Either the free air conditioning goes, or they do.
That’s the circumstance about 30 neighbours in a Parkdale apartment complex find themselves in. If they don’t get rid of their A/C, or agree to pay an unspecified amount to keep it, their landlord plans to evict them.
On Monday, dozens of long-term residents of 130 Jameson Ave., called The Imperial, received eviction notices alleging they “damaged the rental units” they live in by having electricity-consuming appliances. They were given 20 days to either vacate, remove their air conditioners or extra freezers, pay for hydro directly (affected tenants have hydro included in their rents), which would come with a rent reduction, or, lastly, pay a monthly fee to continue to use their air conditioners, the amount for which was not listed on the eviction notice.
The building is run by Toronto property management company the Myriad Group, which co-owns the building with Brownstone Developments. In a statement Tuesday, Myriad Property Management wrote that air conditioner use is in contravention with the tenants’ lease agreements.
Tenants interviewed by the Star say they have had their air conditioners for years, decades in some cases. They say their leases did not mention air conditioners being forbidden — and that some were installed before they moved in. The Star has not been able to verify the language in the leases.
In Helen Gerardi’s 43 years of living at The Imperial she said she worked to make her home immaculate, “like a dollhouse.” In the 36 years since her husband died, she’s lived there alone, and she’s long said she will “only leave in a hearse.”
“They’re going to have to come and take a bulldozer to get me out,” said the 88-year-old. “Where would I go? I haven’t got anybody.”
Near as they can tell from speaking with each other, the tenants being evicted all pay below market rate and have hydro included in their rent. They say none of their leases make any mention of A/C being prohibited.
A copy of the eviction notice sent by Myriad obtained by the Star writes that tenants must move out by July 9 because they have “wilfully or negligently damaged the rental unit or the residential complex” by either having an extra freezer or an air conditioner.
“… the tenant shall not violate any federal provincial or municipal statute regulation with the rental unit. The tenant shall not use any appliances in addition to those applied by the Landlord. Please safely remove your extra freezer,air conditioner (sic) or both.”
The tenants say their leases do not prohibit extra appliances.
The note offers three options: vacate by the end of next week, get rid of your air conditioner or pay to “repair the damage,” which tenants take to mean pay to keep their air conditioning units, as it falls under the “options attached with this form if you would like to keep the extra appliances,” per the note.
“You can correct the problem by paying me $________, which is the reasonable cost of repairing the damage.” No dollar amount is given; it is left blank on the form.
Steve Busto, another evictee, said he was told by the building to sign the eviction notice pledging to remove his A/C and he would not be evicted.
But doing so would mean he would be agreeing that he damaged the property in some way, according to the language used in the notice, so he refused.
“We never had an issue before (last summer),” said Busto. “We’ve been using our air conditioner since we signed our original lease. And it’s very necessary. Inside the unit it can get up to 30 degrees (Celsius), it’s solid concrete. Jameson Avenue is all buildings, it’s just concentrated heat, all over the neighbourhood.”
Busto, who has been living at The Imperial for around 14 years, said of the affected tenants, “We feel violated and traumatized.
“We diligently paid our rent for years. We built this community. When nobody wanted to live in Parkdale, we were here, building it up.”
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Tenants are now organizing together with the help of Bhutila Karpoche, MPP for Parkdale—High Park, and staging demonstrations outside The Imperial.
“They are in the process of forming a tenant group in order to be able to fight this eviction notice,” said Karpoche. “We’re also getting help from Parkdale Community Legal Services. I expect the tenants will fight this.”
This isn’t the first time Busto has had to fight for air conditioning. He said Myriad tried to make him and other tenants pay an extra $400 to run their A/C units last summer. The company backed off after it faced opposition from residents.
Steven Goldberg, vice-president at Myriad, declined to comment on the $400 offer last year when asked for confirmation by the Star.
When asked about some tenant claims that air conditioners had been installed prior to their moving in, and that many had been using them for years without complaint, Goldberg pointed to a statement from the company that claims air conditioners are “deviations to what is allowable under that tenant’s lease,” and “not included in the lease agreement.”
In the statement, Myriad writes it is “doing nothing that is not proscribed in the RTA (Residential Tenancies Act) and enforced by the LTB (Landlord and Tenant Board).”
Janet Deline, a spokesperson for Tribunals Ontario, an umbrella organization that includes the LTB, told the Star the RTA “does not directly address the issue of whether a tenant is permitted to install their own air conditioner in the rental unit without the consent of the landlord.”
According to Deline, evicted tenants who disagree with their landlords do not need to move out. To end tenancy, a hearing at the LTB where both parties have an opportunity to provide evidence and submissions is required. The LTB adjudicator must then make a decision in accordance with the RTA.
Caryma Sa’d, a Toronto-based lawyer whose practice focuses on tenants’ and landlords’ rights, said if the evicted tenants’ leases do not preclude them from having air conditioners, as they claim, “that omission will favour the tenants.”
“New, retroactively imposed rules aren’t necessarily binding for tenants,” said Sa’d. “Eviction is a very serious outcome for something the tenant perhaps never agreed to in the first place. It’s not going to be straightforward or easy to evict. It may not even be possible.”
Sa’d said she has never seen a situation like this, in terms of the number of tenants being evicted at once, ostensibly for electricity consumption, qualifying it as an “intense reaction” from the landlord.
A motion put forward by University-Rosedale MPP Jessica Bell would mandate climate control in buildings.
While heating is considered a “vital service” in Ontario, and a minimum temperature of 20 C must be maintained by landlords from September to June, there is no maximum allowable temperature.
Bell said with climate change leading to hotter summers, legislation must be introduced to cap building temperatures at 26 C.
“We are beginning to see extreme heat waves in summer that are leading to heat strokes and people dying alone in their apartments,” said Bell, citing a 2018 heat wave that killed 89 people in Quebec and another that killed 777 people in B.C. last year.
In 2019, Star investigative journalist Marco Chown Oved reported that Ontario did not appear to have as many deaths as Quebec as a result of the 2018 heat wave, possibly in part because many more Ontarians have A/C at home, but also because Quebec has a more comprehensive way of recording heat-related deaths.
It is likely that Ontarians are dying from high temperatures at a greater rate than we know, according to Star and medical expert analysis.
“Overwhelmingly, the people who died were seniors, people with mental health conditions, they were living alone, they were renters and they had no access to A/C,” said Bell. “That’s the recipe for heat stroke and death.”
Ben Cohen is a Toronto-based staff reporter for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @bcohenn
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