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Landlords using evictions, hikes to circumvent rent control, Toronto tenants say

REAL ESTATE

Rent asunder: Landlords using evictions, hikes to circumvent rent control, Toronto tenants say

A growing number of tenants say their landlords are forcing them out to charge higher rent, according to data from Ontario's rental-dispute board. Jeff Gray and Tom Cardoso investigate

Just after the school year began in September, York University teaching assistant Niloofar Golkar and her roommates got word they would have to scramble to find another place to rent because their landlord intended to move into their west-end Toronto townhouse.

It is legal grounds for an eviction. But, just a few weeks ago, Ms. Golkar biked by her old place and saw a sign out front saying it was for lease again. She looked it up online and discovered the landlord was asking $500 more in rent.

Ms. Golkar, 33, couldn't be bothered to make a case before the province's Landlord and Tenant Board, as she had already found another place to live. Still, she seethed over the deception.

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"The city really needs to think about providing more social housing for low-income people, so we don't have to deal with these individual landlords who can just do whatever they want."

A Globe and Mail analysis of data from Ontario's Landlord and Tenant Board, which adjudicates disputes, found that the number of applications for evictions such as Ms. Golkar's has shot up 23 per cent since 2013 as tenants' advocates say some landlords try to take advantage of the city's competitive housing market.

The data also show a large increase in the number of landlord-tenant disputes over "above-guideline" increases, which are allowed for rent-controlled apartments after landlords do renovations or upgrades.

Growth of landlord applications to the LTB

by year, in Toronto

Evict for other reasons

Evict for non-payment of rent

Rent increase above guideline

200%

150

100

50

0

2012

2013

2014

2015

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE:

LANDLORD AND TENANT BOARD

Growth of landlord applications to the LTB

by year, in Toronto

Evict for other reasons

Evict for non-payment of rent

Rent increase above guideline

Applications for rent increases

above the guideline have

had the largest growth,

though this category

accounts for just 1%

of all applications

200%

150

100

50

0

2012

2013

2014

2015

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: LANDLORD AND TENANT BOARD

Growth of landlord applications to the LTB by year, in Toronto

Evict for other reasons

Evict for non-payment of rent

Rent increase above guideline

200%

Applications for rent increases

above the guideline have

had the largest growth,

though this category

accounts for just 1%

of all applications

150

100

50

0

2012

2013

2014

2015

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: LANDLORD AND TENANT BOARD

Disputes over evictions for simply failing to pay the rent have actually declined.

The numbers starkly illustrate the pressures created in a record-tight rental market that's being made even tighter, observers say, as many Torontonians give up on buying a home of their own and choose to rent because of skyrocketing real estate prices.

Vacancy in Toronto is low, at just 1.6 per cent, and about 45 per cent of households are renters. The province's rent-control regime, which is supposed to keep rent increases for current tenants at the rate of inflation, applies only to buildings constructed before November, 1991, after amendments made in the late 1990s by then Ontario premier Mike Harris that were meant to spur more rental construction. Even in rent-controlled buildings, once tenants leave, rent can be set at a much higher rate for new occupants.

Exactly how many tenants in rent-controlled apartments face eviction by landlords using false pretenses is impossible to measure. Even the Landlord and Tenant Board numbers are not broken down to show precisely how many disputes of this kind make it before the board.

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The majority of applications the board receives in any given year are regarding the eviction of a tenant for non-payment of rent. In 2016, 72 per cent of all landlord applications were for this category.

Applications by landlords to the LTB

in 2016, by type

Evict for non-

payment of rent

16,061

Evict for

other reasons

3,054

Termination, failed

settlement

1,968

Among other

things, includes

evictions due to

landlord or

relatives moving

into unit, and

evictions where

someone has

purchased the unit

from the landlord

and intends to

move in

Termination, tenant

gave notice or agreed

390

Application

to collect rent

347

Rent increase

above guideline

198

Sublet or

assignment

110

Other

81

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE:

LANDLORD AND TENANT BOARD

Applications by landlords to the LTB in 2016,

by type

Evict for non-

payment of rent

16,061

Evict for

other reasons

3,054

Termination, failed

settlement

1,968

Termination, tenant

gave notice or agreed

Among other things,

includes evictions due

to landlord or relatives

moving into unit, and

evictions where

someone has purchased

the unit from the

landlord and intends to

move in

390

Application

to collect rent

347

Rent increase

above guideline

198

Sublet or

assignment

110

Other

81

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: LANDLORD AND TENANT BOARD

Applications by landlords to the LTB in 2016, by type

Evict for non-

payment of rent

16,061

Evict for

other reasons

3,054

Termination, failed

settlement

1,968

Termination, tenant

gave notice or agreed

390

Among other things,

includes evictions due

to landlord or relatives

moving into unit, and

evictions where someone

has purchased the

unit from the landlord

and intends to move in

Application

to collect rent

347

Rent increase

above guideline

198

Sublet or

assignment

110

81

Other

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: LANDLORD AND TENANT BOARD

But the number of hearings over evictions in the board's "other" category – which includes evictions based on a landlord's intent to occupy the place but also encompasses evictions for tenants who have damaged property, caused "serious problems" or overcrowded their units – has shot up in Toronto since 2012. There were just 1,740 such cases filed with the board that year. Four years later, in 2016, that number had risen to 3,054.

