Ubah Shire says her third-floor unit at Ventura Towers in downtown Hamilton has been her family’s home for more than a decade, but most of her eight children have stayed with friends because she says the flat has no heating, water and power for weeks.
The 48-year-old Somali-Canadian accuses the landlord of breaking the law and not doing enough to relocate them, as was done with other families in the building due to construction. She said there had been no heat for months, no water for two months and no electricity for a month.
However, building owner Tony Valery said the family are “squatting illegally” and he is waiting to appear before the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB).
It’s a situation that experts and advocates say highlights the problems in Ontario’s rental market.
“We live in a time where housing is incredibly unaffordable and people are being displaced all over the place…it’s very concerning,” said Gachi Issa, black justice coordinator for the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic.
Late last year, lawyers and tenants accused Ventura Towers management of forcing renovation — when landlords evict or evict tenants claiming major renovation is needed — to displace low-income tenants. income and rent their homes at a higher cost.
CBC Hamilton previously obtained a November 1 letter from management to residents on the first six floors offering $20,000 to leave in 30 days, $15,000 to move out in 60 days and $10,000 to move out in 90 days.
The letter stated that if the terms were not accepted by November 8, management would issue a departure notice in 120 days without any compensation.
Shire said she felt pressured but signed the form to end her lease in mid-February, giving her 90 days to move out.
Valery said the building was being rebuilt and no renovations were involved, insisting “we’re trying to do a good thing here…we’re trying to clean up this project”.
He said the original plan, which had already been approved when the property was acquired in October, was to dismantle the first six floors and turn the three-bedroom units into multiple one- and two-bedroom units.
Now, Valery said, they are redoing the electrical and plumbing on floors 1 through 19 after identifying problems, but that won’t require tenants on the seventh floor and up to move out.
CBC Hamilton visited the Shire three-bedroom unit on March 17 and 24. The refrigerator, full of food, was not powered. The kitchen faucet was broken and did not produce water both days.
Shire said she was not working and was receiving money from the Ontario Disability Support Program and was paying her monthly rent of $1,300 (the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom unit). room in the city is 1,514, according to Rentals.ca), although Valery said she was behind on her payments.
“We don’t even know how to cook…we order food all the time,” said Shire’s 21-year-old son, Liban Adam, adding that they had to throw away the spoiled groceries.
The rest of the floor where their unit is located is under construction, with walls and parts of the floor stripped down.
Adam added that water is leaking from the ceiling.
Shire said the family tried to use outlets outside their unit to get electricity, but construction workers blocked the outlets and cut their cords.
She added that although the landlord said the family would be moved to another unit in the building, that has not yet happened. Shire also said she complained to the city, ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, a low- and middle-income community) and the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic, but she had received no support.
Management works with advocates
Valery disputes some of Shire’s claims. About a month ago, he said, she contacted him saying she couldn’t find another unit.
Valery said he offered her a three-bedroom townhouse in Stoney Creek for $1,100. But Shire said it was too far, especially for her children, who are in school.
Valery said he then offered her a two-bedroom unit in the same building for $890 a month plus $10,000 moving allowance. He said Shire said two bedrooms weren’t enough for the family.
Valery added that he had worked with ACORN to offer them a three-bedroom unit on MacNab Street for $1,850 a month plus $20,000 compensation to move out. Shire said she refused because the conditions were horrible, he said.
He also said they found a listing for a three-bedroom unit outside of Valery’s portfolio in the same area, but it was turned down.
Valery said while he understands finding a rental in Hamilton isn’t easy, Valery felt he offered fair options.
He also acknowledged that electricity, water and heating have sometimes been cut off due to construction.
“There are fire hazards here, there are plumbing leaks and issues that we need to get under control. It’s also a health and safety issue.”
Michelle Shantz, spokeswoman for the City of Hamilton, said Shire complained of no water on March 2 and when the city followed up, the property manager turned on the heat, the electricity and water for the unit.
Shantz said the city didn’t have to issue any ordinances in March.
Valery also said Shire hadn’t paid rent for February or March and ‘wouldn’t accept it anyway’, claiming she was breaking the law.
Zachariah Hockridge, ACORN Mountain Chapter Secretary, and Issa said they also tried to connect Shire to other community resources, but made no progress.
Douglas Kwan, director of advocacy and legal services at the Advocacy Center for Tenants Ontario, said Shire was entitled to necessities like electricity, water and heat.
Kwan said the family could hand over management to the Landlord and Tenant Board. He also said the tenants are not “squatters”.
“They are tenants unless the [LTB] order otherwise.”
Demovictions are a problem, according to a group of tenants
Both groups as well as Ward 2 Coun. Jason Farr has described the situation between Shire and Valery Towers as demoviction – moving tenants for the demolition of a building.
“It could become something that happens with other groups, other developers who might not want to work with us,” Hockridge said.
Issa also expressed concerns about how this construction has mostly displaced black families, saying it could sever community bonds forged over the years because people would move.
Farr and GLANS said Hamilton’s Downtown Secondary Plan, which gives some downtown tenants more rights during renovations or demolitions, is expected to expand across the city. ACORN also said tenants should have a first right of refusal in a new development to return to a unit at the same rent.
ACORN added that the city must accelerate the development of its anti-renovation strategy, which includes a tenant defense fund.
The group said the city should stop providing incentive grants to landlords who displace tenants using renovations and demovances.
Valery said there was a meeting in front of the LTB in early April.
The LTB sends notice to affected parties or asks the filing party to inform the subject of the complaint – Shire said it was unaware of the hearing.
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