After her tenants destroyed her apartment, this St. John's landlord wants evictions to happen quicker

·4 min read
Una Howard says her tenants destroyed her apartment on Spencer Street, damaging the floors, walls and selling the unit's appliances online, before they were forced out last month. (Submitted by Una Howard - image credit)
Una Howard says her tenants destroyed her apartment on Spencer Street, damaging the floors, walls and selling the unit's appliances online, before they were forced out last month. (Submitted by Una Howard - image credit)
Submitted by Una Howard
Submitted by Una Howard

A St. John's landlord says she's seeing more tenants abusing the rules that protect them from eviction, including a recent incident in which she had to wait more than a month to evict a tenant who destroyed her apartment and sold her appliances.

Una Howard owns and manages 16 properties, many of them in downtown St. John's. She says she mainly chooses to rent her rooms to people with lower incomes because she wants to offer affordable housing, but says she's reconsidering that decision following a recent incident at her property on Spencer Street.

Howard served the apartment's tenants an eviction notice in March after receiving noise complaints from neighbours and reports of verbal abuse directed at workers on the property.

Howard says when she served the notice, her tenants told her they weren't going to leave. She also claims she was then assaulted by the tenants, and says they were charged by police but still couldn't be removed from the home without a sheriff's order.

Howard says as she for the next month and a half waited for that order, the tenants stopped paying rent and caused severe damage to the apartment.

"They damaged every single wall in the apartment, except for one. They poured paint all over the floors and tracked it through so it destroyed all the flooring," Howard told CBC News on Monday. "They ripped down the vanity in the bathroom, light fixtures, smoke detectors, broke in doors … all that kind of stuff."

Submitted by Una Howard
Submitted by Una Howard

Howard said the tenants sold the mini-fridge, stove, washer and dryer, and the home became infested with rodents as a result of food being left out around the apartment. In all, she said, the damage and thefts cost her about $8,000. Now she says she has to decide whether she wants to keep renting to people with low incomes or dealing with addictions.

"When it's addictions issues, I certainly will be a lot more careful if I rent at all. And I don't feel good saying that now," she said.

"Sometimes I'll say 'Yeah, OK,' and we'll see how it goes," she said. "But when someone knows how to work the system, they're going to say what you want to hear. And that's what I dealt with in this case.

"In such a crisis for affordable housing, it makes you really wary about who you're going to rent to next. And that's unfortunate for lots of good people.… People like this make it bad for the others."

Submitted by Una Howard
Submitted by Una Howard

Doug Pawson, executive director of End Homelessness St. John's, says he understands Howard's frustration but worries that sort of decision could have a greater impact on available housing than intended.

"When we generalize low-income folks, maybe folks who are on income support for example, as potentially destructive tenants, we kind of plant the seed among a community of landlords … that might think twice about renting to somebody," Pawson said.

"When they do that, they're doing it for the best interest of their property, but they're implicitly discriminating against individuals based on an income profile or demographic profile."

Pawson said it's important to make sure people are supported in housing, including after they find a place to live. The organization is working with 18 landlords across the region as part of its HomeConnect program, an online housing inventory that connects landlords and tenants, identifying and reducing barriers to housing.

Submitted by Doug Pawson
Submitted by Doug Pawson

The program also provides training like mental health first aid and Indigenous cultural humility training, which Pawson says can help landlords identify potential issues before they materialize for their tenants.

"When folks are struggling to keep housing, we all suffer. Everyone suffers as a result," he said.

"So being able to work together collaboratively to identify these issues right away? It saves everybody time, it saves everybody money, it saves everybody headaches. And more importantly, it keeps everybody safe."

Howard said she plans to go after the money she's owed while advocating for rule changes to help evictions happen quicker.

"We need to have more people at the residential tenancy board or in the agencies that have the ability to house these people and get them out quicker when they run into problems like this."

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