It has been three months since a fire at 650 Parliament forced hundreds of tenants onto the street and now some of the displaced residents will be expected to pay rent at the start of next month.
“People had to pay a lot of other expenses,” said Mark Slapinski, 27, who lived in the building for about eight years and is staying in a downtown hotel. “It is going to be very hard for people to do that.”
Two notices detailing the looming changes were posted on a Twitter account run by building management earlier this week.
The first, dated Oct. 14, informed residents who are not staying with family or friends that they will be required to pay the equivalent of their monthly rent starting in November.
Slapinski has been at the hotel for about six weeks and both he and his roommate receive an allowance for food. Hundreds of tenants are still in hotels, and Airbnbs or staying with family or friends.
In the meantime, Slapinski has devised a way for residents to remain connected and share information about what for some is very uncertain future, as well as create a highly public record detailing what tenants are experiencing. “I felt that I needed to do something, or nothing would happen,” said Slapinski, a social media student at Seneca College, who created and runs the Facebook page Displaced Residents of 650 Parliament and a Twitter account with the same name.
The second notice from management to tenants, dated Oct. 16, informed them that if they had insurance they would be required to produce information on either policies or claims submitted on or before Oct. 23, or they would no longer receive help paying for accommodations.
When asked if people who failed to provide insurance information, or pay rent, could face eviction Thomas said he has not had to deal with that eventuality yet, but everything would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
“At this moment, I don’t have a contingency plan for that. It will the same for people who don’t use their insurance after the seven days. I think it will be clear that they have to pay their rent.”
Thomas said the intake and relocation process revealed that about 100 units, out of about 550, have insurance, but some people were not using it, or not providing the relocation office with claim information. The exact number is not clear, he said.
“We are not throwing anybody out. We want to make sure that, if you do have insurance, you are using it. As soon as they make a claim they will be paying through their insurance company until they exhaust it. Once they exhaust it, then they come back to us and we take care of it.”
For Slapinski and his roommate the major costs were transportation and replacing items such as electronics. They only had 20 minutes, he said, to collect their belongings. “I had to get a new computer, because mine was in there and I couldn’t get it out. I think the biggest thing was clothing and new electronics.” Slapinski moved in with his grandmother and his roommate stayed with friends, before management provided them with a hotel room, he said.
“People are very upset about it. I got lucky, because I was provided with accommodations. A lot of people I talked to haven’t,” he said. “I think they should increase efforts to help relocate people.” Slapinski said that he and his roommate are neat people, but living with little privacy has been challenging. Management has told them they should be moved into an apartment in November, he said.
Slapinski said the company has said they are prioritizing people who are the most in need, but it is not clear to tenants how that decisions are being made.
He doesn’t have insurance. It was not required when he moved in. Lots of people in the building do not have it.
Kenn Hale, with the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, said tenants’ insurance is a legal grey area.
Tenants who are required to have insurance as part of their lease and fail to get or maintain it, could end up at a hearing before the landlord and tenant board, but it is not guaranteed grounds for eviction, said Hale.
“So it is still a bit of an open question, but, when you see bad things like this happen, it demonstrates why it is a good idea to have it,” said Hale.
“While we would tell everybody insurance is a really important thing to have a lot of them can’t afford it. We don’t think that landlords should be able to compel people to buy insurance.”
One class action lawsuit on behalf of tenants was filed in Superior Court in September and lawyers for a second firm have also said they will be launching a class action. Jack de Klerk, director of legal services at Neighbourhood Legal Services, said civil court may be the only way for some tenants to be reimbursed.
“I know some people are being forced to incur the expenses and they are not going to get reimbursed for them anytime soon,” said de Klerk.
“What we do know is the tenants are not at fault and I think the landlord should be covering costs for the tenants pending determination.”
Thomas has said that he is aware of five units where people had insurance, but he said when they were asked, they would not provide the intake office with any information on whether they had pursued claims.
That included one family he dealt with yesterday, who, he said, flat out refused to provide him with information.
What exactly is tenant’s insurance and do you need it?
The short answer is: yes. If your landlord doesn’t require it as part of your lease, which is an option, it is worth looking into.
If a fire or flood happens in your apartment, insurance should allow you to recover some of the cost of your burnt or soaked possessions. It could also provide you with some financial support, or reimbursement, if you need to temporarily rent another apartment or end up in a hotel.
So how does it work?
Pete Karageorgos, director of consumer and industry relations for the Insurance Bureau of Canada, said tenants are typically sold a package deal. The first part covers contents. That is anything you would pack up if you were moving out. The second usually covers additional living expenses, including the cost of renting another apartment if you are forced to move out because of an insurable event, such as a fire.
“Typically, insurance is a contract and typically it reimburses you, from out-of-pocket expenses,” said Karageorgos. But exactly how it works varies by company. “Unlike auto insurance, rental insurance is not standard,” and there is a wide range of prices and coverage options, he said.
Claims do not need to be filed right away, he said, and if you do have insurance, it is vital to maintain records and receipts that could be required to be submitted as part of a claim.
“Sometimes people will just go and spend money and not document the receipts as proof.”
With files from Gilbert Ngabo
Emily Mathieu is a Toronto-based reporter covering affordable and precarious housing. Follow her on Twitter: @emathieustar