Toronto renter, councillor call for end to province's '2-tier' tenant protection
Cities can't stop landlords from demolishing properties with less than 6 units
When Stephanie Churcher found a charming, three-bedroom apartment on a quaint midtown street, she thought she'd "hit the jackpot."
The Toronto resident, who works at a geostructural engineering firm, wanted a bigger space and quieter neighbourhood to live in with her partner, son, and her two dogs. The unit she found on Walmer Road — in a detached home split into three rentals — fit the bill: a roomy space and backyard for $3,000 a month that the family could live in for years to come.
Or so she thought.
On Jan. 18, three days after taking possession, Churcher got an email from her property manager, informing her about an application to redevelop the property. And while the email stated that her year-long lease wouldn't be affected, the family now worries they'll be stuck moving yet again.
"I felt incredibly disappointed, disillusioned, and betrayed," she told CBC Toronto on Tuesday, the day before a committee of adjustment hearing at city hall for the proposal to build a new, three-storey semi-detached duplex and garage on the site she calls home.
Housing advocates say her situation speaks to a broader issue: in Ontario, rentals with fewer than six apartment units aren't subject to the same laws as bigger apartment buildings.
That means Toronto tenants in homes and small rental buildings can face eviction any time a site is redeveloped.
"They have absolutely no protection under the law," said Coun. Josh Matlow, whose ward encompasses Churcher's new building.
'This affects so many people'
The province's Municipal Act stipulates that cities can't prevent "the demolition or conversion of a residential rental property that contains less than six dwelling units."
"You could've been living there for 40 years and get two months notice to move out of your home," explained Geordie Dent, executive director of the Federation of Metro Tenants' Associations.
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"Ideally, you want to see everyone get something out of that scenario — some extra compensation, some time, the ability to move back in."
Some tenant protection provisions do exist for larger buildings, noted lawyer Caryma Sa'd, who specializes in landlord and tenant issues.
If a landlord wants to demolish the building, tenants are eligible for compensation equal to three months rent, she said. In cases where it's a rebuild or repair project, those tenants also have a right to return once the work is done.
"I imagine the policy rationale at the time was, if you're displacing more people and you're a bigger landlord, you should have to foot the bill — and smaller-scale landlords shouldn't have to deal with that burden," she said.
But Matlow said that's an unfair "two-tier system."
He likened it to the province's previous rental loophole, which meant there was no rent control on condo units and dedicated rental apartments built after 1991.
Following a CBC Toronto series on the city's rental market crunch, the previous Liberal government expanded rent control across the board — a move the PCs have since scrapped for all newly-built and newly-converted units across Ontario.
Matlow plans to put forward a motion at the February council meeting, encouraging his fellow members to call on the province to provide more protection for renters.
"There are so many tenants in Toronto than live in smaller walkups or house-born buildings," he said. "This affects so many people living in our city."
Tenant calling for more 'protection'
In the meantime, Churcher said she's in limbo, waiting to see how the committee of adjustment hearing plays out, and worried about her potential search for another place to live.
CBC Toronto was unable to reach the owner of her building by publishing time, but did speak to the property manager by phone, who said the owner is currently out of the country and just has an "idea" to redevelop the site, though nothing is actually "in process."
"The tenant residents are protected by their leases, and by the Residential Tenancies Act," property manager Michelle Chen said in a later statement provided by email. "The owner intends to respect the laws as outlined in the Residential Tenancies Act and the lease documents."
That offers little comfort to Churcher, who hopes the province eventually changes the current laws to better protect tenants like herself.
"Whether you're in one unit, or 26 units, all the people have to be considered in the same way and afforded the same rights and protection," she said.