Disputes over above-guideline rent hikes also shot upward during the same five years, from just 91 in Toronto in 2012 to 198 last year. In both cases, the data present just a sliver of what is happening in the marketplace, as many such disputes never make it before the board.

Meanwhile, non-payment-of-rent applications have decreased over the same period.

A trend in eviction applications

The top two eviction applications the

Landlord and Tenant Board receives are

for non-payment of rent, and for “other

reasons,” which includes “own use” – in

other words, the landlord or a relative

intends to move into the unit, or the

landlord has sold the unit and the

purchaser intends to move in. Using

rolling averages to account for high

variance in the data month-to-month, a

clear trend emerges: Evictions for “other

reasons” have grown significantly since

2012, while non-payment of rent eviction

applications have declined significantly.

Growth of landlord applications to the LTB

over time, in Toronto

Evict for other reasons

Evict for non-payment of rent

Six-month moving average

40%

30

20

10

0

-10

-20

-30

2013

2014

2015

2016

The Federation of Metro Tenants’

Associations, a Toronto tenant advocacy

group, has tracked calls to its hotline since

2007. Its call data reflect the trends seen in

the LTB figures – “own use” applications

growing, and non-payment of rent

applications shrinking.

Growth of calls by tenants to the

Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations

Calls regarding “own use” eviction applications

Calls regarding non-payment of rent

eviction applications

12-month moving avg.

50%

Same period

as chart above

40

30

20

10

0

-10

-20

-30

-40

2008

2010

2012

2014

‘16

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCES:

Landlord and tenant board;

federation of metro tenants’ associations

A trend in eviction applications

The top two eviction applications the Landlord and

Tenant Board receives are for non-payment of rent,

and for “other reasons,” which includes “own use”

– in other words, the landlord or a relative intends

to move into the unit, or the landlord has sold the

unit and the purchaser intends to move in. Using

rolling averages to account for high variance in the

data month-to-month, a clear trend emerges:

Evictions for “other reasons” have grown

significantly since 2012, while non-payment of rent

eviction applications have declined significantly.

Growth of landlord applications to the LTB

over time, in Toronto

Evict for other reasons

Evict for non-payment of rent

Six-month moving average

40%

30

20

10

0

-10

-20

-30

2013

2014

2015

2016

The Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations,

a Toronto tenant advocacy group, has tracked

calls to its hotline since 2007. Its call data reflect

the trends seen in the LTB figures – “own use”

applications growing, and non-payment of rent

applications shrinking.

Growth of calls by tenants to the Federation

of Metro Tenants’ Associations

Calls regarding “own use” eviction applications

Calls regarding non-payment of rent eviction applications

12-month moving average

50%

Same period

as chart above

40

30

20

10

0

-10

-20

-30

-40

2008

2010

2012

2014

‘16

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCES: Landlord and tenant board;

federation of metro tenants’ associations

A trend in eviction applications

The top two eviction applications the Landlord and Tenant Board receives are

for non-payment of rent, and for “other reasons,” which includes “own use” –

in other words, the landlord or a relative intends to move into the unit, or the

landlord has sold the unit and the purchaser intends to move in. Using rolling

averages to account for high variance in the data month-to-month, a clear

trend emerges: Evictions for “other reasons” have grown significantly since

2012, while non-payment of rent eviction applications have declined

significantly.

Growth of landlord applications to the LTB over time, in Toronto

Evict for other reasons

Evict for non-payment of rent

40%

Six-month moving average

30

20

10

0

-10

-20

-30

2013

2014

2015

2016

The Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations, a Toronto tenant advocacy

group, has tracked calls to its hotline since 2007. Its call data reflect the trends

seen in the LTB figures – “own use” applications growing, and non-payment

of rent applications shrinking.

Growth of calls by tenants to the Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations

Calls regarding “own use” eviction applications

Calls regarding non-payment of rent eviction applications

50%

12-month moving average

Same period

as chart above

40

30

20

10

0

-10

-20

-30

-40

2008

2010

2012

2014

2016

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCES: Landlord and tenant board;

federation of metro tenants’ associations

Several renters who responded to a Globe online survey about their experiences in Toronto's tight market also complained that they suspected their landlords had faked an intention to move in to try to get rid of them.

