By Blake Eligh
Mike Ryan had lived in his apart moment at Carlton and Sherbourne Streets for a year when new owners took over his building in July. First, they ripped down the green Boston ivy that blanketed the yellow brick house. Then they issued notices that effective immediately rent was going up, way up. Ryan was shocked. His monthly rent – $540 for a tiny 200-squarefoot bachelor apartment – had increased by forty dollars to $580. The nine per cent rent hike was well above the legal 2.9 per cent increase allowed by the Tenant Protection Act. His landlord also failed to give the required 90-day notice.
Ryan told his landlords he wouldn’t pay the new amount. They immediately began trying to force the 27-year-old RTA student out of his apartment, waging a two-month harassment campaign that included verbal threats, physical intimidation and eviction notices.
By the beginning of August, Ryan knew he was in trouble. That’s when he called RyeSAC lawyer Bill Reid who has been giving free legal counsel to Ryerson students for nine years.
After consulting Reid, Ryan began keeping a journal. “I made sure to write down every time they phoned me or threatened me,” he says. “I had never been to court before, or a tribunal, but I knew that if I had to start proving things, I had better start writing it down.” Reid also advised him to keep copies of his correspondence with his landlords in several locations. Ryan stashed one of his copies in a locker at school.
Ryan says his landlords hassled him about his window-unit air conditioner, telling him to stop using it or he would have to start paying for electricity, which was included in his lease. “They started threatening me, calling me up in the middle of the night,” Ryan remembers. They threatened to remove the unit from the outside, and charge Ryan for the work.
They also tried to enter his apartment without notifying him first. Ryan was in the apartment at the time, and recalls listening as they tried to open his door. When their keys didn’t work, Ryan’s landlords accused him of changing the locks and threatened to evict him.
Ryan claimed he hadn’t changed the locks, but knew he couldn’t prove it. On Reid’s advice, he dropped an extra set of keys in the superintendent’s mailbox. Within minutes, his landlords and superintendent let themselves into his apartment. They removed a light-bulb, telling Ryan he wasn’t allowed to use 100 watt bulbs, and then continued to harass him for several minutes. Ryan recalls feeling intimidated by the three angry people in his apartment.
“They said we’re taking your air conditioner now,” Ryan says. They also told him he had to move out immediately. Ryan told them to leave or he would call the police and they left when he dialed 911.
Ryan waited in his apartment until the police showed up, seven-and-a-half hours later. They took his report of physical threat and threat to steal his property, and warned Ryan’s landlords to leave him alone.
The next week Ryan received his first eviction notice. He had to be out of his unit by the end of October. When Ryan tried to dispute the notice with the Tribunal they informed him that the notice had not been filed with them, and was invalid. Ryan had to check weekly to see if the notice had been filed. When it was, he would have only five calendar days to respond.
Ryan also endured daily harassment from his landlords. “I would come home in the day, and the superintendent, the landlord or his wife would always be there. They hung out on the front steps, and would always say, “When are you moving out?”
At the beginning of September, one month after he received his first eviction notice, a second one was slipped under his door. This time, it had been filed with the tribunal. The landlords claimed they needed Ryan’s apartment for their own use, one of the few reasons a landlord can evict a good tenant. “It was really the only way to get me out,” Ryan says. “I had paid rent and I hadn’t done damage.” With Reid’s help, Ryan disputed the eviction, and a tribunal hearing was scheduled for October 4.
In the meantime, Ryan did his homework. He didn’t believe his landlords really intended to move into his bachelor apartment. “It’s a family of three,” Ryan says. “There’s no way they’re living in this tiny place.” Reid advised him to check at the Land Registry office, where Ryan discovered his landlords own more than a million dollars worth of rental property. But that information wouldn’t ensure him success at the hearing. “They have all this property,” he says, “but they came with loads of paperwork, saying ‘Here are our mortgages. We can’t afford to live in any of our other houses. This is the only place that’s available to us.'”
The Ontario Rental Housing Tribunal – run by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing – resolves disputes between tenants and landlords, through either mediation or adjudication. Ryan and his landlords chose to try mediation first. “With the adjudicator, you either win or you lose, but with the mediator, you can come to a compromise,” says Ryan.
“The mediator said, ‘Look, you have a good case, but they have got a lot of paperwork. You could lose [in adjudication],'” says Ryan. If the tribunal ordered Ryan’s eviction, he might have to leave his apartment in as little as 72 hours. The mediator proposed a compromise, letting Ryan stay in his apartment until the end of the school year and reducing his rent to the legal rate of increase. Ryan accepted. “I’m happy in my apartment, but I don’t want to live under these landlords for longer than I have to.” Ryan says he did the right thing by fighting his landlords at the tribunal instead of moving out. “I didn’t want to bow down to the pressure,” he says. “I didn’t want to be intimidated out of my own home.”
Ryan still isn’t sure why his landlords wanted him out so badly. He assumes they wanted more money for his apartment. Under the Tenant Protection Act, landlords can only raise the rent of existing tenants every 12 months, and by a limited amount. But since rent was deregulated in 1998, there is no limit to what a landlord can charge a new tenant.
Ryan hasn’t seen much of his landlords since the hearing, but that doesn’t mean his fight is completely over. Because they harassed him, entered his apartment without permission and interfered with reasonable enjoyment of his apartment, Ryan can still win some compensation for his troubles. He has one year to begin legal action.
If they don’t actually move into his apartment in May, Ryan can also file T5 forms that claim that his landlords terminated his tenancy in “bad faith”. The tribunal could order his landlords to pay his moving expenses and his extra rent for up to one year.
“Depending on what my mood is in May, I may pursue that,” Ryan says. But for now, he is just happy the harassment has stopped. “I just want to live my life in peace,” he says.