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Tenants say they are being ousted from Newmarket neighbourhood

With a housing boom in Newmarket Heights — one of the few communities in town with affordable rent until recently — some landlords, new homeowners are using unethical tactics to get renters out, residents say

For sale signs have dominated the lawns in Newmarket Heights in recent months.

Situated on the northeast side of Yonge Street and Davis Drive, the low-income neighbourhood is predominantly inhabited by renters — many of whom are on disability.

Long considered an affordable housing neighbourhood, homes there are now being sold at a disproportionately high rate, according to one resident who requested that her name be withheld to protect her four kids, with new owners charging higher rent for newly renovated units.

At one point, the rent for an entire home was $1,665, whereas now it costs $2,500 just to rent the main floor, she said.

To get renters to leave, the woman said, many landlords are serving long-term renters with either an N11 — an agreement to end tenancy — or an N12 — a notice that evicts a tenant so a landlord, purchaser or family member can inhabit the unit — while others are being told they can remain in their homes if they pay a higher monthly rate.

She knows of entire families who sought refuge at Blue Door, only to be provided with a tent after being told there was no room at the shelter.

When her own landlord of almost eight years decided to sell the home, he made 'a cash for keys' offer — an incentive for renters to sign an N11 agreement — of $4,000, so it could be sold to a buyer without existing tenants.

The woman refused because the payment "isn't even enough for first and last anywhere." The home was sold and the woman and her family are waiting for a hearing with the Landlord Tenant Board.  

Having been unable to work for 13 months during COVID-19, she's "lucky" if she's able to work 20 hours now, she said, and as the sole breadwinner of her family, she can't afford to move.

Unfortunately, many in the neighbourhood are unaware of their rights, the woman said, and they leave without questioning the illegal notices and requests.  

"(Tenants) think when they're given an N11 it's an eviction notice and they have to leave. But as a tenant, you have the legal right to your day in court. That's the part that upsets me because that means that these landlords win. And they're doing it illegally or unethically or immorally," she added.  

Newmarket Church of Christ pastor Nathan Pickard said some of the landlords have used illegal tactics to get tenants to vacate and as a trusted member of the community, many residents came to him for advice on what to do.

To inform tenants of their rights, a free housing information session, led by Community Legal Clinic of York Region, the Canadian Mental Health Association and the Region, was held at Church of Christ last winter.

"Being bullied to pay your rent — we needed to help inform. For some families it was really helpful."

He, like many of the residents, doesn't fault a homeowner for wanting to cash out on an investment they made on a house but what's happening, he said, is the "deceptive practices" of evicting tenants by serving an N12 in bad faith so they can renovate.

According to the woman, real estate agents are incorrectly advising clients that serving tenants with N11 notices is the best way to get them to vacate.

"I don't think (owners) know the law themselves and real estate agents make it seem a lot simpler than it is."

Kam Novin, a real estate agent at RE/MAX Imperial Realty who is familiar with Newmarket Heights, calls it "a transitional area" for investors and first-time buyers.

He agreed there's "a lot of activity in the area," but doesn't see it as a new trend.   

"That area is becoming rapidly revitalized. Renovators are making money in that neighbourhood just by renovating and reselling. The rates for tenancy has gone up in the area, as well. "

Some residents said even if they could afford to move within the neighbourhood, landlords are only accepting prospective tenants with unusually high credit scores to weed out what they consider to be less than ideal renters.

According to Novin, policies making it harder to evict, along with long wait times for Landlord Tenant Board hearings, are to blame for the wariness landlords have about whom they rent to.

"Landlords are cautious and keep the unit vacant until they find the perfect tenant, so a tenant that is not that perfect is having a tough time getting a place. This is all because of wrong policies by the government."

Residents of Newmarket Heights are likely to wave hello as they pass each other and they know who has moved in and who has moved out. Since the boom in for sale signs, they've kept a watchful eye on neighbourhood happenings and one thing in particular stands out.

What's odd, said pastor Pickard, is that at least 10 of the newly purchased brick homes have been painted the same colour, leading him and many others to believe a single owner is scooping up the homes.

"There is a pattern happening. A lot of houses are being painted grey. . . it's kind of peculiar, nothing like that's ever been done before in the neighbourhood," the woman said.  

For 13 years, another resident who also requested that her name be withheld, has rented a home from a landlord with whom she has a good relationship. While she considers herself lucky, she still worries about whether her luck will change and she'll be forced out of her home like many of her neighbours.

"I want to say I don't worry about it. I do worry about it every day. My landlord is a real estate agent and I have a real good rapport with him and I said to him 'if you sell the house, you have to sell me with it, I have two kids,'" she said.

Aside from the affordability factor, she said, families don't want to uproot their kids from their school and their friends and parents don't want to leave a community in which they've formed close bonds with their neighbours.

"People want to stay in their communities, this is our community."

Pickard doesn't know what the solution is for the families who are being forced to leave their homes, he said, but he hopes there will be some landlords who purchase a home not just as an investment, but " as a way of providing affordable housing for families."

Though it has a reputation as a high-crime, high drug use area, Newmarket Heights is a tight-knit community where everyone knows one another and looks out for each other, he said.

"We often say this neighbourhood is quite like a village. We come from all walks of life. There's been a lot of crime and a lot of drugs. . . there's 85 per cent of us who are good people just trying to raise families in a nice community," the first woman said.