How Toronto landlords use renovictions to force out tenants

It was a three-bedroom atop a quaint coffee shop on Bloor, just west of Dovercourt, with big windows, new hardwood floors, a living room and an office. At $2,500 a month, it wasn’t exactly a bargain, but as anyone who has apartment-hunted in Toronto over the past few years knows, the concept of what’s “affordable” is rapidly changing.

After spotting the listing on Bunz Home Zone, a Toronto Facebook group where members post rentals and look for potential roommates, Kaé Égalité, 27, and two friends moved into the unit in spring 2017. The roommates loved having an extra office they could use as a shared art studio and the queer-friendly vibe of the west-end neighbourhood. It quickly felt like home. But within five months, the owner sold the building, and two months after that, new landlords told Égalité they had to move out because the apartment was being converted into commercial space.

Initially, the roommates debated fighting the eviction at the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB), but in the end, decided to accept the landlords’ offer to compensate each roommate with around $850 each if they moved out. “We thought either we go to the LTB hearing and if we lose, we don’t get anything. Or we can leave and get a bit of money to help with our moving costs,” says Égalité.

A month after moving out, Égalité was looking for a place on Bunz Home Zone when they saw a post advertising their former apartment. It definitely wasn’t an office space like the landlords had claimed. In fact, it didn’t look as if much had changed. There were new stainless-steel appliances, the nice hardwood floors had been replaced with newer ones and the radiators had been covered in ornate boxes. With these mostly aesthetic upgrades, the unit was listed for $3,600 – $1,100 more than what Égalité and their roommates had paid.

Égalité had been renovicted.

“Renoviction” is when a landlord evicts a tenant under the guise of needing to complete major renovations requiring the tenants to move out, and then re-lists the apartment for more than the original rent. Technically, the evicted tenant has the right of first refusal to move back in after the renovations are complete without a substantial increase in rent, but there is no law in place to force landlords to contact the former tenant. Sometimes the tenant sees the listing again and realizes they were duped, but often they never find out.

In Toronto’s aggressive rental market, renovictions are one of the most popular ways landlords can evict tenants to make a massive profit. Geordie Dent, executive director of the Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations (FMTA), says he’s seen a huge uptick in renovictions over the past couple of years.

“There’s a massive incentive for landlords to break the law, throw people out and jack up the rent,” says Dent. “It’s brazenly illegal, but there is a lot of money to be made.”

Typically, landlords can only legally raise the rent by a province-controlled percentage each year – for 2018, it was 1.8 per cent – so renovictions allow them to circumvent that.

Other common tactics used to push out low-rent tenants are personal-use evictions, where the landlord claims family is moving in, above-guideline rent increases, purposefully neglecting apartments or harassing long-term tenants so they’re forced to move out. On Bunz Home Zone and other Facebook groups like Ontario Tenants Rights and The BLT: Bad Landlords Toronto, all of which have thousands of members, there are daily posts asking for advice about illegal evictions.

Renovictions are part of Toronto’s rental market crisis. The vacancy rate is at less than one per cent (housing advocates say anything less than three per cent is unhealthy), and there are not enough affordable rental units being built to alleviate the pressure. We spoke with several Torontonians who have been faced with renovictions in the last two years. These are their stories, and how some of them were able to fight back.

https://nowtoronto.com/news/renovicted-toronto-rental-housing/