A workmate and I were talking about real estate investing and she told me about a news story that she had seen on residents in a Canadian apartment building who were fighting to survive a renoviction. I had never heard of the term renoviction before, but because the smash sounded like “renovation” and “eviction”, I quickly got the gist of what was going on.
In the story, residents in an apartment building in Toronto, were protesting because they claimed that they were being forced out so that the landlord could renovate the apartments and consequently increase the rental fees. Many of them were nervous about how they would survive a renoviction. Moving would mean the very real possibility of paying much higher rent in new buildings. Some of them were battling with health and disability issues and paying more for housing could make life even more difficult.
What is Renoviction?
Unfortunately, it seems as though that this is a widespread practice in Canada. A Toronto councillor confirmed that this practice is known as “renoviction” and is a tactic freely used by landlords. According to the British Columbia government, renoviction is used to “describe an eviction that is carried out to renovate or repair a rental unit.” However, the government explains that most renovations can be completed without ending housing contracts.
Whilst some renovictions are necessary, others are not. Shady landlords often use the renoviction tactic to force tenants out, complete repairs (sometimes very minor repairs) and then increase their rents to attract higher paying customers. This puts pressure on those who depend on affordable housing and really cannot afford high rents.
Can Rental Laws Save You?
Is it unscrupulous? Yes. Is it illegal? Not necessarily. It all depends on where you live and what your landlord/tenant laws and legislation involve.
One of the biggest problems with renovictions is than tenants do not know the rules and their rights. Sometimes, tenants simply leave when they receive eviction notices, believing that they have no other choice. Sadly, property owners will use all loopholes that they find to benefit their bottom line.
Thankfully, some cities are taking steps to stop greedy landlords and property owners in their tracks. The City of New Westminster in British Columbia, has enacted several regulations which discourage landlords from using renoviction to evict tenants for building renovations. Before an eviction notice is issued, the owner of the property must:
- Provide alternative accommodation for the duration of the renovation;
- Present a written offer to return to the renovated unit or another unit at the same rent (unless an increase has been permitted under the BC Residential Tenancy Act)
If these rules are not followed, the City of New Westminster can impose fines on the offending property owner/ landlord.
How to Survive a Renoviction
If your city does not have these types of regulations in place, residents should come together to fight for better legislation. Some of the stories that I’ve read reveal that landlords use downright dirty tactics to try to force out tenants who refuse to leave. Several tenants have warned that it’s a tough fight that may require time away from work. But this proves that it is possible to survive a renoviction and save your home.
To survive a renoviction, you should follow the approach taken by Lorna Allen, a communications professional. After the property that she lived in was sold, Lorna, along with other tenants in her Vancouver apartment, were served eviction notices. This quickly turned into a nightmare with the new owners stooping to new lows. However, Lorna kept her head on and proceeded to act following some of these steps.
1. Unite with your neighbours
Strength in numbers is even more true when facing a renoviction. If all of the tenants in the building can come together and form a united front, it will make the landlord’s eviction plans a little more difficult. Even before you are facing a crisis, you should make it a point to know your neighbours.
2. Know your rights
You must be informed about what your rights are and what the landlord’s rights are even before you sign a lease for a new apartment. This is how you can prevent being taken advantage of.
3. Make notes
You should make notes from the day that you sign your contract to move into the building. By keeping records of interactions with property owners and building staff, you can build a strong case in the event of a renoviction.
4. Do not sign anything.
If facing eviction, the landlord or property owner may approach you with documents requiring your signature. Documents may include an eviction notice, an agreement or contract. If you are presented with any of these documents, stall by telling them that you need time to read and understand the contents. Do not sign anything.
5. Tell someone about what’s going on.
Lorna contacted her Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre (TRAC) and constituency office. If these specific bodies do not exist in your area, reach out to department or office that is responsible for monitoring and regulating tenants/ landlords. Remember to show them the documents that you received from the landlord. They will be able to tell you if your landlord is overstepping the boundaries and what remedies are available to you.
6. Spread the word
The landlords withdrew the evictions after the arbitrators ruled that Lorna’s evictions were not necessary; but served new evictions less than two weeks later. Lorna and her neighbours went to their city councillors and the media to expose the shady practices of the landlords. This prompted other residents in other building managed by the same landlords to also speak out. The landlords admitted that the tenants did not have to leave for the renovations to be carried out and they withdrew the eviction notices.
7. Create an emergency fund
If you are facing renoviction, you must be financially prepared for the possibility that you will have to leave your home. By having an emergency fund, you can be ready for anything especially temporary accommodation.
To learn more about the renoviction crisis in Canada and some of the stories that highlight the struggles of tenants that are facing or have faced renoviction, please read the following articles:
- How Toronto Landlords Use Renovictions to Force Out Tenants (Now Toronto)
- Renoviction Rates Soar Due to Big-City Housing Crunch (CBC)
- How Toronto Landlords use Renovictions to Force Out Tenants (Now Toronto)
- ‘Renovictions’ Loophole Keeps Tenants on Edge (The Star)
- Landlord Renoviction Applications Shot up Almost 300% in Toronto (Blog Toronto)
- Eight Strategies for Renters to Defend Against Unfair Renovictions (The Province)
- Let’s Talk About Renovictions (Toronto Realty Blog)
- Know Your Rights, Fight Renoviction (McGill Daily)