London

Can tenants fight N5 eviction notices? Yes, but they'll probably need help

Ahead of a town hall meeting about the eviction notices issued to tenants at a south London apartment complex, a lawyer and tenants' advocate offers advice about how to fight evictions initiated by N5 notices.

Town hall tonight for tenants affected by evictions at King Edward Avenue apartments

John Babcock and his partner Crystal Masson are living in a Motel 6. They used to live at 88 King Edward Ave., but left after they were issued an N5 notice by the landlord. (Andrew Lupton/CBC News)

Scores of tenants who face eviction from a south London apartment complex are expected at a town hall meeting tonight, including many hoping to avoid the fate of John Babcock and Crystal Masson. 

For more than five years, the couple lived in an apartment at 84 King Edward Ave. Since leaving their apartment in February, their home address is a room at Motel 6 on Exeter Road. They're staying there while they search for a new apartment. 

"It makes me feel like a failure in life, like I can't provide the necessities to my family," said Babcock, who drives a school bus part-time. "I would have liked to have stayed there because it felt like home. I think this process is very unfair toward the tenants." 

They paid $752, including utilities, for a one-bedroom apartment. It wasn't perfect, but they could afford to cover the rent on his salary and her disability cheques. 

In a story that has now become familiar to the tenants of the King Edward complex, the process that would end their tenancy began with a notice from the landlord to prepare for an appointment to spray the suite for cockroaches. They were sent a notification with instructions on how to prepare their suite (cleaning, moving furniture, etc). After the appointment, they were issued an N5 saying they failed to follow the preparation instructions. 

The exterior of 92 King Edward Ave. in London, Ont. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

An N5 form is a legal notice of the landlord's intention to end a tenancy because the landlord believes the tenant's behaviour is interfering with other people's ability to enjoy living there. Babcock tried to fight his eviction at a hearing of the province's Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) but says during the hearing, he was moved to a private video chat room with the landlord (all hearings take place online now via video chat). Babcock says he was told to accept a 28-day eviction or be ousted in 11.

CBC News has reached out to the landlord for comment but has not received a reply.

Babcock opted to accept the terms, feeling that a 28-day eviction was the best he could get. 

"They kind of strong-armed me," said Babcock. "And scared me into leaving in 28 days." 

An initial N5 doesn't mean you're automatically out

Ryan Hardy is a staff lawyer with the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, a legal-aid clinic specializing in tenant-landlord disputes. 

While not able to speak specifically about Babcock's case, Hardy said N5s can be contested, but it's often difficult for tenants to fight them and succeed without legal representation. Part of the problem is the wording of the allowable reasons for filing an N5 is very broad. The form says the landlord is moving to end the tenancy for "interfering with others, damage or overcrowding."

"It can cover a lot of problems that a landlord might have with a tenant," said Hardy. "It can cover things that everybody would agree are quite serious, but it could also cover things that people feel are easily corrected without an eviction." 

It's important to know that an eviction a tenant doesn't agree to can't--in most cases--happen legally without a ruling in the landlord's favour from the LTB. Also, a tenant can "void" the N5 notice if they stop the behaviour that led to it being issued within seven days. Tenants also can appeal an LTB decision that doesn't go their way to the divisional court. At the same time, getting an N5 can effectively end the tenancy if the tenant loses at the LTB hearing or fails to show up. 

"Most people find it pretty intimidating and stressful," said Hardy. "Most people hear 'eviction notice,' and they think that's it, but there's a legal process where they get several opportunities to defend themselves and stop the eviction process from becoming a reality." 

He advises tenants not to accept what's told to them by a landlord or their representative about the dispute. 

"They can't give a tenant legal advice because they're acting in their client's own interest," he said. "So tenants need to get their own representation. If a landlord says, 'I can get you out in 11 days,' that's not true." 

Hardy said it's the landlord who has to prove to the LTB that the bad behaviour is happening the onus is not on the tenant to disprove it. Hardy also acknowledges that putting up a fight is difficult for a tenant with low income and other vulnerabilities, especially if they're going against a large company with the money to hire strong legal representation. 

"It's hard to blame people for feeling that a lot of things are stacked against them," he said. 

Province is probing the King Edward N5s

A spokesperson for Housing Minister Steve Clark confirmed the province's Rental Housing Enforcement Unit (RHEU) is looking into the eviction notices issued to tenants at 84-96 King Edward Ave. In a statement, the spokesperson said they've interviewed four tenants and "will be reaching out to the landlord in the near future to discuss this matter further."

The RHEU can be reached at 1-888-772-9277 or by visiting this website.

As for Wednesday night's town hall, it's being jointly put on by NDP MPP Teresa Armstrong and the tenant advocacy group ACORN. Pathways employment help centre will also be speaking at the event as part of their new Advocacy Program.

The town hall is happening at the Youth For Christ London at 254 Adelaide St. S., just north of Commissioner's Rd. 

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