Forced from their townhomes: 3 Londoners tell their stories

More than 180 London families — many with children who describe themselves as low-income earners — say they're worried they could wind up homeless after being told they'll have to leave their rent south London townhouse units. 

Tenants say they can't afford comparable rental units in fierce rental market

Many residents of 355 Sandringham Cres. told CBC News they've been offered a few free months of rent if they leave. As the suites are emptied, many are quickly renovated. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

More than 180 London families — many with children who describe themselves as low-income earners — say they're worried they could wind up homeless after being told they'll have to leave their south London townhouse units. 

Residents of 126 and 135  Belmont Drive and 355 Sandringham Cres. say they've been approached by owners of the condo units they rent and told they'll have to leave over the coming months. Most of the tenants are paying rent in the $1,100 range for three-bedroom units in the south London complexes.

The Forest City's surging rental and real estate market has pushed rates for similar units up around the $1,700 range. 

So why do they stand to lose their units? 

The complexes, once owned by Z Group, have been sold to a company that plans to sell off the units as condos to individual buyers. In some cases, the suites are undergoing extensive renovations as they turn over. 

At 135 Belmont Drive a representative for a company called Alice Buckingham Holdings of Toronto was going door to door in early November informing residents they'll need to vacate in the months to come. The company has not responded to requests for an interview with CBC News.

Although the residents were not presented with any documentation, the stories they were told are similar: They were offered a month or two of free rent to leave and told if they didn't accept, they might face a 60-day eviction deadline. 

New owners can legally evict an existing tenant if they provide notice that they need the suite for themselves, a family member or a caregiver. 

The process requires the landlord to file notice and the tenant can contest it at a hearing of the Landlord and Tenant Board. 

London West MPP Peggy Sattler has been fielding complaints from concerned residents of the townhouse complexes. She also organized a virtual town hall last week where representatives from Legal Aid Services were on hand to answer tenants' questions.

Sattler said the residents are facing "incredible pressure" to move out and aren't being informed of their legal rights. 

"This is what happens with a lot of evictions, they are informal evictions," said Sattler. "So tenants get approached and decide to vacate without going through a formal process. This is happening across the province." 

One tenant, who asked not to be named, said he took an offer of $3,000 to leave, but had planned to go anyway. 

Others who spoke to CBC News said they'll struggle to afford a boost in rent from about $1,100 a month to $1,700 or more.

Here are some of their stories. 

Abdul El Halies - Belmont Drive

Abdul El Halies had hoped to stay in his three-bedroom townhouse unit at 135 Belmont Drive. He and his wife are keen to start a family and he says it's a good environment for children. Instead, he's being told his suite has been sold and he'll have to leave. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

Married for three years, Abdul El Halies and his wife want to start a family. Originally from Saudi Arabia, El Halies is working as an accountant and is happy in the three-bedroom apartment he's had for three years, for which he pays $1,030 in monthly rent.

"The neighbourhood is great," he said. "All the kids play outside together. It's a great place to raise kids."

El Halies was given an offer to purchase his unit but feels the estimated asking price of $420,000 is too much given that it has electric baseboard heating, no air conditioning and a partially finished basement. 

He worries about the impact moving and paying more will have on his finances. He's also concerned about his neighbours. 

"Some people have like five or six kids here," he said. "Where are they going to go? The government should step in and put a stop to this." 

Melissa Scott - Sandringham Crescent

Melissa Scott worries the imminent sale of her unit on Sandringham Crescent will leave her family homeless. 'Rent out there is double what it is here," she said. 'It's scary.' (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

Melissa Scott and her partner moved to Sandringham from a much smaller two-bedroom nearby. They needed the extra space because they were taking care of two toddlers. 

"I thought I'd be staying here long-term," said Scott, whose family relies on her husband's income. "I'm worried we're going to end up on the street. I don't know what we're going to do, honestly. Rent out there is double what it is here. It's scary. It makes me sick that they can do this."

Kirsty Milner - Sandringham Crescent

Kirsty Milner and her husband have lived there almost 11 years and are paying $1,114. 

"We're struggling to find a new place," she said. "It's like the Hunger Games, trying to find somewhere else to live. There's lots of people looking right now and the rent is double what we're paying now. We'll get by, but just barely." 

Milner says she was never given a purchase option for their suite. 

"As people move out the suites are being completely renovated," she said.