Hamilton

'Looking for an apartment and crying': Woman evicted over rules that protect tenants

The rules are in place to keep tenants safe, the city says. But a tenant rights group says they need to be more flexible.

Rules are there to keep tenants safe, but tenant rights group says they need to be more flexible

"(I've been) looking for an apartment and crying," says Shawna Chorney. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

For 10 years, Shawna Chorney has had the perfect apartment — a one-bedroom for $634 in a cozy duplex in the east end. Now her days appear to be numbered there, and she can't help but lament why.

She's frustrated with the decision by her landlord, who is evicting her because her monthly rent is about $200 less than her neighbours. She's frustrated with Hamilton's housing crisis, which has led to apartment vacancies being at 2.4 per cent.

And on Monday, as she stood in a bylaw office, she was frustrated by the city.

That's who discovered that the home she lives in is only zoned to have four units in it, not six. Chorney, a personal service worker, lives in a legal unit. But when choosing who to evict, her landlord chose the lowest-paying tenant. She has to be out by Nov. 30.

Shawna's getting screwed. We're getting screwed. Everybody's getting screwed.- Ryan Kennedy, landlord

"(I've been) looking for an apartment and crying," she said. "I looked at rent prices, and I looked at how much I make, and I'm like 'I'm going to be house poor.'"

Chorney's situation illustrates a long-time conundrum in Hamilton. The city wants to crack down on units that don't comply with its bylaws to protect tenants in a tough rental market. In doing so, though, it results in tenants like Chorney being evicted.

Mike Wood of Hamilton ACORN says the city should grandfather in rental units found to be illegal or it will displace unsuspecting tenants. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

The city says it needs to crack down on illegal units to keep tenants safe. Hamilton ACORN says when a crack down happens, tenants such as Chorney should be grandfathered in.

 "We can have some kind of a balance," said chair Mike Wood. He'd also like to see a rule that properties can't be sold unless they're zoned for the correct use. 

This issue has been discussed since 2013, when city council debated implementing a rental housing bylaw.

That bylaw would see landlords with buildings with six or fewer units — like Chorney's at 228 Rosewood Rd. — pay an annual fee and abide by annual inspections.

 Those in favour of such a bylaw say it would benefit tenants who live in dangerous housing, especially around McMaster University and Mohawk College. Those opposed say it'll displace tenants and cause as much as a 30 per cent reduction in rental housing.

ACORN protest

4 years ago
Duration 3:09
ACORN protest

The city formed a rental housing subcommittee in 2016. It's still grappling with the issue. The city is looking for work-arounds, including free inspections and anonymous tip lines.

But Wood said Monday that tenants aren't heard much at those tables.

Chorney's landlord, Ryan Kennedy, is frustrated too. He's a Hamilton native in his thirties who flies cargo jets. His wife is a mail carrier.

 They refinanced their home to buy this rental property as an investment, Kennedy said. He's gone above and beyond to ensure the units are safe and healthy, he said. His wife gardens on the property. His own home is nearby.

The place had six units when he bought it in 2014, he said. As far as he knows, it's been like that for years.

'Everybody's getting screwed'

He's asked the city for some leniency, but it won't give him any. Rezoning is expensive, he said, and comes with no guarantee of approval.

"Shawna's getting screwed," he said. "We're getting screwed. Everybody's getting screwed."

Last October, someone called the city to complain about the illegal units at 228 Rosewood, said Kelly Barnett, manager of service delivery in licensing and bylaw services, in an email.

We're in the business to make sure that their living conditions are safe and healthy.- Kim Coombs, manager, municipal law enforcement

Bylaw officers ordered the property owner to bring the property back to its permitted use of four units, get a conversion permit or rezone the property.

"Staff do not direct the property owners on which option they take," she said. "It is the property owner's decision on how they will obtain compliance."

ACORN members carried signs into the city bylaw office on York Boulevard Monday. But the conversation was circular.

'We're not in the business to displace people'

Kim Coombs, manager of municipal law enforcement, told Wood that staff don't set the rules. City council makes bylaws. Staff just enforce them.

"We're not in the business to displace people," she told Wood.

"We're in the business to make sure that their living conditions are safe and healthy. So if it's an illegal zoning, it's not safe and healthy. If it's illegal and it comes to our attention, we have to investigate it."

 The bylaws are applied inconsistently, Wood said. He also asked if staff tell council about the issues they are hearing about. Wood said yes. But the rules are what they are, she said, and they keep people safe. They have to be enforced.

Meanwhile, Chorney feels stuck. She's applying to the Rental Housing Tribunal, which will buy her a little more time. But she's also preparing to lose her home of 10 years.

"I make a decent living, but not enough to pay $1,000 in rent."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samantha Craggs is journalist based in Windsor, Ont. She is executive producer of CBC Windsor and previously worked as a reporter and producer in Hamilton, specializing in politics and city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca

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