‘These houses were hell:’ Former tenant of illegal rooming houses speaks out, calls for changes

In a follow up to a series of stories CityNews has done on illegal rooming houses in East York, one woman shares her experience of what life was like inside them.

By Pat Taney

More and more people are sounding off in response to a series of stories CityNews has been doing on illegal rooming houses in East York facing a list of violations regarding safety, health, and sanitary standards. One woman, who has lived inside two of those homes, is sharing her story.

“I tell everybody: ‘Walk a mile in my shoes and you’ll probably give them back to me before you get out the door,” said Loucia Casine Linkert. “I have seen things most people can’t imagine.”

We met Linkert after she reached out to us to share her experiences.

“When I saw your stories on those rooming houses, I felt compelled to reach out,” she said. “I am one of hundreds of people who’ve gone through hell in these places.”

Linkert is 72 and living with cancer. We spent time with her in a park outside the Delta Hotel Shelter she now calls home.

“I have been treated like a goddess in this place compared to the rooming houses I stayed in.”

1276 Broadview Avenue

Linkert, who is on government assistance and has been in and out of the shelter system, is one of many people who have struggled for years to find traditional housing.

“I was upfront about being in shelters when I applied for apartments,” she said. “As soon as I told them I was on government housing assistance, they would look at me like I was cross-eyed, I couldn’t find housing.”

Jojo Ye runs several rooming houses in East York and she had a room for Linkert in a bungalow-style home at 1276 Broadview Avenue. According to records, the home has five bedrooms and three bathrooms but has been operating as an illegal, unregulated rooming house. Linkert says it was retrofitted to house up to 12 people.

“I liked JoJo, in the beginning. She was willing to rent to me when others were not.”

But things quickly soured after Linkert moved in.

“We had rat problems. There were like 300 rats in the backyard in this huge pile of garbage and they dug a tunnel into the house and were coming inside,” she said. “I had to beg and beg to get a dumpster to get rid of that garbage and get pest control in.”

Linkert had her own room and shared a kitchen and bath with another man she met after moving in who she says was suffering from alcohol addiction.

“I tried to get him to get off the booze but he was stubborn,” she said. “He was in bad shape, he couldn’t hold his bowels anymore so I would clean up after him and look after him. But he passed away one night and I found him the next morning.”

Linkert says due to his death, along with the rats and other sanitary issues, she told Jojo she could not stay there anymore.

“I reached out to her and she told me that she had another place for me.”

570 Sherbourne Street

That brought Linkert to 570 Sherbourne Street where she says problems began as soon as she moved in.

“This time there were roaches.”

Linkert was staying with a roommate renting a bedroom with a kitchenette. Together, they paid $1,350 per month.

Shortly after moving in, she found out that a few months before an elderly resident in the home died but his body wasn’t discovered for several days.

“Residents told me the stench was horrible and nobody knew this poor man was dead inside his room,” she said. “They begged Jojo to get it cleaned but it took her a long time to do so.”

Linkert said she immediately started to look for new housing, but just like many times in the past, she couldn’t find anyone who would rent to her.

“Once again, I would tell them I am on assistance and the door would be shut in my face,” she said.

But her wish to get out of the home was granted when Linkert was notified Jojo was selling the property.

“I said to Jojo ‘I’m going to have to go back into the shelter system because I can’t find any place to go.’ She says ‘no, you’re my friend. I’ll help you’ and she told me about another room that just became available.”

885 Broadview Avenue

Linkert moved into a bachelor-style apartment in a rooming house Jojo owns at 885 Broadview Avenue in East York. Her rent increased to $1,550 per month.

“I had no refrigerator. I had a stovetop and a sink,” she said. “Cosmetically, things initially were okay.”

But after months of living there, Linkert said she began to get sick.

“There was mold everywhere, black and brown lines all over the walls and cabinets.”

Linkert said she threatened to go to the city to report the conditions, but tells us Jojo then sent in a worker to clean it up. But Linkert said she ran into more problems.

“I’m standing at the sink, doing dishes and all of a sudden, I get this liquid down my back and I look up. This brown water is draining onto the back of my neck. It was coming from the toilet upstairs. The pipes had gotten so full that they started to overflow.”

Linkert believes feces was leaking into her apartment.

“I sent her voice and text messages begging her to fix the plumbing issue, but she didn’t.”

Linkert stopped paying rent and called the city to report the problems, staff responded and told Jojo to clean it up.

“That was in August of 2023, and she had officers come in and put me out right after that.”

Having nowhere else to stay, Linkert was now homeless. For three months she stayed with various friends but spent much of her time on the streets, staying in tents in city parks as she frantically searched for housing with winter approaching.

“I applied to 317 places for apartments, I was rejected at all 317,” she said. “I had to go back into the shelter system, I had no choice, I am 72, and I have cancer.”

Linkert considers herself lucky as she was able to secure a room at the Delta Hotel Shelter in Scarborough operated by a charitable organization called Homes First Society.

