As 'personal use' evictions appear to spike in Toronto, tenants suspicious of landlord cash grabs
Some landlords want to cash in on red hot rental market by claiming to need the unit, says tenants' advocate
Marc-André Giasson is joining a growing number of Toronto tenants who say they've been burned by a landlord claiming to need their apartment for personal use, then putting it back on the market.
Giasson's apartment was sold to new owners several months ago, and his former landlord told him that they needed it for their own use.
So he signed a document agreeing to move out at the end of his one-year lease and began the onerous process of looking for a new place in a city where rental housing availability is at a 16-year low.
But last week, with his stuff sitting packed in boxes as he prepared to move, Giasson got an email from the realtor working with the new owners telling him they had "decided to put the unit back on the rental market" and that visits from potential new tenants could be coming, he told Radio-Canada.
Giasson, whose new apartment costs $200 more than the one he agreed to leave, was outraged.
"Bottom line is, these people have, in my opinion, been dishonest and lied to get more money," he said.
Rising number of 'personal use' evictions
Giasson's story is similar to others reported by CBC Toronto in recent months — like one west end landlord who said they wanted to move in and then posted the apartment, with the rent jacked up by $700, on Kijiji.
For some landlords, it's worth it to break the law to cash in. There's a lot of money to be made right now.- Geordie Dent of the Federation of Metro Tenants Assocation
The trend has been tracked by Geordie Dent, executive director of the Federation of Metro Tenants Associations.
"The No. 1 eviction call we used to get was people not paying their rent. Over the last year that's changed for the first time. It's now people getting evicted because the landlord's moving in," said Dent.
That could be a reaction to more stringent rent control in Ontario: in April 2017, the province's Fair Housing Plan extended rent control to all units and fixed rent control increases for existing tenants to the rate of inflation.
With the city's rental market continuing to run red-hot, Dent said landlords may be tempted to say they need the unit for their own or a family member's use — a legal reason to ask a tenant to leave — and then make it available again.
"For some landlords, it's worth it to break the law to cash in. There's a lot of money to be made right now," he said.
Recourse for tenants
When the province pushed through its housing plan, they added stricter rules to deter and penalize landlords who lie about needing a unit for personal use.
So how is it supposed to work?
The first step for a landlord who says they need a unit for personal use is to send the tenant what's called an N12 notice.
The tenant can then refuse to move out, said Dent, at which point it goes to the Landlord and Tenant Board, where the onus is on the landlord to actually prove they are going to occupy the unit.
If it's found a landlord was acting in bad faith, individual landlords could face a fine of up to $25,000, Ontario Housing Minister Peter Milczyn told Radio-Canada, adding that he hopes such stiff penalties will be a "significant deterrent."
Things change if the tenant has already agreed to move out — as Giasson did — with the onus now on the tenant to file what's called a "T5" or "bad faith" application with the Landlord and Tenant Board.
Milczyn said that at this point, tenants should bring all the evidence they can find to prove the landlord is renting the unit again, such as a screenshot of a Kijiji ad, or an email exchange with the landlord.
Getting to court takes time, resources, effort
The trouble, says tenant rights lawyer Jonathan Robart, is that few tenants have the time, money, and legal knowledge to put together a case against a landlord.
"They may not have the time or the resources to either seek legal advice, to scope out Craigslist or Kijiji, to see whether or not their old unit is being re-rented. And more importantly, they may not be able to afford to take a day off work to attend the Landlord and Tenant Board," he said.
Giasson has already called the board, and is hoping that it will lead to compensation for the extra amount he now has to pay in rent and his moving costs.
He also reached out to the realtor representing the new owners, who replied saying that the N11 document he'd signed represented a termination of the lease "regardless of the future use of the unit."
The realtor, Jeong Sook Clara Kim, said her clients had never said that the unit was for personal use, adding that there must have been a "misunderstanding or miscommunication somehow."
It's now up to Giasson to make his case.
With files from Philippe De Montigny