HOUSING CRISIS

Being Evicted in Toronto Right Now Is Devastating

We talked to a bunch of Toronto’s young people who are getting tossed out of their homes amid new tenant rules.

by Graham Isador
May 18 2017, 12:00pm

Art by. Ralph Damman

Earlier this month I found out that I'm getting evicted. My landlord is taking over the unit that I've lived in for the past four years and needs us out in 60 days. The place itself isn't very nice. It's a two bedroom in a semi-detached Victorian shared between three people. Since the start there has been issues with the apartment. When I first moved in, a squirrel had taken up residence in one of the walls and would sprint back and forth at all hours of the night. When the hinges fell off our bathroom door, for months we used a cinder block to keep it shut. At one point during a particularly rainy spring our fire alarm came bursting down from the ceiling and water started pouring into the hallway. My roommates and I always dealt with these things by ourselves, only bringing in the landlord as a last ditch effort. While the place had its problems, it was centrally located and well under Toronto's market value. With the split I was paying under $400 per month in rent, utilities in. We were afraid that if we bothered the landlord too much they'd find a way to get us out.

In Ontario, the only way a landlord can evict you from your home—if you're not seriously fucking up their shit or have criminal activity happening in the unit—is if they are moving into the place themselves. It'll also work if they're moving in an immediate family member or caregiver. While I'd love to vilify the owners of our place, everything they're doing is legit. They're getting married and they want more space. I can understand the decision from their point of view, but it's thrown my life into disarray. There is a feeling of instability and powerlessness that goes along with losing your home.

The number of people I know who are in the same eviction situation is alarmingly high. Whether or not the influx of family members and owners suddenly taking back their rental units has anything to do with the province's newly proposed housing regulation, landlords realizing they can make more money by turning their unit into an Airbnb, or if they just want to take whatever steps they need to in order to hike the rent, ultimately doesn't matter We all still need to find a place to live. Toronto's housing market is fucked and the stress in finding a place can be overwhelming. Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with a handful of friends and acquaintances to ask about getting kicked out of their homes and what that has meant for their day-to-day lives.

Kaitlyn Cinovskis, Freelancer

We found out we were getting evicted when our super told us that the homeowner wanted our apartment back. We got the news and then waited around for four months until we finally got our official eviction. We didn't try to fight it because at that point we had just come through the one of the worst years of my life—my dad had a brain tumour, I had a traumatic birth and then postpartum OCD, my parents had sold my childhood home. I just didn't really have any bandwidth left. The hardest part of this whole thing was not being on the same page as my husband about next steps. I was like: This is our sign that it's time to move on from Toronto, to make a change, to dig into our role as parents and get the house with the yard near the good grocery stores. But he grew up in Toronto, loves it, and isn't ready to move. The reality is that we just can't afford any two-bedroom apartments in Toronto. The ones we can afford look like someone got killed there, or are in rooming houses. It caused huge fights about who we were as people and what our priorities are.

Saying goodbye to our son's first house was unexpectedly difficult. It was where he learned to walk, to say his first words, to sit up, to breastfeed. It was where I laboured for two days, and where we brought him home from the hospital. I hate that when he asks what happened to the house where he was born, we're going to have to say, "Oh, we got evicted." There's so much subtext there: Oh, we were bad parents. We were bad people.

While we were looking constantly, we didn't find a place in time for the moving date. Putting all our stuff into a cold, dirty, 10X30 locker made me feel like a huge failure—in the rental agreement, they make you promise not to live there, which was really depressing. In the meantime, we stayed with my in-laws. They were so kind, but it still felt like a huge intrusion. I just wanted to go home, to our home, but I didn't know where that was. I cried in my mother-in-law's kitchen because I felt so resentful of her beautiful house, and we were carrying around milk crates full of baby clothes. I felt so sordid.

I felt a lot of shame at being evicted. I felt so exposed to other people's whims, unable to protect myself and my family, and unable to trust that what we had been told was what was really happening. I used to sit on a co-op board, and we voted to evict people for non-payment of rent or for harassing their housemates, not, like, "the Toronto housing market is so hot and we're sitting on a gold mine! Out with these fools!" It's a real feeling of powerlessness. We made all the right choices and we did the best we could and we still couldn't have a stable home.

Bex L., Student

I rent a bachelor unit in a building. When I first moved in, I thought that the place wasn't the best, but it looked like it had been renovated fairly recently, and I was just desperate to rent a place. However, I quickly learned that I had made a huge mistake. The landlord has control issues and wants access to the units at all time. She knocks on the door and demands entry without giving proper notice. About two months ago, I was made to move to another unit in the building under the pretense that I was getting a "better" and larger bachelor. She forced me out of my former unit overnight and put me under intense pressure to vacate in less than 24 hours. All without letting me sign a lease. I have now been told that it was a wrongful eviction, but at the time I felt so overwhelmed I was too afraid to exercise my rights to stay on in my previous unit. My previous unit is now back on the market for a higher rate.

"In Toronto there seems to be this perception that there is a severe lack of housing that drives everyone into a frenzy. I feel like many people, myself included, are making decisions driven by fear."

Although the landlord promised that the current unit would be cleaned, when I actually moved in, it was dirty and full of cobwebs. The bathroom had mold and smelled like sewage all the time. It was a serious downgrade but I had to pay the same rent. I definitely would not have selected this place to live if it was up to me. The worst thing was that this unit had no latch and she could come in anytime. She has tried to enter multiple times. I have woken up from naps on two different occasion to find contractors in my unit, who have let themselves in with a key. I constantly fear for my safety. I can't even shower or sleep in peace. I have zero sense of security. I pay rent every month so that I can have a sanctuary and quiet space but I feel like I have been cheated. It is a terrible feeling when you can't even feel safe in your own home.

