A new report issued by a Toronto tenant advocacy group is detailing “the landlord’s playbook” on renovictions – a term used to describe the practice of evicting a tenant with the intention to renovate a unit – and providing guidance for tenants facing similar scenarios.
The RenovictionsTO report, released on Wednesday, argues these evictions are primarily used as a strategy to “permanently displace” tenants, rather than as a necessary means to renovate aging units. The move has become common in Toronto over recent years, the report states, and is often seen when low-rise apartment buildings or apartments above storefronts switch ownership.
In these cases, existing longtime tenants are often paying rent below market, creating a situation in which the landlord is able to generate significant returns by evicting the tenants and bringing in new ones on contracts with higher rental fees.
HOW DO RENOVICTIONS WORK?
Authors Cole Webber, a legal worker, and Philip Zigman, a housing researcher, explain that landlords are often able to renovict tenants without breaching legal boundaries. Their findings are based on a review of more than 160 buildings in Toronto where tenants have faced or are currently facing renovictions.
When a landlord formally evicts a tenant, they must issue official notice, often an N13. The notice terminates their tenancy because the landlord wants to conduct extensive renovations, demolish or convert the unit for commercial use.
If the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) supports the eviction, the law in Ontario states that a tenant will have the opportunity to return to their unit at their prior rent.
“In reality … landlords prevent this from happening,” the report says.
Landlords or their agents often initiate renovictions by approaching tenants informally after acquiring a building, the report states.
At this stage, the report states that many tenants move out while some are offered a buyout. In Ontario, there is nothing illegal about offering tenants buyouts to permanently leave their apartments.
“A tenant may be unfamiliar with the current rental market and not realize that the difference in rent they will subsequently have to pay will quickly deplete the buyout,” the report says.
“These approaches do not result from a genuine desire to improve the living conditions of existing tenants or from some recognition that the building just acquired is old and in need of work.”
In instances where tenants decline to leave after being approached by a landlord or agent, an eviction notice can be issued, “significantly” increasing the pressure to leave.
Some tenants think the N13 notice is equivalent to an eviction and signals they must move out, but the report underlines the notice is just the first step in the legal eviction process. It must be followed by a hearing, where an adjudicator will decide if the renovations warrant an eviction.
For tenants who stay put in their unit as proceedings unfold, the report says that can mean living with “disrepair, stress and uncertainty, and often escalating harassment and disruptions” to daily life.
The report details one tenant's personal anecdote of receiving pressure from a landlord in which the “lights [and] water would be turned off, without notice.”
“Then more buyout letters would be sent,” the anecdote reads. “It was an aggressive tactic to make the building really chaotic and refuse to fix anything, to lure us to take a buyout.”
Other “intimidation tactics” include frequent unit inspections, letters from lawyers threatening legal action, or disruptive renovations to nearby vacant units, the report states.
“These types of landlord actions serve to highlight the power imbalance inherent in tenants’ struggles to keep their homes in the face of renoviction,” it reads.
Even if the LTB sides in favour of the tenant during a hearing, Webber and Zigman say that doesn’t necessarily mean the matter is resolved. A landlord can file a new N13 for different renovations and continue their pursuit.
‘ORGANIZING WITH NEIGHBOURS’
The authors say they’ve witnessed success stories of tenants fighting back by organizing as a collective.
They define organizing as congregating the greatest number of tenants to make collective decision making, share information and take action together. Often, the authors say organizing comes from informal conversations with neighbours that evolve into regular group meetings and app-based group chats.
The authors spoke to 23 tenants who had either faced renovictions or are currently facing renovictions. Fourteen beat their renovictions, 11 of which did so by collectively organizing.
“Tenants we interviewed said that organizing with their neighbours made them feel less isolated, and lessened the negative psychological and emotional consequences of being subjected to renoviction.”