Stoney Creek tenants say landlord is neglecting building - and trying to push them out
One resident describes an elevator falling three floors with him in it
Kevin O'Toole was coming back from a morning walk recently when he got stuck in an elevator at 50 Violet Dr., and he plummeted three floors.
O'Toole was with his dog Seamus Finnigan, who looks like a slightly heavier version of Benji. In the elevator car, he hit the button to go to his 15th-floor apartment, but the elevator stopped at the second. It hovered there, wavering, and then fell to the basement.
"It felt like when you hit a guardrail," said O'Toole. His back was "tender" after that, and the dog was "going crazy."
"It was like if you were backing up and hit a post."
Tenants say these stories are fairly common at 50 Violet, part of a four-building, 618-unit complex called Stoney Creek Towers. That's why they're holding a rally at the complex Wednesday evening with the Hamilton Tenants Solidarity Network and the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic.
The owner, CLV Group, has applied to the Landlord and Tenant Board to increase the rent by 4.8 per cent, the network says. CLV Group also describes the buildings as "newly renovated," including freshly painted balconies and renovated kitchens.
Residents feel the company is trying to force out long-standing tenants so it can double the rent for new ones. Meanwhile, they complain of inadequate heat and pest control, not to mention the elevator issues.
"Most everybody needs new windows and the heat to be put up," said O'Toole, 68. He pays $780 for a two-bedroom apartment, including hydro. Current rental listings show new tenants pay $1,350 for a two-bedroom apartment.
CLV Group did not respond to requests from CBC for comment Wednesday. In an email to the Hamilton Spectator, Roseanne MacDonald-Holtman said the buildings were in disrepair when CLV bought them.
"Given the previous state of disrepair, the property required a very substantial amount of maintenance, repair and capital investment which to date remains ongoing," she told the Spectator.
Chad Collins, Ward 5 councillor, says the company bought seven properties in his ward in recent years. This includes the cluster of four Riverdale buildings being rallied at Wednesday — 50 Violet, 77 Delawana, and 11 and 40 Grandville. A property search shows CLV, through the InterRent Realty Corporation, paid $51 million for them in 2015.
Collins said his office has fielded calls from tenants in two of those buildings who didn't have any heat.
The Stoney Creek Towers situation is all part of a city-wide issue of gentrification, Collins said. Property corporations are buying buildings, repairing them and then jacking up the rents. Residents at complexes on Tindale Court and Quigley Road are in a similar fight.
Offers to move out
O'Toole says he has twice been offered money to leave, the most recent being $2,400.
"I told them to make it $20,000 and they'd have to move me," he said.
As for the rent increase, Ontario tenant rules allow for a 1.8 per cent increase per year. The Ontario Landlord and Tenant Board must approve anything higher. This is known as an above guideline rent increase.
Landlords can apply for this increase when their property taxes and utilities have seen "extraordinary" increases, provincial rules say, or when landlords have done significant renovations or repairs.
Emily Power, a volunteer with the tenant solidarity network, fears what gentrification will mean for O'Toole and others as real estate prices increase. This is especially true, she said, since Riverdale is near the future site of the Centennial GO station, and Hamilton's new light rail transit system.
For landlords, she said, the goal seems to be to attract a wealthier demographic to make as much profit as possible.
The goal of the rally
The city needs more affordable housing in general, she said. As for Stoney Creek Towers, she wants CLV Group to focus more on functional repairs, and to scrap the increase altogether.
As for O'Toole, he said his unit has a new toilet and new carpet, which he appreciates. But he still uses two space heaters to keep his apartment warm. And he doesn't trust the elevator anymore.
In a 50 Violet elevator Wednesday, residents could be seen pushing the elevator door closed themselves, or skipping the elevator altogether when the door wouldn't close all the way.
In his incident, O'Toole was stuck in the elevator for a couple of minutes, he said, before someone hit the ground floor button and he returned to the lobby.
When he told a maintenance worker about it later, he said, "He told me it didn't happen."