Toronto

'People are fleeing the city': How 'renovictions' are forcing renters to the edge of bankruptcy

A Toronto credit counselling firm is warning of a surge in so-called renovictions —landlords ousting tenants so they can upgrade and re-rent the apartments at jacked-up prices.

Credit counsellors warning of a surge in 'renovictions' in Toronto

Paul Kolinski, who has been renting the same bachelor apartment in the College-Dovercourt area for 10 years, is facing eviction so that his landlord can renovate the building. He is fighting the eviction. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

A Toronto credit counselling firm is warning of a surge in so-called renovictions — landlords ousting tenants so they can upgrade and re-rent their apartments at jacked-up prices.

Scott Terrio, a manager at insolvency trustee Hoyes Michalos, says in the past three months alone, he's had a half dozen people come to him in dire financial straits because they've been evicted by landlords planning to renovate their buildings, a lawful excuse to evict, experts in landlord-tenant law say.

But relocating within Toronto means coming up with first and last month's rent in an expensive rental housing market — so expensive that ousted tenants are finding themselves pushed to the edge of bankruptcy, Terrio says.

"Some of them are actually resorting to going to a payday lender, or an instalment loan of some kind, and of course those are huge interest," he said.

"Once you do that, it's very hard to extricate yourself financially."

It's a situation Paul Kolinski is intimately familiar with. After 10 years in an affordable lowrise in the College and Dovercourt area, he's being forced out by his landlord, who maintains he's renovating the building.

Scott Terrio, a manager with licensed insolvency trustee Hoyes Michalos in Toronto, says he's seeing people pushed to their financial limit after landlords have evicted them legally so they can renovate their buildings. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Kolinski, a musician who currently pays $830 a month plus hydro for a bachelor apartment, is fighting eviction. Moving into a new, more expensive place would pose a financial hardship, he says. 

"My earnings don't reflect the spike in the value of the rental market here," he said. "I don't think there's anywhere near the GTA that I could find this."

Legally, landlords must allow evicted tenants back into the building post-renovation at the same rent, according to Tony Irwin, president of the Federation of Rental Housing Providers of Ontario, an advocacy group for landlords.

Kolinski pays $830 a month for this bachelor apartment near College Street and Dovercourt Road. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

They also have to prove significant renovations are actually being scheduled by producing a city-issued building permit.

"It's not simply for a coat of paint," he said.

As well, tenants who live in a complex with five or more units are entitled to demand compensation equivalent to three months' rent if they're forced out due to renovations, Irwin says.

"There are strong protections in place [for tenants]," he said. "The membership I represent follow the rules, and think they should be respected."

Geordie Dent, executive director of the Federation of Metro Tenants' Associations, says renters are being driven out of the city by the high cost of rent in Toronto. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

But according to Geordie Dent of the Federation of Metro Tenants' Associations, once they're evicted, many people are not in a financial position to move back in.

"The landlord doesn't have to let you know how long you're going to be out," he said.

"So you might go through the process of hiring a moving truck, finding a new place, signing a lease ... then the landlord says, 'Your place is ready.' Well, you can't afford to pay for two places."

Dent agrees with Terrio's observation that more and more people are experiencing serious financial difficulties due to renovictions.

'Fleeing the city'

"I talk to people all the time who can make their expenses today, but when they get renovicted, they can't afford the new rents, which means they can't live in the city, which means they can't work their job," Dent said.

"People are fleeing the city."

Dent suggests tenants not buckle as soon as a landlord warns them to leave. Instead, he recommends double-checking the fine print first.

Current system is working

"Sometimes what the landlord says and what the law says are the same thing, and you should follow it. But sometimes they're not," he said.

A landlord who plans to renovate needs a city permit, which is searchable, Dent says.

Irwin, of the landlords' federation, says the current system is working. And he says he hasn't heard of any surge in renovations by landlords.

But that would be little comfort to Kolinski, who says facing an impending eviction is making him feel insecure in his situation.

"What's at stake is my home, my ability to make music and art in this city with my friends, with my family," he said.

"That is all under threat. Because if I'm cut off from that, I'm starting somewhere else.

"The question is: How far do I have to go? Hamilton or beyond? Winnipeg?"

About the Author

Michael Smee

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Michael Smee has worked in print, radio, TV and online journalism for many years. You can reach him at michael.smee@cbc.ca

With files from Farrah Merali

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.