‘They’re making our lives hell’: Residents accuse powerful Brampton landlord of uprooting families for profit

·10 min read

Peel ACORN is demanding action to end renovictions in Brampton, following allegations from tenants that Pulis Investments is undergoing major renovations to get rid of occupants, increase rent, and manufacture a greater profit from the turnover.

Pulis Investments owns and operates over $250 million of multi-family real estate throughout southern Ontario. It offers clients a share of its profits derived from rental income and includes the following description on the company website: “Founded in Brampton, Ontario by Kyle and Brian Pulis, Pulis Investments delivers value with strategic acquisition and renewal of undervalued apartment buildings and townhome complexes in key southern Ontario growth markets including: Hamilton, Cambridge, Brampton, Barrie, and Niagara. At Pulis, we approach real-estate investment with a business-focused mindset. As in any business, we focus on delivering value for our investors through the prudent management of our assets and operations. By increasing revenues, decreasing expenses, and by providing an exceptional rental experience for our tenants, we have been able to deliver a track record of successful results for our investors.”

In a statement from Pulis Investments, Danny Roth, spokesperson for the company, said there have been “significant improvements” to their Brampton properties, including a construction program to modernize and enhance plumbing systems.

“While our construction efforts thus far have resulted in little to no disruption to the majority of our residents, the remaining work is far more intensive and requires the temporary relocation of a small number of tenants so the work can be completed in a timely fashion. Those residents affected by the planned infrastructure work received N13 notices, and all obligations associated with this lawful process—including proper notice, sufficient compensation, and most importantly, assurances as to their ‘right of return’—have been carefully communicated by management.”

Peel ACORN sent a letter with their requests to the mayor’s office during a small protest last week, organized by the tenant advocacy organization after Dawn Barger, who lives at a Pulis-owned building on Main Street South with her son, began facing eviction.

The organization asks that the City immediately create strong protections against renovictions, a tactic that has become more common across the GTA in recent years, creating a financial incentive for landlords and developers to displace tenants.

ACORN is also looking for Pulis to be held accountable by the City, alleging the company “is using renoviction as a tactic to displace tenants”; Pulis investments should immediately stop harassing tenants for renoviction; and Pulis “must also take urgent actions to fix the units.”

In May, Barger said she refused an offer for $15,000 to buy her out of the rental agreement. She refused. This is when the issues began.

“They wanted to come into my apartment, dig a trench in my kitchen, down my hallway; take out my stove; take out my sink for a week, maybe two,” Barger said. “I said no, they’re legally not allowed to do that, that’s a necessity of life to have a stove and a sink.”

On June 1 she received an N13 form dictating she was to leave the property on September 1, but Barger said she’s fighting it and refusing to go.

Companies may sometimes initiate a renoviction by giving tenants a notice to end their tenancy in the form of an N13, otherwise known as a “Notice to End your Tenancy Because the Landlord Wants to Demolish the Rental Unit, Repair it or Convert it to Another Use.”

After the repairs or renovations are complete, the tenant can choose to return, at which point the landlord is required to offer the unit back at the same or comparable rent.

If they don’t, it gives an opportunity for the landlord to increase rent without the limitations set by a pre-existing tenant agreement, which can translate to hundreds, or even thousands of dollars more in rental income per month.

The issue has become increasingly common across the GTA, with ACORN raising similar issues in Toronto and other municipalities. It highlights a sticky situation because landlords and property managers have the legal right to repair and renovate buildings they own, but what advocates say is often left behind, is the moral and ethical concerns of kicking someone out of the place they call home with the intention of making more money. In fact, this strategy is explicitly outlined in publicly released investment documents issued by Pulis.

Documents from Pulis Investments in May speak of strategic renovations as a technique to reach the targeted returns of 10 percent on homes they purchase.

“The Partnership believes that the increased value can be realized through a variety of techniques such as strategic renovations, restructuring, refinancing, re-branding and decorating, implementing tenant-centric property management practices, re-leasing, renegotiating existing leases, change of use or capital improvements, or market repositioning,” an excerpt in the document’s “Investment Philosophy” states.

Strategic renovations are also a part of the company’s “Investment Analysis & Strategy for the Current Properties.”

“Following the upgrade and refurbishment of the Current Properties, the Partnership intends to increase rents. By capitalizing on the potential for operational upside over the current management, which includes the lowering of expenses and increasing rents over time and doing strategic renovations and improvements to both the exterior and interior of the buildings, the Partnership believes it can increase the annual net operating income of the Current Properties, which should increase the overall value of the Current Properties.”

