Toronto

Neighbours try to help mother and son on disability facing eviction in Parkdale

A Parkdale woman who has called the same place home for more than 30 years and lives on disability says if she and her son are evicted, they will have no place to go. Building management says the tenant is unable to maintain safety standards, but neighbours who are supporting her dispute that.

Property manager says situation has become unworkable, but tenants dispute that

Theresa De Mesa, 61, and her son Anthony, 34, have called 1251 King St W home for more than three decades. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

A Parkdale mother who's been served an eviction notice says she and her son will have nowhere to go if they're kicked out of the apartment they've called home for some 30 years.

Theresa De Mesa was recently served an eviction notice due to cleanliness issues, with the landlord, Nuspor Investments, saying her unit was not properly prepared for pest control — something De Mesa disputes.

"They would like to evict us and I don't know why. We are good tenants and we pay our rent," she told CBC Toronto.

De Mesa says she and her son, Anthony, pay around $1,300 per month for their apartment and because they're both on disability, that's as much as they can handle.

"I cannot afford a higher rent," she said. 

The property manager for Nuspor Investments says it has been working with De Mesa since 2006 trying to find solutions for her to stay in her apartment, citing an inability to maintain safety standards. But neighbours who are supporting her say she's cleaned her unit. 

In March 2020, Premier Doug Ford announced the province will "make sure no one gets evicted." That pause on eviction enforcement at the beginning of the pandemic was lifted in August 2020 and reinstated earlier this year: However, eviction applications and hearings are still going forward.

While the Federation of Rental-Housing Providers of Ontario says it is their understanding that eviction applications for not paying rent received by the Landlord and Tenant Board since April 2020 are significantly below historical averages, advocates say even under the current stay-at-home order, the Landlord and Tenant Board is processing hundreds of evictions each week.

They fear with Landlord and Tenant Board hearings being virtual, an increasing number of tenants will end up homeless during the pandemic.

CBC News has seen notices delivered to De Mesa from building management that state the unit was not properly prepared for pest control, and was not decluttered in a reasonable state of cleanliness.

Cole Webber with Parkdale Community Legal Services, says De Mesa has had an eviction hearing related to cleanliness at the Landlord and Tenant Board before, and an agreement was made that she would declutter her unit and the building would pay for her to store some of her belongings.

Cole Webber, a community legal worker with Parkdale Community Legal Services, says in the fall of 2020, his legal clinic noted a 20 per cent rise in the rate of eviction compared to the same period the previous year. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

"What we see in general in the neighbourhood is that as rents rise, and the rental real estate market heats up, landlords look for any way they can to evict the tenants, especially tenants like Theresa who are living in two-bedroom apartments where they could raise the rent substantially," Webber said. 

He says he has been present for follow-up inspections since the unit was cleaned, and was not informed during the inspections that the unit was not up to standards. 

"Evictions destroy people's lives. If Theresa and her son get evicted, they will be put on the street."

Some virtual hearings 'chaos,' lawyer says

Tracy Heffernan, director of the provincial tenant duty counsel program at the Toronto-based Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, says virtual hearings with the Landlord and Tenant Board have underscored the digital divide in the province.

"What we've observed with these virtual hearings is that if a tenant is absent, they can be evicted within seconds. If they are present, they can be evicted within minutes," she said.

"We've also observed chaos at these hearings, adjudicators who lack familiarity with the technology and tenants who are disconnected and are unable to get back onto the hearing," adding that in many cases tenants are on the phone and landlords are on video.

Heffernan's biggest concern is the prospect of the Landlord and Tenant Board eliminating in-person hearings altogether.

"This is going to impact tenants in a very grave manner," she said.

The Landlord and Tenant Board did not respond to CBC's request to confirm whether virtual hearings would continue after the pandemic.

Nuspor, Ministry of Housing respond

Vito Simone, the property manager for Nuspor Investments, says the situation with De Mesa "has become unworkable."

In a statement to CBC News, he said: "For the safety of Ms. De Mesa and other residents we asked her to keep materials away from baseboard heaters and to maintain a safe passageway." The statement goes on to say some of her belongings were moved into a storage unit, which the building is paying for. 

"Over many years we have determined she is unable to maintain safety standards, we are unable to control pests in her apartment and other residents have asked for her removal."

The Ministry of Housing and Municipal Affairs says the province has introduced a number of measures to protect and support tenants.

"These supports include an emergency order to temporarily pause residential evictions enforcement, a rent freeze for the entirety of 2021 and an amendment to the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) to promote rent repayment agreements to maintain tenancies," a spokesperson for the ministry said in a statement.

"Our government recognizes and values the efforts of tenants and landlords who continue to work together to find solutions."

Neighbours coming together

A few tenants at the Parkdale building, who had previously rallied against an above-guideline rent increase and were successful, have come together to support De Mesa by helping her find legal aid and putting pressure on the building owner.

"I've become involved because I can just see it's not right," said Kerry Riordan.

"We rented a U-Haul, some people from the neighborhood came together, we moved all of her stuff out and somehow it wasn't enough, I don't really understand the justification for it."

A few neighbours say they rented a U-Haul to help the De Mesas clear out their unit, and felt that would be the final resolution. They tell CBC News this photo was taken on May 7, 2021. (Submitted/Parmbir Gill)

Riordan thought the efforts were going to result in a resolution.

"She's an elderly woman with a disabled son and it's a pandemic. No one should be threatened with eviction right now. And especially not someone who is trying very hard to meet the requirements laid out to them."

De Mesa's virtual hearing is scheduled for May 25. She and her advocates are hoping it doesn't get to that point.

"I feel my health is wearing down. I cannot sleep, I cannot eat, I have a nervous breakdown when someone knocks on my door," De Mesa said.

"I feel sad."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Talia Ricci is a CBC reporter based in Toronto. She has travelled around the globe with her camera documenting people and places as well as volunteering. Talia enjoys covering offbeat human interest stories and exposing social justice issues. When she's not reporting, you can find her reading or strolling the city with a film camera.

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