Friends of an elderly Toronto man who's lived in his Parkdale apartment for 45 years fear he's in the process of getting tossed out of his home due to new mobility issues, because he can't afford the solution his landlord is offering him.
George Morrison, 77, suffered a heart attack Aug. 23, according to his neighbour Emina Gamulin, and is no longer able to climb the stairs to his third floor unit at 1475 King St. W.
"We don't think George should be punished because he now has a disability," said Gamulin, who is also a member of the tenants' committee in the building.
Since there is no elevator in the heritage apartment building, the tenants are advocating for Morrison to be moved from his two-bedroom third-floor unit to a vacant one-bedroom unit on the first floor, and they say since he's on a fixed income, the rent should remain at $1,000.
"This outcome would be in his best interest," wrote a social worker in the cardiology department at Mount Sinai Hospital where Morrison is being treated. In the letter obtained by CBC Toronto, the social worker noted Morrison's "limited income" and new "mobility issues."
CBC News asked to interview Morrison about his plight, but was told by his friends he's still recovering and isn't able to respond.
Golden Equity, the company that owns the apartment building, said market rent for that one-bedroom unit is $1,650 but they will let Morrison live there for $1,250 and have given him a deadline of this week to decide.
"I think it's just too much money for George ... None of this is his fault," Gamulin said. "It's really upsetting, as we know COVID cases are rising again and I think by denying this request they're basically evicting George. It's an eviction by another name," an allegation Golden Equity denies, saying it is offering "more than a reasonable accommodation" to meed Morrison's needs.
'Moderate increase' is 'reasonable,' landlord's lawyer says
"I don't regard it as any eviction, because it is Mr. Morrison who's wishing to move," said Ian Copnick, the lawyer representing Golden Equity.
The company has "met him more than half way," said Copnick, by allowing him to move to the first-floor unit at a "moderate" increase in his rent.
"If he cannot live in the unit upstairs and if he simply cannot pay for the unit downstairs with that moderate increase, which again is much less than what that is worth right now, then yes, maybe he will have to seek alternate living arrangements or see if he's eligible for further social assistance," Copnick said.
"I believe that my client is offering more than a reasonable accommodation to Mr Morrison. They certainly sympathize with Mr Morrison's situation but I don't think it's reasonable to place the entire financial burden of Mr Morrison's new situation on the building," said Copnick.
Senior forced into 'impossible situation'
Cole Webber, with Parkdale Community Legal Services, points out that the $1,250, rent for the one-bedroom first-floor unit is 25 per cent higher than Morrison pays right now. Morrison has lived in the building for more than four decades and there are rent controls in Ontario, which is why he is paying $1,000 a month in rent.
Webber argues that rent control should carry over to the first-floor unit given Morrison has to move there because of a disability.
"This is his home, it's where he's made a life and where he's grown old," said Webber. "It's the right and decent thing for Golden Equity to do, to transfer him to the new unit at the same rent."
Once Morrison is out of the third-floor unit, Golden Equity will be able to repair it and be able to charge much more, said Webber, ensuring "they will make a profit, regardless."
He said the "pressure tactic" requiring a decision from Morrison this week — while still recovering in hospital — is forcing the senior "into an impossible situation."
"This is a multi-million-dollar corporation and the tenant is a pensioner on a fixed income. The landlord has the chance to do what is reasonable and what is decent, so I think they should take the opportunity to do that," Webber said.
'It could be the Ritz Hotel, and it doesn't matter,' landlord says
Video and pictures of Morrison's unit shared with CBC Toronto by the group of tenants show extensive repairs are required, including a hole in the ceiling of Morrison's shower.
The unit will "not be left in that fashion," said Copnick on behalf of Golden Equity, and he said it is "regrettable" that Morrison "never advised them of items that needed repair" prior to his hospitalization.
CBC Toronto has viewed two maintenance requests with Morrison's signature dated prior to his hospitalization.
One dated Jan. 21, 2020, notes a leak in the bathroom ceiling, and pest control required in the kitchen. Another maintenance request dated Aug. 14, 2020 notes "part of the ceiling fell down due to the leak" among other problems.
The lawyer representing the landlord said they never received those requests, and emphasized the state of disrepair of the unit is a separate issue.
"It does not make a difference what condition his current unit is, it could be the Ritz Hotel and it doesn't matter; he can't climb the stairs and the building doesn't have an elevator."
Check in on vulnerable tenants amid pandemic
Gamulin argues Morrison's individual repair request was folded into a larger package of tenant issues presented to the landlord back in March, and she says the treatment of Morrison is indicative of what she calls a bigger problem with the company.
"I suppose that they are trying to cover up for the situation, obviously it's not a great look for them that they ignored these requests," Gamulin said.
"These are not minor things ... This is not the dried caulking in my bathroom, this is serious stuff that they should have been on top of immediately and the fact that they didn't do anything about it is seriously negligent."
Her wider message is to check in on seniors, especially now during the pandemic, when they are particularly vulnerable and need secure housing.
"Find out what's going on with your vulnerable neighbours and get organized, because I really doubt that we're the only building where this is happening and I doubt George is the only tenant facing this situation."