The tenants of 394 Dovercourt Rd. are gearing up for yet another fight.
Next month both the tenants and their landlord, AIPL Canada Holdings Inc., are scheduled to appear before the Landlord and Tenant Board to debate whether several months of work on wiring and walls throughout the lowrise brick building means the tenants must temporarily move out.
It has been less than five months since the landlord’s first attempt to push them out, using the same piece of rental housing law that can result in tenants being ordered out for needed renovations, was rejected by the board.
“We won the first round. Can’t we just say we won and drop it,” said Kiisti Matsuo, a makeup artist for film and television who has lived in her bachelor unit for about 14 years. Matsuo told the Star there should be a limit on the number of times a landlord can apply to remove tenants, especially if a previous attempt has failed.
“Legislation has to come in to protect long-term tenants,” she said. “Long-term tenants should have some rights.”
Two years ago, AIPL Canada bought the building and then offered tenants lump sums to leave. Some took the $5,000 offered; those who declined were delivered N13 notices, informing them the landlord needed them out while knob and tube wiring was replaced. The law requires landlords to provide three months of rent or alternate accommodations, whichever is worth less, as part of the N13 process. It also requires the landlord to allow the tenants to return if they wish to, at roughly the same rent.
Matsuo and her neighbours, who have told the Star they could not afford to rent in Toronto’s overheated market, feared the landlord intended to use the law to evict them and bring in new tenants paying a higher rate, an abuse of rental housing law that activists call “renovictions.”
They officially won the first case in mid-June, when a board member released a written decision, stating that although the work the landlord was proposing didn’t require a permit — a permit is required in order to remove tenants under the N13 process.
Seven weeks later, the new N13s arrived, this time for wiring and fire separation, and next month Matsuo and 11 neighbours will again stand before a board adjudicator to fight to stay in their homes.
AIPL Canada did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The Star first reported on Dovercourt Rd. in February and prior to publication was sent a statement from a Gmail account after emailing the corporate office of Advanced India Projects Ltd. in Haryana, India, contacting the property manager and speaking with two men with Toronto phone numbers who were identified as the landlord’s representatives in a notice to tenants and who declined to comment but took messages.
The property owner, the statement signed only by AIPL Canada read, “has and will continue to ensure” the building is managed and operated in accordance with the law, “will continue to respect the rights of all tenants” and “any comment, suggestion or insinuation to the contrary is simply untrue.”
The company is incorporated in B.C. and has mailing addresses in both Vancouver and for a commercial property named The Masterpiece in India. AIPL Canada paid $3.15 million for the Dovercourt building in October 2017, the same month it became joint owner along with a numbered company called Ontario 2605385 of a 9,429-square-metre plot in Windsor purchased for $3.4 million, according to property records. AIPL Canada was seeking that city’s approval to build a mixed-use site that could include up to 120 residential units, according to a CBC report in March.
Two directors of that numbered company are Shabeg Singh and Delvinder Singh, who the Dovercourt tenants have identified as owners and landlords of their building, and the registered address for that company is a large home in an upscale area of Brampton. The Star delivered a list of questions to that Brampton house. It was accepted by two men who said they were not directors, that none were in the house and agreed to pass on the Star’s message.
Under the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA), tenants can opt to return after work is done. The Dovercourt tenants, citing a Toronto case where the owner of 795 College St. ignored his tenants’ legal right to return and found new people to pay three times the rent, told the Star they felt their best chance was to organize and wait for a hearing.
Matsuo, who pays about $760 for her bachelor unit, said one bedroom units in the Dovercourt building are advertised online at $2,100. Vacated units have been renovated and rented, she said, without the need for everybody to leave. “They could put us up in the empty units and stagger the work,” she said.
When the Dovercourt tenants were sent the first round of N13s, they were given the reasoning that the replacement of all knob and tube wiring, work that does not require a building permit, meant all units should be emptied out.
But board member Ibi Olabode, in a June 10 decision, explained that under the N13 process the work must be significant enough that it requires a building permit.
If the “legislature intended that a landlord be able to terminate a tenancy and evict” for work that did not require a building permit, the law would have been written differently, Olabode wrote, noting she was “not satisfied” the landlord had proven replacing the old wiring required all units be vacated.
In the second round of N13s, tenants were informed the necessary repair work was for wiring and the replacement of fire separation between multiple units. The building has been issued permits for that fire safety work.
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Kamal Gogna, acting director with Toronto Building for the Toronto and East York districts, said the current permit is a revised version of one AIPL Canada applied for in January to alter one wall between two units.
In February, the company was ordered to stop work because they had begun without that permit being issued.
The owner, not city staff, requested revisions to the permit application over several months, Gogna said, including making it apply to 15 units.
Tenant Benjamin Pullia, who pays about $1,060 for a one-bedroom he has lived in for almost three years, said in the midst of a housing shortage there should be a way for the city to block sales to preserve affordable rental stock. One option, he said, would be offering the tenants a chance to buy first and run the properties as a co-operative.
“I don’t understand, even with our progressive housing strategy, we are setting ourselves up for half measures or failures,” that result in needless struggle for working class people across the city. “I feel like the harder I swim the faster I drown.”
Cole Webber, a community legal worker with Parkdale Community Legal Services, which will be representing the tenants at next month’s hearing, said current housing law does not prevent landlords from repeatedly issuing the same notices.
Speaking generally, he said, “Landlords who are looking to cash in on this rental market have a number of means available to them under current legislation to push out long-standing tenants who are paying below market rent … That is why tenants can’t rely on the legislation to protect them. They have to organize to push to stay in their homes.”
Later this month the city’s new affordable rental housing subcommittee will meet at city hall. Members Paula Fletcher, Brad Bradford and Gord Perks have been tasked with finding ways that the city can better support tenants at the mercy of provincial laws, in particular the N13 process, and will report back to the city’s planning and housing committee.
Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government is reviewing the RTA and potential legislative changes could, the ministry has previously said, could take place this fall.
Julie O’Driscoll, director of communications for Housing Minister Steve Clark, in a written response to questions about the repeated use of notices said, “We are doing a review of the Act and are currently looking at ways to strengthen tenant protections.” The review, she said, is meant to improve the process for landlords and tenants and included 2,000 submissions and most from members of the public.
Dovercourt tenant Matsuo said that while the previous victory has energized the remaining tenants, they are aware the fight for housing security can be a dismal one.
“It is always exhausting, it is always time consuming. It’s a bloody b—-,” she said. “We won’t be worn down. We don’t have a choice.”