Nine months have passed since Gina Rossignol's rental unit on Pearl Crescent changed hands.
But the long-time resident said the worry continues for the five tenants who dug in their heels and decided to stay put on the Chatham cul-de-sac despite threats, claims of deadly black mould and cash-for-keys incentives to move out.
According to Rossignol, the year has been marred by unrelenting stress and harassment brought on by representatives of the new owner after the buildings were sold.
"At the moment it seems like the pressure for us to move is off," Rossignol told The Voice recently. "But we're still not sure who is managing us and it's hard to get anything fixed.
"It's pretty confusing."
The Pearl Crescent saga began in late January when six four-plex units were purchased by real estate giant Core Development Group.
Tenants were in the dark about the sale until a property manager and a paralegal representing Core showed up in late January.
One snowy night, a notice was taped to the doors of all 24 units, saying management would be coming the next day to conduct a safety inspection.
Rossignol said residents were taken aback, noting the paperwork looked fake and unprofessional and provided little detail.
While landlord inspections are legitimate, Rossignol said tenants were "confused and afraid," because they had no knowledge of a sale.
Rossignol initially refused to open the door for the inspection. She wasn't sure who the so-called new owners were, and she doesn't let just anyone into the home she shares with her autistic granddaughter.
So it began.
According to eye-witness accounts from at least six Pearl Crescent residents, what transpired over the next few weeks was a masterclass in landlord/tenant bullying and harassment.
During the inspections and in subsequent meetings, two representatives from Avanew – a wholly owned subsidiary of Core Development Group that includes property management – did their utmost best to convince everyone to leave Pearl Crescent.
One was paralegal Jessica Travers of Lotus Paralegal and the other was a property representative named Dimple Grewal.
According to Rossignol, Travers offered $5,000 to some of the tenants to move out. She also told some of them all units needed extensive renovations and had to be "stripped down to the studs" to remove the mould.
That's when Chatham-Kent Legal Clinic paralegal Jeff Wilkins started getting calls.
Wilkins, who specializes in landlord-tenant cases, said he was told threats were made against tenants in a number of ways with tenants being pressured to take $5,000 and move out voluntarily.
If not, Wilkins said the renters were informed they would be issued an N-13 eviction notice because of the "extensive renovations" the company needed to do in order to deal with the so-called "deadly black mould."
"These tenants were pressured and bullied," Wilkins said of the actions taken by Core representatives. "Some were very afraid and they moved out.
"They didn't want to be homeless."
Repeated attempts to contact Avanew and Core were unanswered as of press time.
The remaining tenants on Pearl Crescent received letters a few months later, saying Travers and Grewal no longer worked for Avanew.
According to Wilkins, if renovations are needed, it's perfectly legal to evict tenants temporarily under Ontario law until the renovations are complete. Tenants are then able to move back into the unit, paying the same amount of rent.
According to national media reports, use of the tactic called "renovictions" has ramped up across Canada as a way to get long-term tenants paying low rent to move on.
When it comes to renovations, Wilkins said that under the law, landlords are expected to complete the work in a timely manner with proper permits from the municipality, allowing tenants to return in a reasonable timeframe.
This didn't happen on Pearl Crescent. In fact, on March 4, an ad for Unit 11 appeared on a popular rental website offering a three-bedroom unit on Pearl Crescent for rent that was vacated only two days prior. It was listed by Avanew for $2,499 a month.
But when angry tenants contacted the company about the listing, it was quickly taken down.
According to Wilkins, the new housing model is about profits.
"Do the math," Wilkins said. "If a company can rent out and double and triple profits for their investors, it's pretty attractive."
But bullying and harassing clients to that end isn't legal, he stressed.
"This is the worst I've seen, and I've seen a lot."
For Rossignol, living at Pearl has turned into a wait-and-see game. She said she eventually got a broken toilet fixed after two months this summer, but said that only happened because she called Chatham-Kent's building inspector.
Rossignol is still awaiting other long overdue repairs.
And if the company does manage to redo her unit, she plans to continue living there while the work is carried out.
As for available units for rent on Pearl Crescent, one of the empty townhouses is currently listed on a popular rental site for $2,499 a month. As well, workers are currently onsite revamping some of the empty units and installing new appliances.
Core is a Toronto-based condo developer that made headlines last year after announcing a plan to purchase $1-billion worth of homes – including detached single residences – to use as rental properties.
The move has been widely criticized, with opponents saying the Core business model drives up rental costs, while also removing critical inventory from the housing market.
However, the real estate slowdown may mean Core is changing its strategy on building inventory. A recent story in the Toronto Star analyzed a number of properties the company has for sale including a four-plex on Timmins Crescent in Chatham.
Pam Wright, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chatham Voice