Sandy Hill rowhouse residents face 'renovictions,' advocates say

·3 min read
William Weaver has lived in his home on Osgoode Street for more than four decades. He's one of eight tenants of the rowhouse who are refusing to leave after being given notices from the building's new owner. (Joseph Tunney/CBC - image credit)
William Weaver has lived in his home on Osgoode Street for more than four decades. He's one of eight tenants of the rowhouse who are refusing to leave after being given notices from the building's new owner. (Joseph Tunney/CBC - image credit)

Tenants living in a row of Sandy Hill rooming houses are gearing up to fight their landlord, alleging they're being forced from their homes by a company that let their units fall into disarray.

According to affordable housing and homelessness advocates working informally on their behalf, the tenants are facing "renovictions" — a term for using renovations as a chance to bring new tenants in and charge significantly higher rents.

"They don't have anywhere to go," said Sloane Mulligan, one of the advocates. "They've stayed because their rents are quite low for those who've been there for a number of years, and anywhere else is double the rent."

The Osgoode Street rowhouses were acquired last year by Smart Living Properties. In July 2020, the tenants received N13 notices, issued to end a tenancy so that a building can be demolished, renovated or converted to non-residential use.

Most left at that point, but eight residents — several of whom are elderly, live with mental or physical health problems or are on assisted living — refuse to leave.

They've stood their ground so long that the initial notices have now expired.

"It would be very difficult [to move] because everything I require [is nearby]," said William Weaver, who has lived there since 1978. "Any other place, I wouldn't have all that."

"I will be on the street, on the sidewalk," added another tenant named Chander, to whom CBC News has granted confidentiality.

Homes in disrepair

Advocates say three of the four homes need major upgrades, with tenants reporting broken drywall, cockroach and bed bug infestations, and a general lack of maintenance. They say some don't have heat — although Smart Living says each tenant has base heaters they can control themselves — and one building has rats.

In a statement to CBC News, Smart Living said the homes were already in serious disrepair when they acquired them. They must be vacant for the work — which includes deep fumigation and potential asbestos removal — since walls have to be opened up, the company said.

"The building was almost unlivable, and it was not possible to complete the renovations while tenants are there," the company said in a statement.

The homes on Osgoode Street in Ottawa's Sandy Hill neighbourhood have been deemed unsafe by city officials.
The homes on Osgoode Street in Ottawa's Sandy Hill neighbourhood have been deemed unsafe by city officials. (Joseph Tunney/CBC)

Smart Living said they offered tenants 12 months of rent compensation if they found their own place, plus moving assistance, which "vastly exceeds what the law requires in such cases."

Those whom Smart Living helped find new places got three months' compensation, the company said.

In February 2021, the City of Ottawa's building code services also ordered the landlord to have tenants vacate the units so that the unsafe living conditions could be fixed, officials confirmed last week.

Symptom of housing crisis

"This is really part-and-parcel of the affordable housing crisis," said Daniel Tucker-Simmons, who practices tenant law and is involved in the case.

"The city has not invested enough in creating affordable housing, and continues to allow affordable housing to be removed from the market in this way."

Tucker-Simmons said the landlord's renovations were partly what made the homes uninhabitable, as Smart Living removed key infrastructure that meant they were no longer up to code.

Ryan Deacon, a lawyer representing three of the tenants, said the building's tenants have right of first refusal — meaning they should be allowed to keep living there once the renovations are finished.

As for Smart Living, it says the renovation work — which began in November — has been done with minimal disruption to the remaining tenants.

A new set of notices has been issued, with the standoff scheduled to go before the Landlord and Tenant Board on April 29.