Tenants fear eviction

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Gina Rossignol, Darlene Presley, Sophie Polyak, John Presley, Judy Donaldson, Harry Fry, Kelcie Bulckaert, Daniel Dossantos and Ben Allely stand in front of Rossignol’s unit on Pearl Crescent in Chatham. They are just some of the tenants currently facing eviction after the townhouses were allegedly sold. There are six buildings affected, each one compromised of four units.

Property problems on Pearl Crescent

By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Gina Rossignol has had a lot of trouble sleeping over the past couple of weeks.

On Jan. 23, out of the blue, the Pearl Crescent resident learned the townhouse she’s rented for the past seven years has been sold, and said she was told she would have to leave voluntarily or face eviction.

Rossignol said the deal was sweetened with a $5,000 cash incentive to go with a contract she felt highly pressured to sign.

“The woman sat at my kitchen table and bullied me,” Rossignol claimed of the encounter. “I felt like I had no choice. I haven’t really been able to really sleep since. I can’t eat…I’m so stressed.”

Rossignol, who is raising her nine-year-old autistic granddaughter Sophie, is not alone. There are 24 families who learned their units have changed hands. There are six four-plex buildings in total, with five on Pearl Crescent and one on nearby Orchard Heights.

The saga began Jan. 22 when tenants discovered a notice of entry for inspection taped to their doors.

The notice advised residents that two people representing the new landlord would be coming the following day to complete a one-hour inspection.

However, none of the paperwork stated who the new owner was or when the townhouses were sold.

The only identifying information came from a form letter, printed with letterhead from Lotus Paralegal, a Welland-based firm.

Signed by Lotus Paralegal owner Jessica Travers, the form was presented to the tenants at the time of the inspection.

Travers, a licensed paralegal, and Dimple Grewal, a representative of WC Solutions Property Management, undertook the inspections.

Rossignol, who refused to open her door for the inspection that Sunday evening, said Travers returned to her home the next day as Sophie was getting home from school.

“I let her (Travers) in and she basically told me to sign the contract and that I had no choice,” Rossignol said.

The contract states Rossignol and Sophie will have to vacate their unit in 60 days. She said Travers told her the reason behind the eviction is that the new owners have “a vision” to renovate all of the townhouses.

The woman, who survives on an Ontario Disability Support Program pension, said she fears her little family will become homeless, as she can’t afford to pay market rent, which would be at least double her current $700 fee.

A spokesperson for the purchasing company said that the new landlord plans to upgrade the units.

The Chatham Voice reached out to the new landlord by way of an e-mail addressed as part of the contact information provided to tenants.

The questions were answered in part by Sussex Strategy Group, a Toronto-based public relations firm.

In an e-mailed statement, Sussex vice-president Colleen Ryan said a company called Avanew will be undertaking “extensive renovations” to address issues that include the “appearance of mold, insect infestations, a lack of smoke detectors and more” to bring the properties up to code.

Ryan’s statement said renovations are currently expected to take between nine to 12 months, and that no tenants being evicted as tenants have “options to return once renovations are completed, including first right of refusal, or to voluntarily relocate with financial compensation and other supports and services to support a seamless transition” should they prefer.

Even though some of the tenants opted to take the $5,000, agreeing to be out in 60 days, others aren’t buying it.

Harry Fry, who has lived in one of the units for the last 25 years, said he isn’t budging.

“They’ll have to come in with a bulldozer,” Fry said. “That’s the only way you’re going to get me out of here.”

Fry is critical with the way the process was handled, calling the actions of paralegal supposedly representing the new owners “sketchy.”

His fiancé Judy, who is ill, has lived at the address for 35 years. Fry said he fears a move will kill her.

Carrie Allely, who has lived in the cul-de-sac with her two sons for seven years, said she didn’t sign the contract presented by Travers, but she felt pressured to do so.

She did end up letting Travers and Grewal in for the inspection. Allely said the pair checked the smoke detector and then Travers launched into a hard sell, urging her to sign a document and take the $5,000.

“It was very, very pushy,” Allely stressed. “There was no notice, no paperwork, no timeframe.

“I don’t know who this is or what company it is,” Alley said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

None of it makes sense to Chatham-Kent’s housing stability worker either. Licensed paralegal Jeff Wilkins, who has been working on tenant/landlord issues for many years, said what’s currently happening at Pearl Crescent is the most “blatant example of bullying tenants” he’s ever seen.

Wilkins, along with members of the Chatham-Kent’s housing services team, met with 15 of the affected tenants Jan. 25.

He urged them not to sign anything.

Wilkins also advising those who did agree to take the $5,000 and leave to let the company know they want to rescind their approval.

Wilkins said it’s not illegal to evict tenants to do renovations, but notes the affected tenants are entitled to compensation and to first right of refusal once the renovations are complete.

Under the law, the tenants may move back in and the rent can only be raised 1.2 per cent per year, according to provincial guidelines.

Some of the Pearl Crescent residents said they were told by Travers the renovations would take up to a year and a half to complete.

Others said they were also told they could come back and pay their current low rate of rent for a year but after that it would increase to market rate value.

Wilkins said that’s illegal.

According to Wilkins, most of the Pearl Crescent residents he spoke with said they feel bullied and scared.

He added the $5,000 incentive might seem like a lot of money at first, but it’s not when you “drill down into it.”

The contract that he saw indicates the monthly rent will be deducted from the amount so it doesn’t end up being a full $5,000.

