Toronto

UN accuses Toronto apartment owner of human rights abuses

The United Nations has publicly rebuked a multinational housing corporation  for abusing the human rights of its tenants — including thousands in Toronto and Montreal. 

Akelius Residential denies accusations that it practices renovictions

Beverly Kreller and Howard Druckman have lived in their St. Joseph Street apartment for decades, and say they didn't experience any problems until Akelius Residential bought the property about two years ago. (Mike Smee/CBC)

The United Nations has publicly rebuked a multinational housing corporation for abusing the human rights of its tenants — including thousands in Toronto and Montreal. 

The UN's special rapporteur on adequate housing, Leilani Farha, issued a public statement on April 29 accusing Sweden-based Akelius Residential of a practice known as renoviction.

"I have been told that Akelius purchases apartment blocks, often with tenants already living in them, and then undertakes renovations to communal areas and vacant apartments within the block, regardless of need," Farha said in the statement.

"These renovations are a vehicle for Akelius to charge substantially increased rents to both new and existing tenants, enabling it to circumvent vital rent-control regulations which commonly allow for above-control rent increases where modernization works are undertaken."

Leilani Farha, the outgoing UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, says Akelius carries out questionable renovations, then jacks up the rent — an accusation that Akelius denies. (Zoom)

Akelius owns more than 3,500 apartment units in Toronto, and about 3,900 in Montreal.

Toronto-based Akelius executive Shelly Lee denied people are being mistreated or forced from their homes.

"Our business idea is to provide a better living," Lee said. "That comes with renovations, and also improved services.

"Our policy is to not force anybody out, and only to renovate vacant units."

Renovations have been non-stop, couple says 

Beverly Kreller and her husband Howard Druckman have lived in a low-rise apartment on St. Joseph Street, located in downtown Toronto, for decades.
Shelly Lee, the head of Akelius North America, said the UN statement is misleading and was prepared without input from the company. (Shelly Lee)

Kreller told CBC Toronto that Akelius took over the building about two years ago. The renovations and maintenance work have been almost non-stop since then, she said.

"At one point there was renovation going on outside, so the drilling was at my head, there was renovation going on on the other side of our space because they were renovating a unit there, and then there was a renovation going on across the hall in the elevator, which was also a hardship," Kreller said.

"Oftentimes they don't answer your email at all. I'd like to see the tenants respected more and listened to more."

Druckman showed CBC Toronto 38 notices that he said he's received from Akelius since October, each one warning of an impending disruption.

"Shutting down heat, shutting down water, coming into the suites, checking fire alarms," he said. "It's been very interruptive."

The low-rise on St. Joseph Street that's been home to Howard Druckman and Beverly Kreller for more than 20 years. Their apartment is one of about 44,000 owned by Akeliius worldwide. (Mike Smee/CBC)

'They're often renovating when renovation isn't necessary'

Farha maintained in an interview with CBC Toronto that the couple's experience was not an isolated case.

"The problem is that they're often renovating when renovation isn't necessary," she said.

"Tenants told me that renovations would get so unruly and so upsetting in terms of everyday-living that tenants felt they were being forced out. And once a unit is empty [it's] much easier to raise that rent right up there."

She said in 2014,  Akelius' applications for above-guideline rent increases made up about 10 per cent of all applications Canada-wide.

This Akelius building on Jameson Avenue is one of seven the company owns in Parkdale. All told, the company operates more than 3,500 units in Toronto. (Doug Husby/CBC)

Lee said she wasn't aware of the situation at 16 St. Joseph St., but she reiterated that the work the company does is necessary.

"When we buy buildings, we buy older buildings that require a lot of work," she said. "But again, we don't force anyone out."

Lee also said she was surprised at the UN's decision to publicly admonish Akelius without asking the company for its side of the story.

"All those allegations were unfounded — there were no facts, or evidence," she said. "We were very disappointed."

Farha told CBC Toronto she sent Akelius a letter about two weeks ago, warning that she was about to release a statement accusing the company of abusing tenants' human rights.

She said her full report won't be available for about another six weeks, once it has been reviewed by governments in Canada, the United Kingdom and Germany. 

Farha said Akelius has 44,000 units around the world, valued at about $13 billion.

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

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