Sheriff to enforce new order at 721 Earlscourt Thursday
A five-month legal battle is expected to end early today (Thursday) when the Sheriff arrives at 721 Earlscourt Dr. with a locksmith and returns 17 displaced tenants to their homes.
It’s a time to celebrate but it’s also bittersweet, says Andrew Bolter, executive director of CLAS (Community Legal Assistance Sarnia).
“They’ve been illegally locked out since February,” he said. “Yes, it’s exciting that they are getting their homes back, but it’s also been a serious hardship.”
Many of the tenants – displaced since a kitchen fire evacuated their building on Feb. 20 – have disabilities or live on low incomes. The fire resulted in some structural damage to the 40-unit building, but at least 14 units were not impacted and there was no order to lock those tenants out.
However, building owner Equity Builders LTD of Mississauga, locked all tenants out, claiming to be acting on instructions from an insurance company.
Tenants scrambled to find a place to live temporarily after the fire. Some couch surfed with friends and relatives. Some resorted to shelter beds and at least one ended up living rough on the street.
One woman who had tenant insurance moved into a hotel. CLAS paralegal Melissa Bradley said that woman is particularly relieved to get her home back because her insurance won’t pay for a hotel past July 31.
“For her, this feels like the eleventh hour. She was terrified that the end of the month was coming and she had nowhere to go,” Bradley said. “She is so, so happy.”
Soon after the fire, the 17 tenants approached CLAS for help once they realized they were locked out from their homes indefinitely and couldn’t retrieve their belongings.
CLAS went to bat for them but it’s been a legal roller coaster ride.
On May 5, the Landlord and Tenant Board found that the landlord had illegally locked out the tenants living in units not significantly impacted by the fire.
When Equity Builders did not immediately hand over the keys, CLAS called in the Sheriff who was scheduled to break the locks and allow repossession.
But days before the Sheriff arrived, Equity Builders appealed and the Board’s order was stayed. No one could move back in during the appeal process.
Then, on July 14, CLAS successfully argued against the appeal at Divisional Court and had it quashed.
The ruling by Justice Alissa K. Mitchell used language that Bolter said he has rarely seen.
“I find the landlord’s conduct is subversive of the processes enacted by the Residential Tenancies Act for the protection of tenants, and brings the administration of justice into disrepute,” she wrote. “I further find the landlord’s appeal of the order is an abuse of process…”
Quashing the appeal means the order stands and the tenants should have immediate access to their homes. But, once again, the Sheriff has been called in to break the locks.
As of press time, there was no indication of further legal action on the part of the landlord and the tenants were packing to return home, said Bradley.
“Everyone is very excited,” she said. “They are so happy to get back home.”
The Earlscourt landlord/tenant battle highlights the need for every tenant to have insurance if they can afford it, said Bolter.
“And know your rights. If a landlord is trying to abuse the process, contact your legal clinic.”