When Ends Don't Meet is a regular NewmarketToday series highlighting issues of social equity by sharing the stories of community members left struggling to make ends meet during a far-reaching affordability crisis.
More than most, Kristin Ham’s life turned upside down when the pandemic hit.
The widowed mother of four was laid off and then her landlord told her the Newmarket Heights neighbourhood home she was renting was being sold. After being pressured into signing a legal agreement she now regrets, she wasn't able to stay in the house she had lived in for seven years.
Rather than the homeowner moving in themselves, she said the home was rented out again after she left. The space she originally paid $1,500 per month to rent was now $2,500 per month.
“The world’s falling apart,” she said, adding she has struggled financially since then due to high rents. “I can’t do it anymore.”
Housing advocates in Newmarket and York Region have raised concern about evictions amidst spiking rental prices, calling for better controls to keep affordable rentals in place. Newmarket Heights has been at the forefront of the issue, with the community facing mass evictions and community leaders trying to inform tenants about their legal rates.
Social organizations are calling for stronger rent control between tenancies to push back on rising rental rates and "renovictions" — evictions done to carry out a repair or renovation of a unit. While rent control exists for a tenant living in a property, vacancy decontrol is in place, allowing a landlord to charge a new tenant more. Rent control was also removed by the province for units created after Nov. 15, 2018.
Finding an affordable place to live has been a challenge for Ham, she said. Although she has secured a place in Newmarket, she has been forced to move repeatedly and is looking for better living circumstances. But high requirements from landlords and multiple up-front deposits have made that difficult, she said.
“I wish that landlords would have more understanding,” she said. “I understand that some people will ruin it for other people and make it very hard for landlords to trust … These landlords, if they are going to be landlords and continue to be landlords, they have to understand there are less fortunate families out there and they need to take it into consideration.”
Social Planning Council of York Region chair Yvonne Kelly has been working with others in the area and raising awareness about the issue. She said as long as the vacancy rate in Newmarket remains low, the problem will keep getting worse.
“That neighbourhood, like so many neighbourhoods, is being seen by investors and larger holding companies as gateways to invest,” she said. “We’re not seeing anything really improve."
Community Legal Aid Clinic of York Region executive director Jeff Schlemmer said evictions become a big issue within the region, and a lack of rent control between tenancies means there are fewer affordable places for people to move to, as rental prices increase.
“The rents are so high, it’s a huge strain for them to pay,” he said. “There’s a strong incentive on the part of the landlord to get the tenant out and be able to double the rent.”
Legal options are not great, he said. Particularly, a tenant failing to pay rent and having arrears means there is not really a defence.
“As far as the other types of evictions, my experience has been that, unfortunately, the adjudicators on the Landlord and Tenant Board seem to be kind of naive about what’s going on,” he said. “They tend to take the landlord’s words for these things when it is quite apparent it is an unscrupulous eviction.”
Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario executive director Douglas Kwan said landlords and tenants are both frustrated, and it is increasingly “a Wild West out there.”
“With delays at the Landlord and Tenant Board to access services and the affordable housing crisis, the situation is difficult," he said. "We’re seeing far more institution landlords who are taking advantage of a low mortgage rate to purchase small, mom-and-pop landlord properties and consolidate."
The organization tracks the number of no-fault eviction notices, or N-13s, getting downloaded. There were 16,925 such notices in 2021, compared with 16,967 in the first 10 months of 2022.
“It’s certainly increasing. We’ve seen far more own-use eviction applications,” he said. “It truly is at a tipping point right now. We are seeing (homeless) encampments pop up during the pandemic, and there doesn’t seem to be a solution. There simply isn't enough affordable housing.”
Landlord Rose Marie lives in Markham and is the vice-chair of Small Ownership Landlords Ontario (SOLO), an advocacy organization for small landlords. She recognizes that tenants are having difficulty finding affordable places to live but said small landlords have been facing their own struggles.
As far as building housing, she said that “the bucket that you’re filling has a hole in it … Small landlords are being treated so badly by not being protected by any laws that they are leaving the industry in droves.”
Delays at the Landlord and Tenant Board can drag out eviction processes too long, Marie said. Tenants who are not paying rent are given too much leeway, she said, with the law requiring the landlord to offer payment plans even if they have not paid in months.
“By the time you get to the hearing, the landlord is in such significant financial arrears, they are under major financial stress,” she said.
As far as renovictions, Marie said that it can get bad tenants out, but added her organization opposes them for tenants paying dutifully.
“SOLO supports good landlords and good tenants. We do not support bad landlords,” she said. “If somebody feels they are going to be unfairly evicted, they have the right to go to a hearing and be heard.”
Regardless, she said tenants are disadvantaged by others renting properties and not paying as they should.
“Tenants who are not paying their rent and are repeat non-payers are living in properties where tenants who want to pay their rent could be living in,” she said.
The province is introducing new legislation responding to the situation. It announced $6.5 million April 5 to appoint 40 more adjudicators and hire five staff to improve times at the Landlord and Tenant Board.
“Residents and rental housing providers deserve fast results, and government bureaucracy should not stand in the way,” Attorney General Doug Downey said in a news release.
New legislation will require landlords moving into a unit themselves to do so by a specific deadline. Evictions for renovations would require a 60-day grace period where a tenant can move back in once renovations are complete.
The Social Planning Council of York Region is helping with a research project collecting stories of displacement or eviction aimed to help drive housing policy and highlight the impact of what’s happening. The project is being run by the Community Based Tenant initiative, in collaboration with the University of Waterloo.
Tenants can fight for their rights, but is it not easy, Kelly said. She recommended that people not sign anything and contact a local community legal clinic for help, adding that you should never stop paying rent and risk an at-fault eviction.
“What happens often is people are very intimidated. We’ve heard a lot of bullying and harassment, some violence. People feel very threatened,” she said.
With high rental rates, Ham said it is difficult for anyone to move out and find a place to live now, whether it be a single family or a young couple trying to move away from their parents.
“They can’t do that,” she said. “They can’t live on their own. There’s no breathing space.”
If you are a tenant with a story of eviction and/or displacement to share, you can contact Kelly at [email protected] or leave a message at 905-758-7109.