I have called the police three times now. The latest incident was when my landlord had let herself into my unit in a rage, without knocking, and proceeded to yell at me. When the police arrived, she yelled at the police. She convinced them that she had the right to enter my unit at any time, which isn't true. I really felt dehumanized.

Other tenants in the building have been having problems as well. My former neighbours had been living in this apartment for almost 20 years. Their rental rate was grandfathered when the current owner/landlord bought this property. She has been trying to buy them out for a while but they refused. Recently they were evicted. They said it was without notice and it caught them completely off guard. Their dogs were put out in the rain by the sheriff. It made me even more fearful of my current housing situation. I am confused and perplexed as to how the landlord can have so much vitriol and disregard for other human beings.

In Toronto there seems to be this perception that there is a severe lack of housing that drives everyone into a frenzy. I feel like many people, myself included, are making decisions driven by fear. I feel that fear is substantiated, if you think about the fact that housing is something so important to us. If we had the means we would pay way more than what the apartment is worth, just so we can secure what we believe is safe housing. Also, with stringent and competitive rental application processes, it creates a lot of stress and fear about whether we will be approved for housing. It creates this illusion where only a certain type of person has the right to rent when in reality, our beautiful city is composed of a variety of individuals of varying economic and social means. I am not really surprised that Toronto is a hotbed for housing discrimination and megalomaniac landlords. I wish that landlords would treat renters as proper paying customers and not as their enemies or someone to be bullied.

Glyn Bowerman , Journalist

I was on the way to therapy when my landlord phoned. She said that her daughter was moving into our place and we'd need to find other arrangements. The eviction was all I talked about that therapy session. It's been a topic in a lot of my other sessions, too. I lived in that house for nine years—almost as long as my childhood home. I tried not to let myself think of it as home (I knew this would happen one day), but it was home. It was where I crushed beers and sang Michael McDonald covers on the roof. It was where we held a vigil for a friend on the night she passed. It was where so many things happened to me, but it was never mine.

Looking for a place was a nightmare. I'm in my early 30s, and I never thought much about my age until I had to look for a home. In the time I spent in my old place, it went from an alcoholic 20-something bro house to a cleaner, more refined, alcoholic grownup house. There were nice hand towels. I thought I had my life on track. Then, suddenly, I realize I still don't make enough to live on my own. All my friends are already set-up, the way I thought I was, they live with their Significant Others (I had only been dating someone two months), or they somehow do make enough to live alone, unbelievably. I found myself looking at rooms with 20-somethings, but some postings even specify "no one over 25." Fucking 25 is old now? Goddamn. When the fuck did that happen?

House hunting now is a lot like Tinder: you set up a bunch of stuff online, you don't expect to hear back, and if you do, you don't expect the introduction to go well. Not knowing what else to do I enlisted my friends. At one point, my former roommate's girlfriend, my girlfriend, and my therapist all offered to help me hunt. I did eventually find a nice place, in a great neighbourhood, with some lovely, non-ageist 25-year-olds, but it took some effort and things came in just under the wire.

As we were packing up to leave, there started to be major jackhammering and construction, sometimes from 8 AM to 8 PM. I assumed the landlord and her husband were doing renos and didn't even have the courtesy to wait until we were properly evicted. I gave them an earful, then found out sewage was leaking out of the basement and into their daughter's unit. I was walking out, and the husband was standing on the sidewalk, watching a backhoe dig up his basement, I asked him how it was going. He said bad. He said he wished things had gone differently, that I was a good tenant, and if I wanted to rent the shitty basement bachelor once the sewage had been piped out, I had first rights of refusal. I said I'm good.

Jillian Welsh , comedian

I was sitting in a cafe stressing over my half-written Fringe show when I got a text message from my roommate asking if I had read the email. I logged in and found the this is your notice form. I had already been eating my feelings that morning with a muffin that tasted vaguely of banana. When I read the email I got a second muffin.

My first response was simply: No. No, I'm not going anywhere, I'm going to become some sort of artsy squatter like the hip punks I've always romanticized, really stick it to the man. Then I thought about legal action, there are these laws that have supposedly just passed here in Toronto to prevent this kind of thing from happening. But then I don't know any lawyers and I mean the second muffin was already out of my budget. There was a brief thought of organizing all the artists getting kicked out and taking on the Toronto affordable housing crisis Erin Brockovich style, but what millennial trying to make it in this city actually has time for that? So I joined Bunz Home Zone instead.

"To me, this is my home. These walls hold my stories and i know every squeak in these floor boards. This home knows me and I know it better than my landlords ever will."

Looking for places I was faced with the fact that these student loans I've been avoiding —buying myself time to actually maybe make it in my chosen field, fighting for that future that would have supposedly paid for itself after I graduated from that bright and shiny institution—have made it nearly impossible for me to ever sign a lease. I also realized that to them, my landlords, this property was just a number on a page. Part of their investment an asset and a liability. To them this all was just business and a smart business move to kick me out before the laws went into effect. But to me, this is my home. These walls hold my stories and i know every squeak in these floor boards. This home knows me and I know it better than my landlords ever will. And my current roommates? Given the current market, trying to find a new lease that we could afford in order to keep being roommates is impossible so on top of my home, I'm also losing a relationship that feels like family.

We all grown up with this idea of what being an adult looks: you should have financial stability, a car and like own a house. They say two out of three ain't bad, but at this point I'd settle for just one out of three. In the meantime I've been eating a lot of muffins.

Graham Isador needs a place to live. @presgang