Tenant blamed, threatened over landlord's inability to rent vacant illegal bedroom
Centurion Property Associates owns apartments in Ontario, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan and Alberta
A tenant of a troubled downtown London highrise said he and others were blamed and threatened by their landlord after no one wanted to rent a vacant illegal bedroom inside their apartment unit.
Jeremy Roberts said he was told he would have to pay for the landlord's lost income even though the bedroom in question was considered unfit for human habitation under provincial law.
Roberts is a Western University student who rents a one-bedroom apartment at 75 Ann Street, a downtown London highrise known as The Marq.
The retrofitted apartment building is marketed toward post-secondary students by Centurion Property Associates, a multi-million dollar company that owns dozens of rental buildings across Ontario, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan and Alberta.
The company is currently the subject of a property standards investigation by the City of London after complaints surfaced it was renting illegal windowless apartments for hundreds of dollars a month inside its 75 Ann Street highrise.
Windowless bedrooms are illegal in Ontario and are not considered fit for human habitation due to a lack of proper ventilation and natural light.
'A company like Centurion could do better'
The units at 75 Ann Street appear to be a retrofitted to allow up to four tenants to share a living room, kitchen, two bathrooms and a storage space in what was once a larger unit with only two bedrooms.
Tenants open their individual bedrooms with their respective fob keys, which also give them access to the main door of the building and the unit's shared spaces.
Roberts said he pays $635 a month for a bedroom with a window and that his landlord has been trying to rent a vacant, windowless bedroom inside his unit since August.
He said after a number of unsuccessful showings by the landlord, he and the other tenants were blamed for no-one wanting to rent the windowless bedroom and were threatened with having to pay for the landlord's lost income.
Ensure your unit remains in habitable condition.- Christopher Maclean, property administrator at The Marq
"They're frustrated they can't rent it out," Roberts said, noting at least three prospective tenants have tried living in the unventilated space since he moved there in May of 2018.
According to an August 29 email obtained by CBC News, Christopher Maclean, the property administrator at 75 Ann Street, complained that prospective tenants had "expressed concerns about the condition of the unit."
"Please make the necessary efforts to ensure your unit remains in a habitable condition. If the unit remains unrentable due to the condition you may be charged back the lost rental income for the vacant room," he wrote in the email.
'The email was inappropriate'
"I think the email was inappropriate," Roberts said, noting that the windowless bedroom being shown to prospective tenants was illegal to begin with.
"They didn't have a right to rent out this bedroom in the first place and yet they were threatening me," Roberts said. "They were going to bill me for lost income. It's very stressful."
Both Christopher Maclean and his employer Centurion Property Associates, which owns dozens of apartment buildings across four provinces, did not reply to a request for comment from CBC News.
In an email sent to tenants at 75 Ann Street on Friday, the company wrote "these units have been rented by Centurion and the building's two previous owners without incident or concern since the building was built in 2003."
Centurion wrote that it is working cooperatively with London by-law enforcement to resolve the matter and that there is "no indication of safety-related matters or the need for residents to relocate."
Still, Kenneth Hale, a Toronto-based lawyer who specializes in tenancy law, questions how the company was able to rent windowless units in the first place.
'You would think this is some small time landlord'
"When you hear something like this you would think this is some smalltime landlord that doesn't understand what their legal obligations are, but this is a company that owns thousands and thousands of units," he said.
Hale is the legal director of Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, which advocates for human rights and justice when it comes housing in the province.
"I think it is pretty shocking. This is not the kind of behaviour we should be looking for from these large corporate landlord." said Hale.
The reason large corporate landlords can get away with such behaviour is because competition for apartments, even substandard ones, is high thanks to Ontario's incredibly low housing inventories, he said.
'Selling water in a desert'
"This is a good example of what that housing shortage creates," he said. They're basically selling water in a desert."
Hale said successive Ontario governments have done little keep builders, developers and landlords in check, allowing them far too much leeway and power when it comes to determining the price and availability of housing in Ontario.
"We let the private market dictate what housing is going to be built and what it's going to cost," he said. "We have a shortage of housing because of the kind of housing policy we've pursued."
Hale called Roberts' treatment by Centurion a form of harassment and said people who rent deserve to live in accommodations that meet minimum provincial standards, such as windows in bedrooms.
"They also deserve a little bit of respect and proper treatment from the people who are running it and I think the higher up corporate types need to take some responsibility."
Hale said student tenants can seek free legal advice from Community Legal Services at Western University. They can also file an official complaint about a landlord with the Ontario Ministry of Housing.
Still, Hale concedes that it is a David and Goliath battle for students to take on a multi-million dollar corporation such as Centurion Property Associates.
"I would hope that having some of these practices exposed in public would have some pressure to have the companies change their behaviour, but I'm not really confident that's enough to do it."
Hale said what's needed is the Ontario government stepping in and creating policy that favours tenants instead large corporate landlords.