kanji say communication with the landlord has been an issue since the complex was sold in 2019 and say they often don't know who they are dealing with. Requests for repairs have gone ignored, they say.
Property records show the complex has changed hands twice since 2018. It was sold in November 2019 to Pier 4 Blucher Ltd. and then in November 2022 to 67-71 Blucher Street Inc. It was not long after that second sale that tenants received the letter detailing of the renovation plans.
"Nobody knows who owns it," Clarke said, who was the complex superintendent before it was sold in 2019. "When we pay our rent it just goes to 67-71 Blucher Street Inc."
Clarke said the units are run-down and have not had proper upkeep in the 18 years he's lived in his unit. He said he's felt embarrassed when people come over to visit.
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"It's shameful for us to have visitors come visit us for a couple of days and get a shower in our bath tub," he said." Our bath tub is nasty looking. You can't really sit in the bath tub."
Move out: different experience
Steven Evans and his wife lived at the Blucher Street complex for 10 years. They told CBC News their heating vents "never worked," ceilings in the bathroom were caving in, tiles were coming off in the bathroom floor and the hot water was unreliable.
The couple moved out April 1 and said they had a positive experience with the landlord during that transition — though they never knew the landlord's name. Evans said they got help looking for a new place, the landlord provided a moving truck and helped offset the cost for first and last month's rent.
"There is stress in moving, but there was no stress [in this move]," he said. "Because I had a heart attack last year, stress is not a thing I should be having."
CBC News attempted to contact the property owner for comment, and reached out to the paralegal acting on their behalf, but did not receive a reply.
Renovictions become "rampant"
Carroll and Kanji are challenging the eviction notice at the Landlord Tenant Board (LTB)
"We really have no choice. Where am I going to go?" Carroll said, adding he is willing to pay a bit more rent if allowed back to his unit.
Jenaya Nixon and Michelle Knight, peer workers with the Social Development Centre's eviction prevention team, are helping them with the process.
The N-13 form filed says tenants are being evicted because the landlord planned to demolish the rental unit or residential complex.
Nixon said as of March 30, the landlord for the Blucher Street complex did not have the building permits required from the City of Kitchener to proceed with the conversion and renovation.
Nixon said if the landlord doesn't have the required building permits by the time Blucher Street tenants have their hearing with the board, the landlord "will likely lose."
Number of N-13 almost double since 2019
Nixon said most municipalities don't track renovictions, but through her work she and Knight believe the issue has become "rampant" in Waterloo region.
"I have, currently, three major cases of multiple tenants being renovicted," Nixon said pointing to the Blucher Street tenants as well as renovictions on Ahrens Street and Traynor Avenue in Kitchener.
According to the LTB, the number of N-13s — the notice to end a tenancy because the landlord wants to demolish, repair or convert a rental unit — has almost doubled between 2019 and 2022.
According to the Board:
In 2019, 557 N-13s were issued.
The Ontario government put a moratorium on evictions from March 2020 to June 2021, during pandemic lockdown periods.
In 2022, 1095 N-13s were issued.
In 2023 between Jan. 1 and Feb. 28, 202 N-13 notices were filed.
Nixon said some landlords don't properly maintain the premises, in order to then serve tenants N-13 notices for needed renovation work.
Knight, who has been with the Social Development Centre for two years, has seen the pattern of renovictions grow in city cores and in rural areas and says the impact is sometimes underestimated.
"It's not just one tenant, it's families. So we hear of one renoviction, but we're not counting that's five displaced people," Knight said.
Knight and Nixon said renovictions tend to hit marginalized communities that often pay below market rent, are newcomers, seniors, LGBTQ+ communities, people with disabilities or who are on ODSP and Ontario Works.
Calls for protection, accountability
A portrait of a woman.
Ward 10 Coun. Aislinn Clancy has worked with Social Development Centre to host information nights for tenants. She says the City of Kitchener is looking at how it can better support tenants who are displaced. (Submitted by Aislinn Clancy)
Tenants need better protection and more accountability. Most don't know their rights and many don't fight their evictions or reach out for help, said Nixon and Knight.
They also say it's time for municipalities to step up and keep track of the issue.
"It's just very stressful and so this is why there needs to be better oversight and enforcement potentially at the municipal level like what's happening in Vancouver, [where] authorities ensure landlords are respecting rights of tenants" Nixon said.
"We're sharing knowledge so tenants can stand up for themselves and we ask the cities, municipalities, the government: 'Stand with us,'" Knight said.
Last week, the provincial government announced a plan to introduce new protections against renovictions, which includes giving tenants a 60-day grace period to move back in once renovations are done, and at the same rent they were paying before.
The plan also looks at increasing fines for landlords or corporations who break the law, and appointing 40 additional adjudicators and five office staffers to the LTB to help deal with lengthy backlogs built up during the pandemic lockdowns.
Nixon sees the move as a positive step, but would like to see more done on enforcement, rent protection and data collection. She worries the onus to report landlords who are breaking the law will fall on the shoulders of tenants.
"If it's up to tenants to enforce these punishments, then the landlords will keep getting away with it because tenants are already exhausted, especially if they're going through renoviction. And to file [cases] with the Landlord Tenant Board is an exhausting and stressful process," she said.
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City councillor acts
Kitchener Coun. Aislinn Clancy has been working with the Social Development Centre to raise awareness among renters in her ward. She also said the province's announcement is a step in the right direction, but would like to see rent control addressed and a clear path on how the new rules will be enforced.
She said all levels of government have a role to play to protect and prevent tenants from being displaced due to unaffordable rent, renovictions and new development.
"We can't underestimate the harm that's being caused by the private sector affordable housing being lost and I think that's something that's being under-recognized and that I think we're correcting now," she said.
The City of Kitchener passed a motion in January asking staff to look at ways the city can better support tenants who are displaced by new development.
Clancy and Nixon both would like to see the province allocate funds toward eviction prevention and education for tenants to know their rights.
https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/kitchene ... -1.6791561
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