Toronto tenant says she's a victim of 'renoviction,' but landlord insists everything's above board

A Toronto woman maintains she's being unfairly kicked out of the apartment she's lived in for 15 years. But the building's owners tell a very different story.

Woman offered another unit at same rent during lobby renovation, property manager says

Sabrina Moella pays $1,200 a month for the one-bedroom apartment she's rented for the past 15 years in the Yonge Street and St. Clair Avenue area. (Mike Smee/CBC)

A Toronto woman maintains she's being unfairly kicked out of the midtown apartment she's lived in for 15 years but the building's owners are telling a very different story.

Sabrina Moella has lived on Lawton Boulevard in the Yonge-St. Clair area since 2007. She pays $1,200 a month for her one-bedroom unit — an unusually low price in today's red-hot rental market.

But last summer, she says, the building superintendent approached her during a fire drill and told her she'd have to move. The reason? Renovations to the lobby, which is directly below her apartment. She says he told her she could move temporarily to another unit in the building with no increase in rent. 

"I haven't seen anything written that says that I'm going to be in another apartment for the same price," she told CBC Toronto.

"I feel like the owner ... is trying to trick me into signing a new lease for a much higher price."

Last August, she was given what's known as an N-13 form, a notice that she was being evicted so the landlord can do renovations.

Moella, a self-employed translator, calls it a "renoviction," something tenant advocates say is an increasingly popular ploy among landlords in Toronto because there's a provincial limit on the annual increase property owners can charge if the same renters occupy their units year over year. But there's no such limit if they can get that tenant out and get a different renter in. An acute shortage of affordable housing across the city, advocates say, is making the problem even worse.

Moella is fighting it with help from the Parkdale Legal Clinic. But property manager Nolan Rodrigues, who works with Cromwell Management, the building's owner, rejects her characterization of what's happening on Lawton Boulevard.

He says Moella was given the deal in writing, and he said the company has bent over backwards to accommodate her. 

"We told her we're planning to do this renovation and ... we would like to give you the opportunity to move to another one-bedroom in the building. We're going to give you a better apartment for the same current rent that she's paying," he said.

"She said she wanted to stay in her apartment. After that, we never heard from her."

Rodrigues says she is legally protected from having to pay a higher rent because of the lobby renovations.

"We're not throwing her out," he told CBC Toronto. "We said you can stay in this building, but you have to move to another unit. We're still waiting."

But Rodrigues also says once the building renovations are done, Cromwell will have the right to apply to the province for higher-than-standard rent increases for all the units in the building.

No hearing set

Meanwhile, the lobby renovations are on hold because they can't happen as long as the unit above the construction site is occupied.

Moella has challenged the eviction notice at the provincial Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) with the help of Cole Webber, a community legal worker at the Parkdale Legal Clinic.

No hearing date has yet been set, but Webber says he believes Moella has a good case.

Cole Webber, of the Parkdale Legal Clinic, says he believes Moella has a good case. No date has yet been set for her hearing at the Landlord and Tenant Board. (Keith Whelan/CBC)

"It is unacceptable for Cromwell management to evict tenants in the dead of winter because they say they want to renovate their lobby," he said.

"We see that landlords use these N-13 evictions for renovations as a way to push tenants out of their homes so that they can raise rent without limit on the vacant unit," Webber continued, although he acknowledges there's nothing illegal about raising the rent on apartments that aren't occupied..

He says he thinks the standoff can be resolved if Cromwell withdraws the eviction notice.

'3 magic beans'

Geordie Dent, executive director of the Federation of Metro Tenant's Associations, says renters should be wary of any plan by landlords to persuade them to move, even temporarily.

He said it's not unusual for landlords to persuade a tenant to move temporarily — then immediately rent out their unit to someone else at a higher rate. Once in, the new tenants are unlikely to be ordered out by the LTB, he said.

Geordie Dent, of the Federation of Metro Tenants' Associations, warns renters to be wary of any attempt to make them move, even temporarily. (Keith Whelan/CBC)

"A lot of landlords will come to you and offer you three magic beans if you move out," he said. "But if they don't put anything in writing, that's a really kind of scary proposition."

Meanwhile, Moella says the situation is causing her to panic.

"I don't know how it's going to end ... There's a pandemic. There's a housing crisis in Toronto," she said. 

"It's been a nightmare for me for six months."