Barger pays $1,023 a month for a two-bedroom apartment, which she believes is the reason why Pulis wanted to do the renovations.

“I've been there for eight years, now they’re charging $2,499,” she said. “They’re threatening people, they’re threatening to buy them out, they’re making our lives hell and people just need to stick up and stand up for our rights.”

Barger isn’t alone.

Brian Drury, 68, and Nancy Bell, 73, live together at an apartment in Brampton. About a year ago Pulis took over ownership. This was when the renovations began.

Drury said he came home early one day from work to find his door already unlocked and nobody inside. An hour-and-a-half later, the contractor returned.

“This new owner took over and everything started just taking place: renovations—just unbelievable, we’ve had to deal with noises and tearing up the floors, water shut-off,” Drury said. “It seemed like twice a week, every week.”

About four months ago he said they received a notice that if the pair would move out in 30 to 60 days they would receive $10,000 to $15,000. But the two refused.

“Where are we going to go? We’ve been here 15 years, I was there about 11 years prior to that. This neighbourhood, my job is here, everything. At my age I’m still working just to make ends meet, and if I move somewhere else I’m going to pay through the nose. Why should I have to move? I know what he wants to do, he wants to upgrade the apartments which is what’s causing all the suffering for the tenants that live there.”

Drury questioned how Premier Doug Ford and Brampton’s Mayor Patrick Brown can allow this while discussions on affordable housing continue.

“I’m paying my rent, I’m always on time, nobody should touch me because there’s nothing wrong with my apartment, the water and everything is fine. So if I’m not making any complaints, ‘Come on in and fix this,’ there’s no need for him to come in my building.”

This isn’t the first time residents of homes owned by Pulis protested against the company. In July, tenants of 1570 Lawrence Avenue West in Toronto held a rally outside their downtown Brampton office, chanting “Stop the evictions.”

Cole Webber, with Parkdale Community Legal Services, has been working to support tenants at 1570 Lawrence Avenue West through RenovictionsTO.

“Pulis seems to be honing this as their MO of what it does. It seems to be doing this frequently as it buys up more and more buildings,” Webber said.

“Once the renovations are complete the landlord should offer them the unit back at the same or comparable rent… However we know this never happened, I’ve actually never heard of a case where the tenant would be able to move back in and this is mainly because the landlord simply rents out the renovated unit to a different tenant at a higher rent once the renovations are complete and at that point there is no legal recourse for the evicted tenant to get back into the unit.”

Webber said residents of Lawrence Avenue West received N13 notices shortly after Pulis took charge in February.

“At this point the tenants reached out to RenovictionsTO,” he said. “The tenants kind of started the process of organizing a committee at their building and organizing different actions to try to put pressure on Pulis Investments demanding that they withdraw the eviction notices.”

In May, residents received a letter telling them that residents would begin paying a $200 annual fee plus $50 per month to utilize their air conditioners—residents who don’t report their use will be charged and/or asked to have the unit removed.

On June 28, the property management company Pulis uses, Drake Property Management, sent out another letter where they “apologize immensely” for the first letter and informed residents that it was sent in error and can be disregarded immediately.

“The eviction process is ongoing. Several of the tenants have had applications filed against them by Pulis at the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) which means the Landlord and Tenant Board will schedule eviction hearings,” Webber said. “Those dates have not yet been set down.”

He warned local tenants that even if a landlord issues a formal eviction notice or tells the tenant they have to move, it doesn't mean they are legally obligated to leave—unless given an eviction order by the LTB.

“Tenants can fight these evictions by organizing together and putting pressure on the landlord outside of the legal process,” Webber said.

“Speak to RenovictionsTO, they can supply you with all the information you need, if you want to organize with our neighbours they can also supply some support or guidance for tenants just starting out in the organizing process,” he said.

Tanya Burkart, a leader with ACORN, said tenants rights are tied to every level of government—not just provincial.

“This protest today was to notify the City that an anti-renoviction bylaw is needed in Brampton in particular,” she said. “Rental buildings in Brampton are very old so renovictions are a problem across Brampton.”

According to her, strong renoviction legislation would include a registry to track buyouts; assistance in finding affordable housing; and financial assistance to those displaced by renovictions.

“Our goal is to expose Pulis and to have them treat tenants fairly, with respect, and stop putting profits before people.”

Email: jessica.durling@thepointer.com

Twitter: @JessicaRDurling

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Jessica Durling, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Pointer