Can you be evicted for not breaking down cardboard boxes? Longtime renter claims his landlord is using a flurry of forms to push him out

Can you be evicted for not breaking down cardboard boxes? Longtime renter claims his landlord is using a flurry of forms to push him out

Blair Madeley has one of the most coveted commodities in the city — a relatively affordable, one-bedroom apartment. He pays $1,200 a month for his Parkdale unit on Jameson Avenue less than a block from King Street.

He also has something no tenant wants — a stack of notices threatening to evict him from the place where he has lived for the last six years. The forms, known as N5s, allege that Madeley, 31, has damaged the property and interfered with others’ enjoyment of the building.

He says he has received seven notices this year — he showed the Star copies of five dated between May and October this year but says he has received seven altogether since February — for a list of offences ranging from relatively minor infractions such as failing to flatten cardboard boxes for recycling and attaching stickers to his unit door, to more serious allegations such as intimidating the superintendent and allowing his cat to escape and foul the super’s apartment.

Madeley, a bouncer and University of Toronto student, who lives with his girlfriend, their dog and cat, believes the landlord wants him out to raise the rent that has gone up considerably in Parkdale in recent years. He also thinks the landlord is vexed by his association with a group pushing for building improvements.

Landlords are increasingly using N5 forms like the ones Madeley received to trigger evictions so they can raise the rent when a new occupant moves in, say tenant advocates.

“It’s really common. In a tightening rental market where landlords are financially incentivized to evict,” said Cole Webber of Parkdale Community Legal Services, who was not speaking to the specifics of Madeley’s case.

“This is just another tool in the tool basket for landlords,” another form of eviction “where the landlord is trying anything to get the tenant out,” said Geordie Dent of the Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations.

The number of notices that Madeley, 31, has received isn’t unprecedented but it is unusual even in a city where landlord-tenant relations are strained by a 1 per cent vacancy rate and rising real estate values, say both advocates.

“A tenant who’s got five of them — that indicates to me there’s something funny going on,” Dent said.

Requests for comment were not returned by Madeley’s landlords, Angelo and Linda Scioscia, or their representative, named on one of the N5s as Howard Levenson.

But their reasons for wanting Madeley out of the unit are listed in detail on the N5s. Among them: the unauthorized replacement of light switches with dimmers, installation of a remote-controlled door lock, stickers on the unit door, a new shower head and a spray attachment on the kitchen tap. The most recent N5 lists more than $2,000 in materials and labour that the landlord says would be required to remove or repair the changes Madeley has made, including items such as the removal of flags, lattice, lights, artificial turf and shelving from the balcony.

One incident outlined in detail says Madeley failed to properly document the replacement of his unit’s original fridge with a new model obtained through a city program. It alleges that Madeley misrepresented himself to the city as the owner of the fridge and that he accused the landlord of harassing him by requesting documentation about the arrangement.

Madeley denies that allegation and any suggestion that he threatened anyone. He says the damage complaints are petty and exaggerated. Cameras and other gadgets such as the door lock that are detailed by the landlord are just indulging his “techie” interests, he said.

An appendix to an Oct. 6 N5 says Madeley was part of a tenant group called Parkdale Now that “trespassed on the landlord’s private residence to deliver an alleged work order … They yelled, banged on doors and police were called. They left when police came.” Madeley’s work order was among several submitted in an envelope that the group said they had been unsuccessful in submitting any other way.

Madeley says he didn’t go to the landlord’s house but he did give a work order to a protest organizer.

The City of Toronto website lists 26 investigations into the midrise apartment building between Nov. 17, 2017, and Oct. 9 this year. The investigations can be triggered by a 311 call from a resident or by a city inspector. Twenty-one of the 26 investigations have been closed, meaning the landlord has made the improvements and repairs — most of them cited under the city’s Property Standards bylaw that covers areas such as waste, graffiti or fencing. A May 21 city notice cites 40 “deficiencies” — shortcomings such as dirty floors and elevators, doors and cracked windows, damaged light fixtures and an uncovered electrical box — of which 31 have been addressed. The landlord has until Nov. 18 to comply with the balance.

When someone moves out of a rental in Ontario, the landlord can raise the rent as high as they want. But if a tenant remains, the landlord is restricted to a provincial guideline limiting rent increases. This year’s guideline was 1.8 per cent. Next year has been set at 2.2 per cent. A landlord can apply for above-guideline increases if they can make the case for repairs or improvements that warrant more.

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“The neighbourhood itself, across the board, when me and my girlfriend were talking about possibly moving, we started doing our research and that’s when we noticed the rent had gone up significantly in all the buildings around here since I had moved in,” Madeley said.

N5s can be issued for three reasons: behaviour that interferes with someone else’s enjoyment of the property; damage to the property; or housing more than the number of people allowed under the province’s housing, health and safety standards in the rental unit.

There is no record of how many N5s are issued in Ontario each year. But the Landlord and Tenant Board said N5s were used in 8,001 landlord applications to evict last year. The board did not supply statistics that would show whether the number has risen.

Community legal worker Webber said there is no limit on the number of times a landlord can issue an eviction notice. There is also no record of how many times a particular landlord uses N5s to request a hearing before the board.

If a tenant doesn’t show up for a hearing at the board or the board finds in the landlord’s favour, the renter isn’t necessarily issued an immediate eviction notice. But the board can issue an order authorizing the landlord to make an ex-parte eviction without another hearing if the tenant doesn’t stop the alleged behaviour. That means the landlord can evict without going back to the board, Webber said.

Madeley says his worst nightmare is that he oversleeps and misses his Nov. 14 hearing at the Landlord and Tenant Board, where he expects to defend himself against the allegations in an N5 dated May 31. Those involve the fridge exchange and an allegation that he affixed stickers to his unit door.

“I often don’t wake up until the afternoon because I work nights,” he said.

Tenants who receive an N5 should know that an eviction notice is not an eviction order, said Dent of the Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations.

“An eviction notice is what a landlord will give you to ask you to move out. But many people get these notices and they believe they are now forced to move out or they have been evicted. I hear this hundreds of times a week,” he said.

Unless you are thousands of dollars behind in rent, Dent recommends tenants push back when they get a notice.

Tess Kalinowski

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