Plus, with the scarcity of affordable housing, Wilkins said there’s no place to go.

“These are inexpensive three-bedroom units,” Wilkins explained. “They’re like unicorns now.”

Wilkins, who regularly handles tenant/landlord issues with the Chatham-Kent Legal Aid Clinic, said Pearl Crescent tenants have been blindsided.

He said they have no idea who their new landlord is, or who they are supposed to pay their rent to, although some were told to forward money to the Welland based Lotus Paralegal.

Wilkins advises against that.

“There’s a legal way to do this and this isn’t it,” Wilkins noted. “Plus, it’s morally wrong.”

For the tenants, it’s now a game of wait and see.

The e-mail correspondence from Ryan indicated the property was sold in late January, going on to say the units were “left in a state of disrepair by previous owners with many severely dilapidated and unsafe for residents.”

According to the e-mail, neglect by previous owners means the properties “require extensive changes for safety, which will also serve to enhance the current properties and surrounding community.”

According to Wilkins, Chatham-Kent is now a target for opportunistic landlords as it’s one of the few remaining municipalities in Southwestern Ontario that’s left with any housing inventory.

The Voice has learned that Avanew Single Family Rental GP, the name on a rental agreement Wilkins witnessed, is a subsidiary of Core Development Group.

Toronto-based Core announced in 2021 it has a goal of acquiring a $1-billion portfolio of 4,000 rental units in Ontario, Quebec, B.C. and Atlantic Canada by 2026.

As previously reported by the Globe and Mail and the CBC in June 2021, Core’s main business has been condo development with numerous projects in the Toronto region.

The articles state Core is buying hundreds of detached houses in Ontario with the plan of renting them out and profiting on Canada’s housing crisis.

The approach is one not normally undertaken in Canada, but is said to be modelled on the highly lucrative institutional house rental market in the United States.

Core has stated it is targeting mid-sized cities in Ontario in the expansion, including Kingston, St. Catharines, London, Barrie, Hamilton, Peterborough and Cambridge.

The company’s plan is to buy, fix up and rent ground-level suburban homes, turning them into multi-unit residences.

In the meantime, Pearl Crescent residents face uncertainty.

For her part, Rossignol says she remains confused.

“I still have a lot of unanswered questions,” she said. “I would like to stay here. This is like a family here and it’s the only home Sophie has ever known.”

Comments

comments

5 COMMENTS

  1. This has been ongoing since the pandemic started and when tenants by mistake thinking they didn’t have to pay rent or Could fallin arrears , this created problems for landlords who could not absorb those hits , they have mortgages to pay on those rental properties it forced Those property owners to sell those properties

    And this is what happens when new property owners come in , They Want rental cost to go up double what the current renters are paying .
    So naturally they want you out !

    I’m not saying I agree with that cause I don’t
    The problem is Ford who in 2018 took the cap off of rental properties.

    Meaning a new property owner could charge whatever he wants , their is no real safety net for those tenants ,

    I’d say these tenants need to raise hell with Ford he’s the biggest reason why families are homeless , can’t afford these kinds of rents when the property they currently rent was sold now they face evictions , who can afford those kinds of rents in Chatham let alone anywhere else

    Ford needs to address this issue rectify this ..get letters sent to him , send it in writing to your MP MPP to represent you .

    Complaining , putting it in local news , isn’t going to do anything to help you, it’s just a Local news story

    • “The problem is Ford who in 2018 took the cap off of rental properties.

      Meaning a new property owner could charge whatever he wants , their is no real safety net for those tenants..”

      This is incorrect. The buyer/new landlord has to honor the existing leases. Any rental that was occupied before Nov. 15 2018 is rent controlled, so the rent can only be increased 1.2% this year for the current tenants (unless the landlord applies for an AGI but that’s capped at 3%).

      If a buyer could raise the rent as much as they wanted for current tenants there would be no need to pay them $5000 for an N11, they could just wait for the tenant to default and evict for nonpayment

  2. I totally agree!
    Someone stRt a FB page and everyone call your MPP…. Also shame on the owners who sold in the first place, to a Toronto based company. Cana local lawyer help these people out ? How can they break the law like this with the rent increase etc

  3. Looks like 36 Orchard height apt#4 is already for rent. Tenants before were paying $900 and now it’s listed for $1899. We were all supposed to be evicted for renovations and the best part is, they didn’t even renovate or clean it up! There is still furniture that my neighbours had to leave behind because of the amount of time they were given to move out. It’s not right to evict us out and not renovate a damn thing. Let alone raise the rent up to $1899. Full of misleading information and I don’t believe anything they say anymore. For instance, you can now take a full tour of my apartment that isn’t for rent. Such an invasion of privacy. They were suppose to be “taking measurements” but then I find out anyone can take an online 3d tour of my apartment. One thing is certain, my apartment is not for rent. I still pay monthly. My apartment was just FRESHLY RENOVATED so there is no renovating needed. Second, They continued to lie about their reason of entry and continued to lie when asked if they were taking pictures. They were “only taking measurements”.

    I hope no one else took the $5000. They wont renovate before listing it at an crazy price. Hopefully this backfires at them.

  4. We are in Kingston and just received the “Intent to Enter” from Lotus Paralegal Jessica Travers and another individual “Dimple” and a phone number with no details identifying legal name address and position (ie Landlord” Property manager)..looks as if we will be facing the same scenario and this property is a semi with a single mom with twin girls in the upper portion and myself a senior in the lower portion. Any advice would be appreciated.

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