“This place is full of kind workers who actually care, they told me I’ve been through enough and can stay here until I get back on my feet.”

Settled for now, Linkert reached out to share her story about her experiences in the rooming houses.

“I believe in speaking out when things aren’t right and what Jojo is doing isn’t right.”

City investigators have visited all three homes multiple times

Jojo is no stranger to being investigated for a variety of zoning issues at several rooming houses she operates, according to Toronto City Staff.

At 1276 Broadview Avenue, the city has issued 12 violations since 2019.

“There is a charge before the courts for that property right now,” City staff say.

At 885 Broadview Ave, there have been four violations since 2019 but no charges before the court.

Another illegal rooming house she operates, at 75 Don Valley Drive, has also been the subject of several investigations by the City’s Municipal and Licensing Standards department. In a previous report, we looked into complaints, dating back years, from neighbours. They told us there have been multiple issues, from pests, and piles of garbage to constant police calls.

“Our issue is not with the tenants, it’s with how she operates these homes,” Clive Thommason, who owns a home nearby told us. “She needs to be held accountable.”

There is currently a charge before the courts for 75 Don Valley for zoning. The next court date is scheduled for Mar. 21.

CityNews reached Jojo by phone in an attempt to get a response to the charges she faces and the accusations by tenants like Linkert.

“I have nothing to say,” she told us.

CityNews also spoke to one of Jojo’s current tenants, Frank Ghazal, who lives at 1276 Broadview. He complained about the conditions inside, pointing to what he calls subpar electrical work, and talked about his fears that the home may not meet current city fire codes.

But unlike Linkert, he’s too afraid to alert city officials, concerned they’ll shut down the homes and leave him without housing.

“That’s the issue,” he told us. “As bad as it is, she at least rents to us and nobody else will, it’s a catch-22.”

Tenant advocates have long argued rooming houses are an essential supply of affordable housing.

“For these tenants, it means either they live in the rooming house or they’re homeless and there’s really no in-between,” tenant advocate Melissa Goldstein tells CityNews. “They’re the last resort for people who are often turned away by other landlords.”

Which is why many are cautiously optimistic about sweeping changes set to go into effect next month in Toronto. As CityNews has reported, City Council voted to overhaul the city’s bylaws concerning multi-tenant homes, often called rooming houses. As it stands now, licensed rooming houses are allowed in only certain parts of the city but prohibited in East York, Scarborough, and North York.

Come March 31, they’ll be allowed city-wide, but property owners must follow a new set of guidelines and licensing requirements, which include better upkeep and maintenance standards for tenants.

The city hopes it addresses a myriad of issues regarding unregulated rooming houses that have been a source of problems for neighbours who live near them and the tenants who call them home.

“Under the new framework, operators will be required to obtain a licence and comply with consistent standards, which are being introduced to protect the safety of tenants and respond to neighbourhood concerns,” a city spokesperson told CityNews.

There are concerns the bylaws will drive some rooming house landlords, who see the new requirements as too burdensome, out of the business. But the city hopes by expanding the map on where rooming houses can legally operate, supply will increase and give tenants more options.

“There are thousands of people like me and my situation,” Linkert said. “We need options.”

It can change in a blink of an eye

Reflecting on her past, Linkert told us her story of how she ended up going from rooming houses to the streets and eventually into the Scarborough shelter. It’s one full of major life obstacles and setbacks.

Poverty is nothing new for her. She was born in Kentucky, in the U.S. Appalachian trail, a poverty stricken region where she says she suffered years of abuse from neglectful parents.

“I did love my mother but she was bipolar and manic-depressive. She had been brutally raped when she became pregnant with me so she couldn’t stand the sight of me. And that’s just the way it was.”

Linkert ended up forgiving her mom and developed a relationship with her before she passed away.

“She had a tough life, I think the things she went through drove her to treat me that way when I was young, she was in pain too.”

In 1974, Linkert ran away from home and met a Canadian man while both were visiting Detroit.

“He was the man of my dreams and we fell in love.”

She moved to Canada to be with him and life, for the most part, was secure and steady.

“I was a truck driver, we had a home and income.”

But then in 2007, Linkert’s husband became gravely ill. She quit her job to take care of him full-time. In 2014, with her income drained, her husband passed away.

“I couldn’t pay rent, I had to sell my truck and I ended up in the shelter system until I heard about Jojo,” she said. “People don’t realize this can happen to anyone. It can change in a blink of an eye.”

Linkert believes rooming houses are necessary and are keeping people off the streets.

“These landlords stand out because they’re all we have. Nobody will rent to people like me,” she said. “I have been on my knees begging people to rent to me, I have money to pay, I don’t do drugs, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, but nobody will take me.”

Linkert says only time will tell if the new rooming house bylaw changes will make a difference.

“They have to create harder regulations on the owners of these homes. They have to make sure that they’re at least providing the bare necessities. We’re not asking for five-star accommodations but they should be safe,” she said. “Rooming houses are a necessary evil but why do they have to be evil?”

If you have an issue, story, or question you’d like us to look into, reach out here.

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