Cash for keys: A reality of London's tight rental market

Market conditions in London make it profitable for investors to buy and renovate rental buildings, a process that can leave some tenants facing cash offers to vacate, and others priced out.

Tenant at 529 Pall Mall St. felt pressure to leave as landlord offered money to vacate

After living in this building on Pall Mall Street for seven years, Jessica Burgess felt threatened by a tenant that moved in last summer. She's since moved out, and is now paying more money for less space. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

For seven years, Jessica Burgess was happy living in her first-floor apartment at 529 Pall Mall St. in London's Woodfield neighbourhood. 

At $828 a month, it was affordable and an easy walk to her job downtown. Her neighbours in the building included the B&B Cafe, a popular breakfast spot. 

But in the space of just a few months things changed rapidly in the building, creating a new climate that would eventually cause Burgess, 38, to feel unsafe and with little choice but to move out of an apartment she loved. 

The problems started in June, when a new tenant moved in to an upstairs apartment in the building, which has seven rental units. 

Suddenly, carloads of people began to show up in the parking lot in front of the building at all hours. There was often noise and music coming from the upstairs apartment. In a move to document what was happening and increase her safety, Burgess installed a security camera inside her apartment pointing out her front window. 

She shared the footage her camera captured with CBC News. In one instance, the camera captures the upstairs tenant pulling down his pants and exposing himself. 

An image captured by Jessica Burgess's security camera shows a tenant in her building exposing himself while facing the front window of her apartment. This and other behaviours made Burgess feel unsafe and prompted her to leave the apartment. (Submitted)

Burgess called police multiple times but said she was told that problems with the tenant are the landlord's responsibility.

"I am frightened of these people and scared of retaliation," Burgess wrote in an email to the building's property manager on July 14. The property manager at the time, JDN, responded in an email to Burgess the following day, stating their intention to issue the upstairs tenant an N5 notice. 

The N5 is a legal notice that warns tenants their behaviour violates the lease and could result in a legal eviction if repeated. Often such evictions require a hearing at the Landlord Tenant Board. JDN told Burgess they would work to document the tenant's disruptive behaviour and continue to issue N5 notices in an effort to get him out. 

The next twist came when the building sold for $680,000 with a closing date of Aug. 2. The city's tax roll lists the building's new owner as Jundai Zhang, but Mike Rosehart introduced himself to tenants as the building's new "owner/property manager."

Only 26, Rosehart has cultivated a wide YouTube following with his personal finance videos which focus on financial independence through frugal living, house hacking and real estate investing. He often proclaims himself to be "North America & Canada's youngest self-made retiree." 

Rosehart says he currently owns or co-owns some 50 rental properties in London, though all but seven are owned jointly with other investment partners. 

In an Aug. 1 post on his Instagram page, Rosehart talks about the newly purchased Pall Mall property which he called a potential "cashflow machine" and a good property to convert into an Airbnb with a "potential rent roll" of $10,000 a month. Rosehart confirmed to CBC News this is well above what the property currently generates in rent. 

Burgess and Rosehart met for the first time when Rosehart knocked on her door on Aug. 6. Burgess recorded the conversation, and played the audio file for CBC News. 

The building at 529 Pall Mall St. near William Street sold in August for $680,000. It includes seven apartments and the B&B Cafe. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

Rosehart told Burgess he wanted to get the upstairs neighbour out by documenting behaviour that violates the lease and by serving him with more N5 notices.

Cash for keys offer

Rosehart also told Burgess he intended to "get the building as vacant as I can" to allow for renovations.

Two minutes into their conversation, Rosehart asked Burgess if she would be interested in moving out in exchange for money and he mentions a price of "$1,000 or $1,500." This type of proposition is known as "cash for keys." It's a common — and legal — way many landlords entice tenants to move out. Rosehart told CBC News he makes cash-for-keys offers to many of tenants in the buildings he buys or invests in.

Burgess declined Rosehart's offer but later in the conversation he asks her to "think about it."

Current rules limit landlords to annual rent increases tied to inflation, usually about two per cent of the rent. But vacant units can rent for whatever the market will bear. 

Just 26, Mike Rosehart says he has a stake in about 50 rental properties in London. He's also has a YouTube channel devoted to personal finance and real estate investing. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

"If he wanted to keep me as a tenant, why would he offer me a bribe to leave?" Burgess told CBC News.

CBC News interviewed Rosehart about the situation 529 Pall Mall St.

He admits his plan is to renovate as many units as possible so he can raise rents and possibly rent some of the units short-term on Airbnb​​​​. But Rosehart also said he has no intention of trying to force Burgess or any other tenant out who follows the rules of their lease. 

Rosehart said rents in the Pall Mall building need to rise because it's currently operating "cash-flow negative." 

"In some situations you need to renovate these properties to get them up to a better standard and get the rents up in order to make a profit," he said. "No one wants to be a landlord and make nothing. It doesn't make sense for a landlord to spend $60,000 renovating a building to get the same rent." 

It doesn't make sense to for a landlord to spent $60,000 renovating a building to get the same rent.- London landlord Mike Rosehart

Rosehart acknowledges the upstairs tenant's behaviour was a legitimate problem for Burgess and other tenants in the building. 

Rosehart says in addition to the N5 issued by JDN, he issued a second N5 for excessive noise and "crude behaviour" on Aug. 19. He also said he encouraged her to call police if she felt unsafe.

Burgess had hoped the problem tenant's eviction would have moved more quickly. Rosehart, however, said it can take time for a landlord to build a case for a legal eviction, even when there are clear lease violations. He also points out that the problem tenant was not placed by him, but inherited from the building's previous owner.

Last week, Rosehart told CBC News he was able to negotiate a cash-for-keys deal with the problematic tenant, saying he found him another place to live and paid him a total of $1,650 to vacate 529 Pall Mall. 

But unfortunately for Burgess, she'd already given her notice to leave on Aug. 19. She felt the building was becoming too unsafe to wait out the eviction process. 

She's since moved to a new apartment in another neighbourhood, but it's more expensive, further from her job downtown and smaller in size then the Pall Mall apartment. 

Looking at the social media feeds where Rosehart boasts about cash flow, Burgess said it's frustrating to see people being enticed to leave their apartment because landlords want to collect more rent. 

"I don't know when real estate became the hot new investment that everyone has to make high returns on," she said. "That seems to be what's happening now in London. Good tenants — I'm not talking about people causing problems for other people — but good tenants who pay their rent every month are being pushed out so the investor can make a better return."

Reporter Andrew Lupton appeared on CBC's London Morning to talk about this story. You can listen to the interview by clicking on the play arrow below:

CBC reporter Andrew Lupton gets a closer look at how real estate investors make their cash. Andrew tells London Morning about a young local investor named Mike Rosehart. 8:26


About the Author

Andrew Lupton is a B.C.-born journalist, father of two and a north London resident with a passion for politics, photography and baseball.


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