Tenants at two Toronto buildings owned by the same landlord say they had to sometimes bundle up in winter jackets and rely on portable heaters after their landlord turned off their central heating and then tried to evict them.
One of those tenants is still dealing with the cold while fighting eviction to avoid soaring rental prices in Toronto.
Kelly Goldfeder told CBC Toronto this is her third winter without proper heating in her bachelor apartment in Parkdale. Her landlord, Paval Kanagathurai, bought her building at the corner of King Street West and Cowan Avenue through a numbered company in August 2017.
Soon after, Goldfeder says the landlord started renovating the first floor to turn it into a Domino’s Pizza, a process she says involved turning off the heat, which was never fully restored.
“It’s been horrendous … I haven’t been able to live in my unit for a lot of the winter,” Goldfeder said. “It’s so cold, it goes down to like 12 to 14 degrees in here and I have four of the portable units on all the time.”
A Toronto by-law requires landlords to maintain a minimum air temperature of 21 C in tenants’ units between September and June. Landlords are also not allowed to withhold vital services, like heat, under Ontario’s Residential Tenancies Act.
Despite reporting the issue to Municipal Licensing and Standards, and a violation notice issued by the city, Goldfeder says she still doesn’t have adequate heat.
“He’s definitely freezing me out so I leave,” she said.
When it gets too cold in her apartment, Goldfeder says she stays with friends who live in the area.
Allegations ‘outright false’ or ‘coloured’: landlord
In a statement, Kanagathurai told CBC Toronto he does not want to “comment on matters that are before the courts,” but the allegations made by his tenants are “either outright false or otherwise coloured to disguise the truth of the matter.”
Goldfeder has considered moving, but so far says fighting for heat is still better than looking for affordable rent in Toronto. She pays $750 a month, less than the average $1,081 per month rent for a bachelor apartment in Toronto, according to 2018 data from Canada Housing and Mortgage Corporation (CHMC).
Getting priced out of the city is a fear Goldfeder shares with other tenants facing eviction from the same landlord at 410 Queen Street West.
CBC Toronto spoke to a tenant from each of that building’s three rental units, who’ve had a potential eviction hanging over their heads for almost a year. The tenants say Kanagathurai turned off the central heating used by two of the three units soon after buying the building in December 2018.
“We’d be sitting in our kitchen with our parkas on and gloves on, like that’s how cold it was,” said Paddy Gallagher, one of the tenants affected. “He gave us portable heaters … and they were blowing fuses left and right.”
The landlord installed a new heating system in the units a few months ago — before an eviction hearing at the Landlord Tenant Board (LTB). Kanagathurai is trying to evict all of the tenants so that he can personally use the units.
An affidavit Kanagathurai filed with the LTB for the eviction application says the landlord plans to move into the Queen West building with his family to run the Domino’s Pizza franchise he opened on the ground floor.
“My family has made the decision to move into the building where we work for both financial and family reasons,” Kanagathurai’s affidavit says. “We will be listing our current family home on the market for sale.”
Landlord owns a dozen buildings in Toronto
Chim Kan is another one of the tenants there. When he, Gallagher and others were trying to figure out whether they could fight the eviction notice, Kan discovered that Kanagathurai didn’t personally own the building, but instead had bought it through a numbered company.
“This landlord is not like a mom and pop shop kind of landlord,” said Kan. “He actually owns multiple buildings and he’s doing the same thing.”
CBC Toronto obtained property and business records that show in total Kanagathurai’s companies own a dozen buildings in the city, which each include rental units and a Domino’s Pizza franchise.
The landlord also owns two houses in his name about an hour north-east of Toronto that were purchased for more than a million dollars each.
For the moment, Chan, Gallagher and the other tenants of 410 Queen West aren’t going anywhere.
The eviction for personal use was dismissed in late December by the LTB because of an amendment that was made to the Residential Tenancies Act in 2017. Since that change was made, rental units owned by a corporation can’t evict tenants for personal use.
Earlier this month, Kanagathurai offered each unit at 410 Queen West $20,000 to move out, but the tenants rejected that offer, and now the landlord is appealing the LTB decision to Divisional Court.
84% increase in personal use eviction applications
In the last four years there’s been an 84 per cent increase in private landlords seeking evictions to reclaim a property for their own personal use, and a 294 per cent jump in applications for so-called “renovictions” in Toronto, according to an affordable rental housing report released last fall.
That’s part of the reason these eviction attempts don’t surprise Parkdale legal worker, Cole Webber.
“There is a big financial incentive for landlords to get rid of longtime tenants,” Webber told CBC Toronto. “Part of the problem is that of course there’s insufficient enforcement of the rules.”
As a result, Webber says the onus is on tenants to be proactive and put pressure on their landlords themselves.
“There’s a lot of money to be made in real estate in Toronto — that’s really what it comes down to,” he said.
Goldfeder understands that for her landlord this is business, but she’s still looking for accountability when she heads back to the LTB in March.
“I think this is disgusting behaviour from human to human,” Goldfeder said.