GTA

‘People are fleeing the city’: How ‘renovictions’ are forcing renters to the edge of bankruptcy

A Toronto credit counselling firm is warning of a surge in so-called renovictions — landlords ousting tenants so they can upgrade and re-rent their apartments at jacked-up prices.

Scott Terrio, a manager at insolvency trustee Hoyes Michalos, says in the past three months alone he’s had a half dozen people come to him in dire financial straits because they’ve been evicted by landlords planning to renovate their buildings, a lawful excuse to evict, experts in landlord-tenant law say.

But relocating within Toronto means coming up with first and last month’s rent in an expensive rental housing market — so expensive that ousted tenants are finding themselves pushed to the edge of bankruptcy, Terrio says.

“Some of them are actually resorting to going to a payday lender, or an instalment loan of some kind, and of course those are huge interest,” he said.

“Once you do that, it’s very hard to extricate yourself financially.”

It’s a scenario that Paul Kolinski knows intimately. After 10 years in an affordable lowrise in the College and Dovercourt area, he’s being forced out by his landlord, who maintains he’s renovating the building.

Kolinski, a musician who currently pays $830 a month plus hydro for a bachelor apartment, is fighting eviction. Moving into a new, more expensive place would pose a financial hardship, he says.

“My earnings don’t reflect the spike in the value of the rental market here,” he said. “I don’t think there’s anywhere near the GTA that I could find this.”

Legally, landlords must allow evicted tenants back into the building post-renovation at the same rent, according to Tony Irwin, president of the Federation of Rental Housing Providers of Ontario, an advocacy group for landlords.

They also have to prove significant renovations are actually being scheduled by producing a city-issued building permit.

“It’s not simply for a coat of paint,” he said.

As well, tenants who live in a complex with five or more units are entitled to demand compensation equivalent to three months’ rent if they’re forced out due to renovations, Irwin says.

“There are strong protections in place[for tenants],” he said. “The membership I represent follow the rules, and think they should be respected.”

But according to Geordie Dent, of the Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations, once they’re evicted, many people are not in a financial position to move back in.

“The landlord doesn’t have to let you know how long you’re going to be out,” he said.

“So you might go through the process of hiring a moving truck, finding a new place, signing a lease … then the landlord says, ‘Your place is ready.’ Well, you can’t afford to pay for two places.”

Dent agrees with Terrio’s observation that more and more people are being put into serious financial difficulties by renovictions.

‘Fleeing the city’

“I talk to people all the time who can make their expenses today, but when they get renovicted they can’t afford the new rents, which means they can’t live in the city, which means they can’t work their job,” he said.

“People are fleeing the city.”

Dent suggests tenants not buckle as soon as a landlord warns them to leave. Instead, he recommends double checking the fine print before agreeing to leave.

Current system is working

“Sometimes what the landlord says and what the law says are the same thing, and you should follow it. But sometimes they’re not,” he said.

“So if a landlord is telling you they’re doing renovations, they require a city permit,  and you can search that, and that’s important.”

Irwin, of the landlords’ federation, says the current system is working. And he says he’s not heard of any surge in renovations by landlords.

But that would be little comfort to Kolinski, who says facing an impending eviction is eroding his sense of security.

“What’s at stake is my home, my ability to make music and art in this city with my friends, with my family. That is all under threat. Because if I’m cut off from that, I’m starting  somewhere else,” he said.

“The question is, how far do i have to go? Hamilton or beyond? Winnipeg?”

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