Landlords struggle to evict tenants who turned Toronto homes into rooming houses, owe rent
Photos and video show students living in cramped quarters after tenants built out rooms
Marissa Andersson and Oksana Kravchuk both own properties on the same Toronto street but didn't know one another until they say they discovered a troubling connection.
Their tenants, who told the landlords they were in a relationship, built extra bedrooms in their homes without their knowledge, leased them out to other occupants and haven't paid rent in several months, according to allegations filed with Ontario's Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB).
The two landlords say Saeed Aldairi and Melissa Tulshi combined owe them nearly $120,000 in unpaid rent and utilities, property damage and legal costs.
They also say they're concerned for the wellbeing of the occupants staying in the rooms – mainly international students – because they're living in cramped quarters that are a threat to their health and safety. They also say when the rooming houses were discovered, the tenants tried to freeze some of the students out by turning off the heat, blasting air conditioning and opening the windows.
"These new immigrants to Canada are being victimized and in our home – what used to be our home. The idea that's happening just made us feel sick," Andersson said.
Andersson and Kravchuk have been trying to evict the original tenants, but their hands are tied as their applications slowly make their way through the LTB process. They both filed eviction applications at the end of last year outlining the situation, but the cases are still before the board, even after they were expedited.
In the meantime, the landlords say Aldairi and Tulshi haven't paid rent for about eight months, but continue operating a rooming house business out of their properties.
"There are no consequences," Andersson said. "I can't even step foot on my driveway or I'm breaking the rules. The system that allows that is broken."
CBC News reached out to Aldairi and Tulshi multiple times by phone and email, but didn't receive a response.
In documents filed with the LTB against their landlords, Aldairi characterized the other occupants living in Andersson's home as his roommates. Tulshi claims Kravchuk agreed to let her rent out rooms to make extra money during the pandemic in January 2021.
Andersson rented her bungalow on Thirtieth Street in Etobicoke on Toronto's west side to Aldairi last September. At the time, Tulshi was living at Kravchuk's property after signing a lease in August 2020. Andersson said Aldairi told her he was moving into her home, which is a few houses down from Kravchuk's, because he and Tulshi recently broke up and he wanted to live near her to co-parent their child.
"We really felt like we were doing the right thing – helping parents co-parent," Andersson told CBC News.
Within 16 days of Aldairi signing the lease, Andersson's basement was transformed into a rooming house and the first occupants moved in, according to text messages between occupants and Tulshi and photos and videos of the home.
'Disbelief' with renovations
The saga started to take shape for Andersson and Kravchuk at the end of October when a neighbour contacted Kravchuk to tell her police had been called to her property after a dog belonging to her tenant attacked and injured an occupant staying there, according to documents filed with the LTB.
"It was a big shock for us when we discovered [multiple people were living at the home] because we trusted our tenant," Kravchuk said.
Kravchuk said she then learned the same thing was happening at another house down the street. She found out it belonged to Andersson, got her contact information from a neighbour and informed her.
Andersson and Kravchuk gave notice to inspect the properties. Once inside they were shocked to find additional rooms some complete with new doors, trim and lighting, the installation of kitchen cabinets and additional appliances. The locks had been changed at both homes and security cameras were installed inside and out.
"I was in disbelief," Kravchuk said. "One room was very small. I don't know how somebody could live in it."
A Toronto Fire Services inspection from December shows Kravchuk's home consisted of seven bedrooms and nine beds, which was in violation of fire and municipal codes.
"I'm really, really concerned because this house is not designed to have 10 people living there," she said.
Students paid $450 per month to share a room
Surya Sriramula and his friend moved from India to Toronto for school and rented a room in Andersson's home in September after seeing an ad posted by Tulshi in a Facebook group for Humber College students looking for housing.
Online banking documents and messages between Sriramula and Tulshi show they each paid $450 per month for a single bed in a shared room in the basement.
Signs were put up in both Andersson and Kravchuk's homes outlining rules for the occupants including where and when they could make phone calls and a laundry schedule that says internet privileges will be revoked if it's not followed.
"We were completely disappointed," Sriramula said of learning about the rules. "It affected [our studies] like on the exam day she cut off the internet."
Sriramula, Andersson and Kravchuk say Tulshi, Aldairi and a child were living between both properties; sometimes apart.
Ads Tulshi posted online showing a handful of rental units, including Andersson and Kravchuk's properties, were still active last week. It appears they've since been taken down.
A pet service business linked to Tulshi is still listed at Kravchuk's home, according to Google Maps.
WATCH | Property owner shares her experience dealing with her home being turned into a rooming house:
Aldairi and Tulshi outline several grievances against their landlords in LTB documents including illegal entry into the homes, harassment, slander, denying their enjoyment of their properties and withholding vital services like water. Andersson and Kravchuk deny the allegations.
Aldairi and Tulshi are asking the landlords to pay them a combined $61,300 to compensate them for the allegations.
Landlord helps students after heat cut
Through the Landlord and Tenant Board process, Andersson requested Aldairi repair the unauthorized alterations to her home. Video taken by Sriramula and other occupants show a crew demolishing the bedroom walls and removing doors while the occupants remained in the homes.
"I wasn't sure what was happening. I was completely helpless," Sriramula said.
In early November, either Aldairi or Tulshi attempted to evict the occupants of Andersson's house by trying to "freeze them out," according to Sriramula and LTB documents.
WATCH | Crews break down walls that were put up to house students:
The occupants called police. Video taken by Andersson shows officers at the home as well as a thermostat with the batteries removed and windows wide open.
In his LTB application against Andersson, Aldairi said he left a window open because his pet cat ran away and he was waiting for him to return.
With nowhere else to go, Andersson paid nearly $2,000 for Sriramula and his friend to stay in a nearby hotel and Airbnb for nearly a month, according to receipts.
"We couldn't leave these young people in the basement," she said. "These were students who are in school just trying to make a life for themselves."
Sriramula said he and his friend have since found a new, safe place to live.
Andersson and Kravchuk say although Aldairi and Tulshi no longer live in their homes, they're still renting out rooms to other international students. The case is expected to be back in front of Ontario's Landlord and Tenant Board in August.
"I hope to at least get my house back," Kravchuk said.
During a recent LTB hearing, a different landlord said Tulshi signed a lease with him on November 1 and has been paying rent. He said to his knowledge, a child and Aldairi also stay in the home, as well as at least four others in the basement.