London

Landlord threatens to move in a relative? This tenant says get advice first

A London man says he was twice threatened with eviction if he didn't pay rent increases of $100 and $200 just two years later.

Tenant says landlord threatened to move his daughter in; Landlord won't comment

After a dispute with his landlord over rent increases, Jim Hamell has agreed to move his family out of the three-bedroom duplex he's lived in since 2010. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

Looking back now at how he handled a rent dispute with his landlord, James Hamell wishes he'd stood his ground, sought legal advice earlier and spent more time studying the Residential Tenancies Act.  

Hamell had been renting a three-bedroom duplex in White Oaks with his partner and three teenage children for seven years when his landlord knocked on the door in 2017, saying he needed to raise the rent from $1,100 to $1,200. 

Landlords are allowed to raise the rent on existing tenants, but only by an annual percentage set by the province. In recent years, it's hovered around two per cent. Had his landlord made those annual legal rent increases, Hamell would have been paying more than $1,200 by 2017. 

It wasn't so much the increase but the way Hamell alleges it came: Accompanied by a threat from landlord Mo Zebian that unless he agreed to pay the new rate, the landlord would evict him so his daughter could move in.

Hamell says the landlord insisted that the conversation happen in the backyard, not inside the suite.

"I don't think that he actually intended to move anybody in," said Hamell. "If he would have, he'd just have done it."

Strict rules about eviction

CBC News emailed Zebian. He declined to comment and asked not to be contacted further. 

Ontario's Residential Tenancies Act does allow landlords to evict tenants if the landlord — or a relative of the landlord — intends to move in. But to evict a tenant in this way, they must follow a strict set of rules. 

The landlord must give notice, compensate the tenant and sign an affidavit affirming their intention to move in. The tenant can contest the move at the Landlord Tenant Board (LTB) and there are remedies for the tenant if the landlord doesn't follow through. Also, any agreement between landlord and tenant can't come as the result of coercion. 

In May of 2019, Hamell says his landlord came knocking again for another backyard conversation, this time notifying him the rent would be going up by $200 more to $1,400. Again, Hamell says the landlord mentioned a plan to evict him and move his daughter into the suite. 

At first Hamell decided to move out. Then, after looking at available duplexes, he realized how much the market had changed since 2010. Units similar to his were now renting in the $1,600 range, more than he could afford. 

Again, Hamell agreed to the increase and signed a new lease at the rate of $1,400 a month. But then a dispute arose about when the new rate would take effect. Hamell thought he had 90 days, but says Zebian said the new rate would take effect on July 1. 

Went to Landlord Tenant Board

At this point Hamell began researching the rules and went to the LTB.  His case went to mediation and Hamell was advised he didn't have a strong case because he signed a lease at the new rate. 

In the end, he took a deal. He agreed to move out by Feb. 1 and end his tenancy in exchange for free rent until he leaves, starting in November. 

Although he gained four months free rent (a value of $5,600), Hamell worries he won't be able to find a decent place in the sub-$1,600 range in London's fierce rental market. 

"I have to come up with an extra $400 a month and I'm not making any more than I was before," he said. 

Get legal advice

Ian Dantzer is a lawyer with Western Legal Clinic and while he couldn't comment on Hamell's case, Dantzer says he's heard of landlords using a threat of a relative moving in as a way to get tenants out. 

"They're often very circumspect about how they do it," said Dantzer. "Landlords can be intimidating."

Dantzer said the threat to move a relative in is often a bluff, because it requires so many steps to legally evict a tenant this way.

He said the more common move is for a landlord to offer a combination of money or free rent if a tenant agrees to leave by a set date, a legal tactic known as cash for keys. It's something CBC News has written about before in London. 

"It's cleaner, and they don't end up going to the LTB," said Dantzer.

Still, once a landlord makes it clear he wants a tenant out, it can leave tenants in a tough spot. 

"Life becomes a bit miserable when your landlord is not supportive," he said. 

Dantzer said the best move for a tenant in Hamell's situation is to not sign anything and contact Community Legal Services at Western University, which can advise tenants or Neighbourhood Legal Services

"They should get advice before they commit to anything," he said.

Hamell agrees, and says with London's rising property values pushing market rents beyond what the government-set increases allow, there's more incentive for landlords to entice tenants to leave. 

"Definitely be aware of these times right now because there's such a difference between what you were paying years ago to what you're paying now," he said.

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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