Multiple families fighting against eviction from Toronto apartment complex
As many Toronto residents continue to struggle financially due to lost income as a result of the pandemic, mass evictions have been taking place across the city — and tenants are consistently being pushed out of their homes with nowhere else to go.
Standard Lofts, an apartment complex located at 800 and 806 Lansdowne Ave., was one of the first in the city to start filing evictions — despite a ban on residential evictions across the province introduced back in March — with tenants receiving notices as early as April.
"They certainly didn't waste any time in going after tenants who were being affected by the lockdown," said Simon Esler, a father of two young children and one of the tenants facing eviction from Standard Lofts.
"You suddenly have to face the notion of homelessness with two children... It's totally unnecessary."
Esler and his partner lost their jobs in the theatre and restaurant industries, respectively, early on in the pandemic — both of which have been disporportionately affected by COVID-19 due to their nature of requiring people to gather indoors.
That left them in a tough position and unable to pay rent for several months. But Esler said they've since been able to pivot to new careers and have found a way to make ends meet, him by working in digital content creation and her by selling essential oils.
He said they can now afford to pay rent and feel their current tenancy is sustainable, but they are not in place to pay back the rent arrears accumulated over the first few months of the pandemic.
Esler and his family are far from the only Standard Loft tenants to have received eviction notices since COVID-19 first struck the city, and they're not the only family with children in this situation either, so renters in the building banded together to try and help one another.
The tenants being evicted from the Standard Lofts are families with small children who lost work during COVID, fell ill and were not eligible for CERB. Unsurprisingly for landlords in this city, they did not care. They filed for evictions against these tenants back in APRIL. /2 pic.twitter.com/mq6rCVP0m5— Keep Your Rent Toronto (@KeepYourRent) November 24, 2020
After doing some research, they decided to form a tenants' association, as is advised on the City of Toronto website, and they asked building owners and father and son developers Tom and Roger Falus to communicate through the Standard Lofts Tenant Association (SLTA) so tenants could have a collective voice to protect themselves.
But despite several emails sent to the landlords outlining this request, Esler said their messages went unanswered, and he added that the developers later claimed they had never received any emails about a tenants' association whatsoever.
"Their position was that we never responded to them," he said. "They flat out lied."
On Nov. 8, members of the SLTA decided to show up in person at Tom Falus' home to hand over a letter with a list of demands.
HAPPENING NOW: Tenants of Standard Lofts (800 Lansdowne) are at the Hoggs Hollow mansion of their landlord, Tom Falus, to demand no evictions and rent forgiveness.— Keep Your Rent Toronto (@KeepYourRent) November 8, 2020
Falus filed for eviction against tenants who lost their jobs during the #COVID shutdown. #NoCovidEvictions pic.twitter.com/t7v4JCbvll
The letter also stated that surveys conducted in the Standard Loft buildings in the summer revealed that 50 per cent of tenants faced significant and unprecedented financial stress, 25 per cent were paying rent at the expense of other bills, food, and necessities, and 25 per cent of residents were unable to pay a rent increase introduced in the spring.
After calling the police and repeatedly refusing to speak with tenants, Esler said Falus cracked his door open just enough to grab the letter before slamming it shut once again.
He said Falus later responded saying it was their preference to deal with tenants one by one, which was essentially the opposite of what they had asked for.
"Coming together as a community seemed like a very good thing to do and their resistance to that was pretty startling," Esler said.
In response to these allegations, Falus sent a statement to blogTO indicating that his development company, Ridgevest Developments Limited, "lacks expertise in property management and for that reason hires a professional property manager to handle all management, leasing, tenant relations and operations matters with respect to its properties."
The statement suggests that Berkeley Property Management has always communicated directly with individual tenants with respect to all tenancy matters because "leases are contracts between a Tenant and a Landlord."
"For privacy reasons neither the landlord or the property manager can negotiate a lease with a tenant association," the statement reads.
The statement also says they've reached negotiated rental deferrals and restructured rental payments with a number of tenants in the buildings.
"At the present, agreements have been reached with all but two tenants," the statement reads. "Those matters have been referred to the Landlord and Tenant Board for confirmation."
But advocates have long warned that many tenants are agreeing to repayment plans they cannot afford for fear of ending up homeless, and digital hearings at the LTB have been notably chaotic and disorganized over the past few weeks.
Tenants are being summarily ordered to pay thousands of dollars in rent arrears within a short time on top of their full monthly rent.— Cole Webber (@colefwebber) November 21, 2020
If any payment is missed landlords get an enforceable eviction order.
This is happening in online 'hearings' via Microsoft Teams of 1-3 min.
Esler, for example, had a hearing on Nov. 20, and he said the meeting was plagued by technical difficulties with the audio and video.
"Eventually when they heard us and we asked them to let our legal representation into the hearing room, all that happened was that the adjudicator got really flustered and shamed everyone for not using the technology properly," he said. "Then, because of all the chaos, just told us our hearing would be reconvened at a different date."
But while he's glad to have more time to continue fighting the eviction, he said it's clear the chaotic system could easily work against a tenant in a different situation.
"It's actually pretty messed up that this crumbling system is supposed to be dispensing some form of justice, and managing the stability of people's homes right now," he said.
"The chaos could easily go in another direction and cause someone who doesn't understand to be evicted without any kind of fight."
Meanwhile, the SLTA started a petition reiterating the demands outlined in the letter given to Falus earlier this month.
Over 200 tenants at Standard Lofts and Dupont Lofts have singed in support of the tenant association's demands. #NoCovidEvictions— Keep Your Rent Toronto (@KeepYourRent) November 23, 2020
Tom Falus: drop the evictions!#keepyourhome #lockdown pic.twitter.com/BlOUmU91lh
The petition has been signed by more than 200 tenants at both Standard Lofts and nearby Dupont lofts in support of tenants facing eviction, and it calls on Berkeley Property Management and Robert and Tom Falus to immediately withdraw all eviction applications at the Landlord and Tenant Board and withdraw all N4s served for arrears from April 1 to present.
The petition also demands no further eviction notices served for non-payment of rent during the COVID-19 pandemic, an established line of communication with the tenants' association, rent relief for tenants who have been unable to pay rent due to COVID-19 and the right to renegotiate terms if the conditions of the pandemic shift again, and withdrawal of all rent increases served during the pandemic.
"Our hope is that through our case and through the activism in our community, we can create some sort of relief for the families that were disproportionately impacted by this," said Esler.
"We'll fight this. We'll keep fighting it. Because it's wrong and we'll stand up for justice."
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