Geordie Dent, executive director of the Federation of Metro Tenants' Associations, said his organization has actually seen a decline in calls from tenants concerned about being evicted over not paying the rent, reflecting the strengthening of the economy since the financial crisis nearly 10 years ago. But he said calls about landlords threatening to sell or to move in and evict tenants have been rising.

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"What we are seeing from our call volume is landlords wanting to cash in on the hot rental market," Mr. Dent said. "You're seeing more and more landlords saying, 'Oh yeah I need to move into the place.' And it's totally bogus."

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Do you rent in Toronto? The Globe wants to hear from you. Try our survey to help us build a better picture of the city’s rental market.

It is even worse in buildings not subject to rent control, where tenants are unprotected from what in some cases are double-digit increases. In the city's rental-condominium market, most of which are post-1991 buildings not subject to rent control, rents shot up 11.7 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2016 over the same period a year earlier, according to a report by consulting firm Urbanation Inc., while the number of listings sank.

Some condo renters face even steeper hikes. Heather MacDonald, 26, who works in advertising, was forced to leave a 400-square-foot $1,400-a-month Liberty Village condo after a new landlord demanded another $300 in rent: A 21-per-cent hike. She found a bigger rent-controlled apartment nearby.

"My concern is that there's a lot of landlords and property developers who are able to do this to single parents and new immigrants who aren't able to luck out like I did," Ms. MacDonald said. "It was a very trying situation to all of a sudden be uprooted."

The Ontario government has said it may announce changes to rent controls as part of a review of the current regulations, but has not revealed what reforms are being considered. A private member's bill from NDP MPP Peter Tabuns recently called for the exemption of post-1991 buildings from rent control to be scrapped. The Liberal government has also floated loosening some rules on landlords, such as making it easier to toss out tenants with troublesome pets, in an effort to get more homeowners to rent out parts of their houses and increase supply.

John Plumadore, president of the Brentwood Towers Tenants' Association, a rental complex popular with seniors near Yonge Street and Davisville Avenue, says the building's landlord has for years routinely asked residents for above-guideline rent increases, after doing work on the underground parking garage and elsewhere.

Some seniors on fixed incomes have been driven out by the increases, he said. And the new younger professionals that are moving in are paying much higher rents.

Mr. Plumadore, who is chairman of the Federation of Metro Tenants' Associations, argues that improvements to the buildings, which increase their value, should be paid for by their owners, not the tenants.

Most of the time, he said, his landlord, a company called O'Shanter, lowers a demand for a rent increase after a mediation session with the tenants' association. But residents can still end up seeing a 3-per-cent hike in the typical year, he said. (He adds that, despite this, he considers O'Shanter a good landlord over all.)

"The seniors say, we want to pay our way, but we don't want to be gouged," said Mr. Plumadore, a retired senior Scouts Canada official who has lived in Brentwood Towers for a decade. "The [increases] are killing us, because those of us who have lived here a long time, we like our building, we like our neighbourhood."

Jonathan Krehm, a co-owner of O'Shanter, which has owned Brentwood Towers for more than 30 years, argues the increases are justified as landlords seek to repair aging buildings.

He said landlords are now being forced by safety authorities to install expensive new elevators across the city, for example, and should be entitled to recover those costs. Water and electricity bills have shot up in recent years, he said, and are grounds for allowable above-guideline increases. (He said any landlord who lies about intending to move into a unit has "no excuse for acting illegally or dishonestly.")

But Mr. Krehm warned that more increases are coming to his tenants this year: He plans to seek "extraordinary" rent hikes to recover the costs of the city's new landlord licensing fee, which is expected to cost $10.60 a unit.

"The biggest villain here is the City of Toronto, who discriminates against rental housing" by taxing it at about three times the rate charged to condos or single family homes, Mr. Krehm said. "If people were really concerned about the cost of rental housing for people who couldn't afford it, they'd make the tax system equitable."

Some tenants, faced with newly aggressive landlords, do end up fighting – and even win.

In 2015, Kerry Landry, 52, says he was forced out of an apartment near Queen Street East and Broadview Avenue that he had lived in for 22 years after his landlord announced that his daughter was moving in.

Mr. Landry, a project manager with the federal government, and his partner soon found another place nearby for more than double their old rent. But last year, Mr. Landry discovered that his old place was being advertised on the website Craigslist for rent, and for hundreds of dollars more a month than he had paid. He took his landlord to the Landlord and Tenant Board and after a contentious hearing won $10,000 in compensation – the difference in the rent he had to pay for the entire year.

"Myself and the landlord had a really good rapport before this," Mr. Landry said, adding that he had faced very few rent increases over the more than two decades he lived in his old place. "… He [the landlord] was very hurt by the whole thing and so was I."


Have you had problems with your landlord or tenant in Toronto? Share your story: jgray@globeandmail.com and tcardoso@globeandmail.com


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