Tensions flare at London protest rally for evicted tenants
Pushing broke out and police were called during a protest Friday against a Toronto company that served renovation eviction notices to tenants of two northeast London apartment buildings.
The tensions flared as about 50 people took part in the rally, organized by the tenants' advocacy group ACORN, outside the two buildings at 1270 and 1280 Webster St.
The tenants fear the rents charged for their units will be raised afterward, an increasingly common practice known as renoviction.
Landlords can legally increase rents without limit once units are vacant, but tenants displaced for renovations have the first right of refusal to move back into apartments being upgraded at the same prices. Often, however, the timing doesn't work for such tenants who move on or accept financial incentives to leave.
A clash broke out during the protest after a man in a Toronto Maple Leafs Jersey, who identified himself as security for the owner, Webster Apartments Inc., told protesters they had to leave.
Coun. Peter Cuddy, whose ward takes in the Huron Heights buildings, tried to prevent tensions from escalating.
Within minutes, London police patrol cars arrived.
At least 20 tenants of the two buildings received eviction notices beginning late last month, telling them they have to vacate by Aug. 31 to make way for major renovations.
Sarita Mathema is the only company representative listed on the notices signed by Webster Apartments, which records show bought the two seven-storey buildings for $20 million in March.
The Free Press has repeatedly reached out to Webster Apartments, for comment, but received no response.
Tenants facing eviction at the two buildings are being offered three months rent as compensation, with a $5,000 incentive if they move out by the end of May, a notice to the tenants says.
Most of the tenants served eviction notices live on disability or other provincial support, and have lived there for several years. Some of them joined ACORN members and elected representatives, including Cuddy, Coun. David Ferreira and London NDP MPP Teresa Armstrong, at the rally.
“We know from the tenants that they are being forced out of the rooms, and they are being pushed out and they're being intimidated,” Armstrong said. “This is the only way tenants have a resource to fight back.”
The province's Landlord and Tenant Board, which the Ontario Ombudsman last week reported has a backlog of 38,000 cases, is “broken,” Armstrong said.
Waits average seven to eight months and take as long as two years to schedule, Ombudsman Paul Dubé reported last week after an investigation into "excruciating" delays at the board.
The province has said it will add 40 full-time adjudicators to the board.
Dezzy Mitchell, a 17-year-old who lives there with her uncle, said she spent several months living at a homeless shelter before moving into the building.
She said at Friday's rally that she fears she will be back on the streets if they are evicted.
“I’d be homeless again. I’d be back in the shelter,” she said.
Melissa Chambers, a tenant in a two-bedroom apartment with a roommate, said she met with a company representative to discuss the eviction notice she received.
Chambers, who uses a wheelchair and gets a disability pension, said the representative offered another unit nearly at double the price she pays now, and told her, "If I took that unit, I couldn't go back into this one."
Chambers said the man, who didn’t provide his name, was willing to negotiate about $100 off the rent. With renovations expected to take seven to10 months, she fears she won’t be able to afford anything elsewhere.
“There's nowhere for me to go in a wheelchair and I'm waiting. I'm OK if I have to pay a little bit of money for hydro, right? But like, where do I go?”
Chambers said she’s frustrated by the lack of communication from the owners.
“We need to compromise. We need to sit down like human beings and discuss.”
Mike Hensen/The London Free Press/Postmedia Network, London Free Press