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Renovictions: Can new bylaws help protect Canada’s renters?

A new bylaw to prevent renovictions in Hamilton, Ont., is being celebrated by housing advocates who say bringing similar changes across the province — or nationwide — could help protect renters.

“This is huge, Canadians right now or at least Ontarians should be having a party,” Alejandra Ruiz Vargas with ACORN Canada told Global News in an interview.

ACORN’s Hamilton chapter was partly behind the push for the Hamilton by-law alongside some city councillors. The national organization is made up of low and middle-income community members advocating for housing changes, including rent control and funding for social housing.

The new legislation in the Ontario city forces property owners to apply for a special permit for their rental addresses at a cost of about $700 when seeking a provincial N-13 notice, which ends a tenancy due to a desire to demolish, repair or convert a rental unit.

The eviction and renovations, under the law, would only be able to take place if all building permits have been secured and an engineer’s report confirms vacancy is needed.

In addition, arrangements must be made with a tenant who wants to return after the renovations, and the bylaw says this includes providing them with temporary accommodations with both the rent and the unit itself being comparable to their current home.

Opponents of renovictions say they can be a method for some landlords to act in bad faith so they can get a current tenant out but then raise the rent exponentially for a new tenant.

Dale Whitmore with the Canadian Centre for Housing Rights said the process usually should see a landlord have the tenant leave so renovations and major repairs can be conducted. He said that in Ontario, tenancy will often end during the work but once the work is complete the tenancy should be restarted and the person can move back in.

However, while provincial protections require landlords to give the tenants written updates on the status of a renovation and when the unit is ready for occupancy, it doesn’t always happen.

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“The tenancy has ended, so it becomes very easy for the landlord to conveniently forget to let them know, and to rent the unit to somebody else at a much higher rent,” Whitmore told Global News.

There can be proposed fines for non-compliance — in Ontario it’s up to $500 daily, but subject to scrutiny by the attorney general — but Whitmore notes landlords may have little issue with the fine because they’ll earn back the money or more by raising the rent for the next tenant.

He added another issue that can rise is even if the landlord tells the tenant, they have moved on and are now renting at a new place in a lease they can’t break.

When faced with renoviction, however, some tenants choose not to respond to the N-13 notices and under the Residential Tenancies Act, a tenant does not actually have to move out until the Landlord-Tenant Board issues an official legal order saying they must do so.

Evan Pettitt of Hamilton has been facing a renoviction for almost two years, first having been served the N-13 by the property management company that owns his building in February 2022, then a second sent in April 2022 with a vacancy date of August that year.

That document was later rescinded, but Pettitt said he received another N-13 requesting they vacate by April of this year. He added they had also received buyouts to vacate, but unlike other unit owners did not take them.

“It is very stressful,” he told Global News in an interview.

“Especially at the beginning, there was tons of sleepless nights … I’d be super stressed out, very stressed out because of the impending doom of possibly being homeless looming over your head as a stressful thing.”

Pettitt, who is also a member of ACORN, added he was on the Ontario Disability Support Program after losing his leg to cancer, and that the $743 he pays monthly in rent is close to all he can manage.

Construction has already begun in the building he lives in and he said while the N-13s noted he would be able to move back into his unit when the renovations were complete, he said he has been given no notice of when that could be nor any guarantee of being able to move back in or how much he could have to pay should he return.

Under the new Hamilton bylaw, he said it could rely on how soon enforcement occurs and if it would come into play for his building that is already under construction, but he is hopeful.

“I definitely feel it’s a great thing and that is because hopefully it’ll stop predatory landlords for displacing tenants for the sole purpose of raising rent,” he said.

Housing expert and Canada Research Chair in the School of Planning at the University of Waterloo Brian Doucet said while the bylaw impacts just the city of Hamilton, it could and should prompt more action from the provincial government and others.

“If we have a clear set of rules that exist across the province, then it’s fairer and more transparent for everyone,” Doucet told Global News.

While most Canadian jurisdictions have rules in place to protect tenants — such as limiting the types of repairs that justify requiring renters to move out, or specifying amount of notice time — Doucet said such an eviction effectively severs the relationship between tenant and landlord.

He said Hamilton’s bylaw “binds” landlord and tenant throughout the duration of the renovation process and the responsibility of the “right to return” is both on the landlord and the tenant.

Global News reached out to the Canada Landlords Association for an interview on the topic of renovictions, but did not hear back by deadline.

While the Hamilton law is considered the first of its kind, there have been similar renoviction laws passed including in New Westminster, B.C., which Doucet said “basically eliminated rent evictions in that city.”

It was later repealed in 2021 because the provincial government amended its own Residential Tenancy Act to bring the bylaw province-wide.

Doucet says similar rules around renovictions would also help in maintaining affordable housing.

“It’s not uncommon for a tenant to be living in a place, the landlord renovicts them, does some basic cosmetic work, and the rent jumps,” Doucet said. “This is how we lose a lot of housing that is affordable.”


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