Rental bidding wars and unaffordable housing has Windsor family on brink of homelessness

With an eviction notice hanging over their heads, Windsor's ever-increasing rental market has made it nearly impossible for a Forest Glade family to find a new place to live.

'If you're talking about a full house ... it's gone up to $2,600 — even $3,000 [a month]'

Jodi Nicholls says finding a new place to rent is nearly impossible due to unfair conditions imposed on potential tenants. (Sanjay Maru/CBC)

With tears in her eyes and boxes flooding her home, Jodi Nicholls faces the reality of a sheriff knocking the front door at any time, demanding her family vacate their Forest Glade home immediately.

In June, the Nicholls family received an eviction notice from the landlord, asking they move out of their Suffolk Street home by the beginning of October. The landlord wants to move into the home, which is her right under the Residential Tenancies Act in Ontario.

However, the search has been difficult.

The couple attended open houses and scrolled through hundreds of online listings — to no avail.

For Nicholls, there are too many conditions being placed on prospective renters for her family to compete in the current market. And with the eviction deadline having passed, homelessness has become a possibility.

Market prices too high

Nicholls​, who attends school for early childhood education (ECE) and has lived in her place for more than 10 years, said her credit score has declined because her husband, Richard, is the only person in the family with a job.

"I'm going to school. It's just one income. It's hard." she said, adding their current home has two bedrooms and a basement, shared among the couple, Nicholls' mother and three children — ages 13, eight and six.

From L to R, Richard (36), Hunter (13), Raynah (8), Jodi (38) and Paiton (6). (Sanjay Maru/CBC)

But in the past four months, the couple has found themselves unable to afford anything else on the market.

"I'm not paying $2,100 a month to pay for someone else's mortgage ... That's a joke. If we could afford a down payment on a house, I'd be doing a mortgage in no time. But we just can't afford it," she said, adding it's not feasible "credit-wise."

According to real estate agent Preetinder Brar, housing prices in Windsor have risen substantially in the past two years. He said a semi-detached house — which used to be on the market for about $1,200 a month — will cost about up to $600 more.

"If you're talking about a full house, you could easily [rent it] for $1,800. Now it's gone up to $2,600 — even $3,000."

Richard Nicholls sits in front of towers of boxes filled with clothes, kitchen supplies and everything in between. Almost everything in his Forest Glade home has been packed away in preparation for eviction. (Sanjay Maru/CBC)

Rental bidding wars

The Nicholls family also discovered a new market trend which has slowly crept up in Windsor — the rental bidding war. The practice is not unheard of in major cities like Toronto and Vancouver.

"We went to a house just around the corner from here and it was a beautiful home — affordable. They only wanted $1,750 a month," said Richard. "But that was the starting bid. That's the whole catch."

He said the lack of affordable housing — combined with prices being higher than originally listed since they're "starting bids" — means homelessness might be the only option left.

Real estate agent Preetinder Brar says rental bidding wars aren't too common in Windsor but they have recently started occurring more often. (Sanjay Maru/CBC)

"That's how it potentially could look for us, because we can not find a place ... We really don't have anywhere to go," said Richard.

Brar said rental bidding wars aren't too common in Windsor — but he's started hearing about them more often. One example he points to is that of a renter who was ditched by his landlord at the last minute.

"[They] decided everything — $1,600 and they can move in next week. And the next week, when they went in, the landlord said, 'No, sorry, somebody offered me $1,700,'" said Brar, adding there was no legal recourse since a written agreement wasn't made.

These bidding wars are "happening more and more," said Angela Yakonich, executive director of Windsor Homes Coalition. "It's something that was unheard of even maybe a year ago."

She said the supportive housing organization is getting more calls from people identifying themselves as being homeless or close to it.

"I have had people call and say 'nobody will help me. Nobody will help me.'"

Richard Nicholls says finding a new home is even harder because many owners prohibit their tenants from owning pets — even though that's illegal under the Residential Tenancies Act. (Sanjay Maru/CBC)

The waiting game

For Nicholls, there are more barriers to securing a place beyond high prices and the occasional bidding war. She said there is a feeling of embarrassment behind asking to move into a family member's house.

The couple also said their 10-year history of paying rent — with the occasional late payment every now and then — is being ignored because landlords demand credit checks and proof of employment.

As for her husband, Richard adds many landlords refuse to rent to people who own pets.

However, that's illegal under the Residential Tenancies Act.

Jonathan Scott, executive director of the Renters' Rights and Information Association, said many tenants don't know their rights.

"Tenants do have good rental protection in Ontario, it's just a matter of being informed of what those protections are and how to access them," said Scott.

In the case of an eviction notice, he said tenants should talk to the landlord first. They can also speak to the Landlord and Tenant Board any time to learn about their options.

For now, the Nicholls family is playing the waiting game. Even though the eviction notice requested the family to be gone by Oct. 4, their landlord has yet to contact them.

About the Author

Sanjay Maru

Sanjay Maru is a reporter at CBC Windsor. Email him at sanjay.maru@cbc.ca.