London

Landlord 'surprised' by order to fix illegal bedrooms, asks for 10-month extension

The owner of the troubled highrise at 75 Ann Street in downtown London says it was "surprised" to receive a City of London work order directing the Toronto-based landlord to fix an undisclosed number of illegal windowless bedrooms and wants a 10-month extension to do the work.

Centurion says it needs an extra 10 months to bring its property at 75 Ann Street up to code

Lawyers for Centurion Property Associates have filed an appeal asking for a 10-month extension to bring an disclosed number of illegal bedrooms at its property located at 75 Ann Street up to code. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

The corporate owner of a troubled downtown London highrise says it was "surprised" to receive a work order from City of London by-law officers asking it to repair an undisclosed number of illegal bedrooms and is asking for a 10-month extension from city hall to bring the building up to code. 

Municipal by-law officers served Centurion Property Associates with a work order on September 25 following a public complaint. The order directs the Toronto-based landlord to undertake repairs at its 12-storey highrise located at 75 Ann Street in London because "many units in the building have bedrooms that are being rented out without a provided window." 

Windowless bedrooms are illegal under the city's property standards by-law and Centurion has since filed an appeal with the City of London, which has been obtained at the request of CBC News.

The October 9 letter on Centurion's behalf is written by the Toronto law firm Cassels Brock and Blackwell and is the first time the corporate landlord has issued a public statement on how it came to rent the windowless bedrooms since CBC News first began reporting on the story. 

Landlord 'surprised' to receive work order

The City of London says it opened an official investigation into allegations Centurion Properties, which owns this London apartment building is renting illegal windowless bedrooms. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

According to the letter, Centurion took possession of the highrise at 75 Ann Street on Februrary 27, 2012 from Varsity Commons Housing Incorporated. 

"At this time, individual bedrooms were being rented to students, including the interior bedrooms at issue," the letter said, noting that in December of 2011, before Centurion acquired the building, it sought clarity from city hall on whether there were any outstanding work orders or permits and was told there were none. 

"On this basis and as the bedrooms were already tenanted, Centurion assumed all existing leases and continued operating the property consistent with past practice," the lawyers wrote. 

"At no time since acquisition of the property has Centurion altered the existing units, created additional bedrooms or modified existing bedrooms. Centurion was therefore surprised to receive the order, given its understanding that the property had been constructed and operated in accordance with all applicable laws." 

I think the solution is people get moved and Centurion pays the difference.- Jeremy Roberts, current tenant at 75 Ann Street

The letter states that the landlord has been working cooperatively with the City of London to ensure compliance with the law and make the necessary repairs.

However, the letter states the repairs ordered by the city are "not possible to complete.. ..within the mere three weeks provided by the order" and "cannot be accomplished while the units are tenanted."  

The letter asks the City of London for an extension on the work order to August 31, 2020, saying it needs the extra 10 months to make the required repairs "during the summer when the majority of the students have vacated the units."

The appeal hearing is set for November 25.

'Excuse' 'doesn't fly' with tenant

Jeremy Roberts said he was threatened by his landlord with having to pay for lost rent income if management couldn't find someone to rent illegal bedrooms units in his shared apartment. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

"This whole excuse of 'we didn't know we couldn't do that,' that doesn't fly," said Jeremy Roberts, a Western University who has been renting a room at 75 Ann Street since August. 

"It's like if you get arrested for murder and you say 'I've done this 13 times already and nobody's said anything.' That makes it worse, not better." 

Roberts said he suspects there could be up to 200 illegal bedrooms at 75 Ann Street and that the repairs set out by the city will be a tall order for Centurion. 

"I think it's impossible to fix all of them," he said.  "I think the solution is people get moved and Centurion pays the difference."

"They've got a tonne of buildings they can eat it and this would probably teach them a lesson." 

Centurion 'not being forthright'

Ian Dantzer is the review counsel with Community Legal Services operated by the law faculty at Western University. (Western Law/Western University)

Ian Dantzer, the review counsel for Community Legal Services operated by the faculty of law at Western University said he believes Centurion will probably be granted the 10-month extension it has requested from the city based on its arguments. 

However, he also believes Centurion isn't telling the whole story because its letter to the city leaves a number of unanswered questions. 

"I don't quite understand why they bought the building without some kind of visual inspection or check on the property standards by-law," he said. "I can't see the city giving a permit in this circumstance." 

"There's some part of the story that's a mystery to me how these buildings, these rooms would have been built without a window, without plans being submitted to the city for approval."

"None of that was mentioned, so I don't really understand," he said. "They must know that this must not make a lot of sense to have an interior room without a window, I suspect they're not being forthright with us." 

Dantzer said tenants unsure of their situation can seek free legal services through Legal Aid Ontario or Community Legal Services at Western University. 

Neither Centurion Property Associates nor its lawyers at Cassels Brock and Blackwell responded to a request for comment from CBC News.

About the Author

Colin Butler

Video Journalist

Colin Butler is a veteran CBC reporter who's worked in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and London, Ont. Email: colin.butler@cbc.ca

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