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High anxiety: Tenants facing legal eviction have no place to go

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Cathy Dobson

Debbie O’Grady hasn’t had a good night’s sleep since Jan. 27. That was the day she and her 14-year-old granddaughter learned they are being legally evicted from their apartment.

“I am shaking, I am so full of anxiety. We are freaking out. I don’t know where we are going to go,” says Debbie who has lived at 1064 Brenchley St. for 20 years.

Debbie O’Grady. (Glenn Ogilvie photo)

The 30-unit apartment building in central Sarnia is in such disrepair that the landlord has given all tenants until May 31 to leave for an unspecified period so that the plumbing and electrical systems can be replaced.

O’Grady says there are numerous long-time tenants in the building who pay less than $1,000 a month for a two-bedroom apartment. Finding another address that will fit limited fixed budgets is proving impossible, she said.

“My rent, by law, only goes up 2.4% a year, so I’m afraid they just want us out so they can increase the rent,” O’Grady said.

The landlord has filed what’s known as a form N13, which means the eviction is legal since major building repairs are necessary. An N13 notice allows landlords to legally vacate rental property under Ontario’s Residential Tenancies Act.

The Act requires the landlord to offer alternate housing or pay each tenant three months’ rent.

Since many rents at 1064 Brenchley are so low, a three-month payment isn’t likely to be enough to pay first and last months’ rent at a new place.

Besides, there are virtually no rentals available for anything less than $1,200 a month, according to Marcus Moyneur, another tenant being evicted from 1064 Brenchley.

“To relocate anywhere, the rent will at least double for my wife and me,” said Moyneur. He pays $790 plus utilities for their two-bedroom apartment, a rental price that’s almost unheard of in this market.

“I can understand what the landlord is doing to a point – the building won’t have water or power while they do the work – but most vacancies we’ve looked at have a wait list into the fall,” said Moyneur.

“A big factor is that we don’t know how long we’ll be out of the building.”

Numerous tenants have found friends or relatives willing to let them move in temporarily.

But Moyneur estimates there are about a dozen, like O’Grady, who have no plan yet.

“I’ve been suffering a lot of stress and anxiety trying to figure out where we are going. We all have,” said Moyneur, who works full-time as a security system installer.

He helped organize a group of about 20 tenants to meet with CLAS (Community Legal Assistance Sarnia) and clarify their rights.

N13 evictions are legal, said Monica Moran-Venegas, a staff lawyer with CLAS. And they are becoming more frequent in Sarnia-Lambton.

“We are increasingly finding that tenants are paying the price for a bad business decision when proper maintenance could have avoided this,” she said.

Moran-Venegas said the legislation related to N13s does not require a landlord to tell tenants how long they will be displaced.

It does provide tenants with the right to move back into their renovated apartments at the same rate they were paying, but tenants often “scatter” because they have to sign other leases, move away or find alternate arrangements of some sort.

“I think that’s poor planning on behalf of the legislation,” Moran-Venegas said. “It’s a problem with the way the law is written.

“There are huge loop holes that don’t protect tenants.”

Neither the landlord nor the apartment building’s management company have legal obligations to help the tenants at 1064 Brenchley find new homes.

“But I say they have a moral obligation,” said Moran-Venegas.

Calls to the landlord’s lawyer at the law firm of Cohen Highley in London, were not answered.

However, Guardian Real Estate Management responded to The Journal’s inquiries.

“We’ve told tenants that if we have a vacancy in another building, all our listings are posted on our website and they can apply for them,” said Guardian’s operations manager Amanda Robinson.

It’s not possible to have tenants occupying 1064 Brenchley St. while major updates occur, Robinson added in a written statement.

“…the owner of the property is complying with all the rules of the RTA (Residential Tenancies Act).”

Most recently, residents at 1064 Brenchley St. sent a letter to the landlord via Cohen Highley asking for financial help to cover moving expenses. They were turned down.

“I am beside myself,” said O’Grady. “We don’t know if we’re going to be out four months, eight months or longer, and I worry about money.

“I also worry about my granddaughter. I want her to have stability. I’ve called everyone I can think of and I can’t find a place we can afford.

“I just don’t understand why this is legal,” she said.

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