A dozen families living in a Keele Street low-rise are once again fighting to keep their homes as they face renoviction.
This is the new landlord’s second attempt to evict tenants to then renovate and re-list the building. The people living here, some for decades, are not giving up, but the owner says their tactics are going too far.
“We don’t have a choice but to fight this because we have nowhere else to go,” said Flynn Daunt, one of the tenant organizers.
CityNews first reported on the situation at this building five months ago, just as the pandemic’s third wave was gaining steam. Everyone in the building had received N13 notices to end their tenancies from landlord Riley Real Estate Ventures, giving them four months to leave.
“With the whole COVID thing going on, many of us lost our jobs or are on a leave. It’s very stressful very, very stressful,” Andrea, a tenant, told CityNews in March.
The tenants fought back against the real estate investment company, taking their battle to social media. They plastered posters outside the company’s office and even took their protest to the CEO’s doorstep.
Shortly after, the company dropped the eviction notices. Over the summer, the building went back on the market. The listing described it as a “significant value-add opportunity,” adding rents were 50 percent of market value. But the building never sold – and then last week a second round of eviction notices were issued to some tenants.
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“It’s been like a rollercoaster ride – very stressful,” said Ainess Gacutan, another tenant. The notices again give tenants four months to leave.
On its website, the real estate development firm is open about its business model of flipping undervalued properties after renovating them for maximum value. The company states its specialty is low-rise buildings and that the finished projects attract above-average rents.
After a few attempts to reach CEO Brendan Riley, CityNews was able to contact him via email. In a statement to CityNews, Riley says that after he rescinded the first notices, the company tried to work with the tenants
“We explained to all the tenants our plans to add one to two more floors to the building but agreed we would temporarily put our plans on hold due to the pandemic and with the understanding they would meet with us so we could get to know them,” he wrote to CityNews. “We wanted a chance to get to know all of them individually and hopefully work collaboratively with them on the project.”
He claimed that instead, they became unresponsive and uncooperative. He also said they kiboshed the sale of the building by refusing to allow potential buyers into their units.
“My partners and I on this building have been extremely considerate to all the tenants by rescinding the N13s and trying our best to keep communication lines open,” Riley wrote. “We both know there is a slew of other developers/property owners who would have handled this with a lot less empathy and understanding and willingness to collaborate with their tenants. We choose not to conduct ourselves in that manner.”
He stated that tenants went too far by publicly defaming him and his company and called the protest outside his house illegal. Still, he says he’s open to working with them on a resolution.
Daunt said the protest outside Riley’s home was peaceful and necessary.
“We have children and elderly in the building, and we don’t know where they would go if they were kicked out and he seems insistent in trying to kick us out,” said Daunt.
Riley says the tenants are being offered three months’ rent and will have the unit offered back to them once the renovations are complete, but at the “indexed rent increased amount.”
Ontario Landlord Tenant Rules need to change: Councillor
All of these actions are legal and in-line with the Residential Tenancies Act. That’s something one city councillor dealing with renovictions in his ward says needs to change.
“The real estate pressures in the market, folks are engaged in speculative buying practices, trying to flip properties and increase profits. Of course, folks who are on the other side of that are being squeezed out,” said Coun. Brad Bradford (Beaches – East York). Bradford also sits on the city’s Housing Committee.
“There are rules and regulations in place provincially but they’re very difficult to enforce, and it also puts the burden on tenants,” he explained. “It’s a complicated system, the Landlord Tenant Board is perpetually backed up.”
Every tenant facing an eviction order has the right to a hearing at the board, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing tells CityNews.
“A tenant does not need to move out unless and until an eviction order is issued by an adjudicator,” spokesperson Matt Carter wrote in a statement. He added that under Ontario law, a landlord cannot charge the tenant more rent than they would be paying had they not moved out.
Last year, the province increased the fines to landlords and rental companies that don’t follow the rules. Among other rule changes, owners who file for evictions must now also tell the Landlord Tenant Board if this isn’t the first time they’ve applied to empty a certain unit.
Toronto also has bylaws in place to protect rental buildings with six or more units from being demolished. Bradford says this is one way the city can help stand-up for the tenants.
“When I hear about renovictions in my office I immediately flag them for Toronto building department staff to watch the permits extra closely,” Bradford added. “I follow that up by contacting the landlord and them know we are in fact aware of what’s going on here, the tenants reached out and that we’re getting involved in these issues. It’s important for landlords that are engaged in these practices, that it’s not just going to fly under the radar.”
As for the tenants at the Keele Street building, the second notice gives them until January to find another home.
“At the end of the day, this is a business,” wrote Riley. “We all have families and have to put bread on the table.”