Devon McKenzie fought “tooth and nail” to stay in her affordable east-end apartment but after a seven-month battle with a landlord who owns just one per cent of the house, the process, she said, has worn her down.
“I’m done. I’m moving out of Toronto. I am going to pick up and start something new,” said McKenzie, 24, who, after fighting multiple attempts to evict her through the Landlord and Tenant Board and facing a separate eviction over rent she said was owed by previous roommates, has agreed to leave by the end of May.
“I’ve been fighting this on my own. I want to get on with my life.”
McKenzie had been trying to block repeated attempts by her landlord to force her out for his own personal use, which she fought because Jacky Bai Jun Liu, a first-time homebuyer in his early 20s, had acquired the landlord title after he was sold just a one per cent stake in the house in midsummer. McKenzie told the Star that Liu had told her during a phone call he was a Ryerson student and intended to move his friends into the house.
Almost immediately after the sale, Liu moved to evict seven tenants from two units, in June serving them with an N12 notice co-signed by one of the primary homeowners, informing them that Liu intended to exercise his legal right to take over the property for personal use.
The upstairs renters left, telling the Star they had already considered finding a new place to rent. McKenzie, who shared the downstairs apartment with three others, stayed put to fight on principle, she said, and because a lack of affordable rental housing meant she had nowhere to go.
In September, McKenzie went to the board with a lawyer ready to fight but a paralegal representing Liu declared that a failure to properly fill out paperwork on their side meant the application was invalid and should be withdrawn. The adjudicator agreed.
Minutes after McKenzie stepped into the hallway an employee of Beaunest Property Services, the company listed as representing the landlord on board documents, handed her a brand new N12 form starting the process all over again.
The hearing for the second N12 was scheduled for November but, McKenzie said, delays on her team’s side and a lack of available time before the board meant it was adjourned to Feb. 20.
“I fought this tooth and nail simply because I can’t go anywhere else in this city … I’ve said this before but there doesn’t need to be one more reason for landlords to kick people out in this crazy rental market.”
Liu and Beaunest Property Services did not respond to the Star’s repeated requests for comment.
McKenzie told the Star that after receiving the first N12 notice, she and her roommates decided to hold on to their portions of July rent until they understood the process, whether they stood a chance before board or could put the money in trust.
But then, she said, those roommates moved on and she has been left holding the outstanding bill. She was ordered by the board during a December hearing to pay what she owed or leave by the end of January.
Unable to come up with the money, and weary of what seemed like an unending fight, she agreed to stop pursuing the N12 case and move out. In exchange, the landlord would not rush to evict her, allowing for the late May exit, and forgive the $1,934 owed in back rent, according to a Jan. 20 decision agreed to at the board.
“The whole thing has been insane. Had it just been the N12 I could have waited it out. It would have been fine,” McKenzie said. “It just became so much more than the N12. I just can’t handle it anymore.”
In November, McKenzie spoke about her experience at city hall before a subcommittee created with a mandate, in part, to prevent potential abuses of the N12 process.
“What they don’t tell you about fighting an eviction is that it takes over your life,” McKenzie said before a standing-room-only meeting of the protection of affordable rental housing subcommittee. “These landlords simply see those numbers and the potential to make those numbers bigger not the people behind them.”
Get more of today’s top stories in your inbox
Sign up for the Star’s Morning Headlines email newsletter for a briefing of the day’s big news.
Sign Up Now
On deciding to leave, she said she felt she was letting people down as a decision in the case would have set a precedent on whether a person with such a small claim to ownership can also take on the rights of a landlord and move to evict.
“I feel like I am letting people down because I can’t get the decision,” she said. “It was frustrating because people came up to me (at city hall) and told me to keep fighting.”
Last year, the vacancy rate for the Greater Toronto Area was reported at 1.5 per cent, up from 1.2 per cent the previous year, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. reported in January.
Those numbers are strictly for purpose-built rental properties with three or more units, and any unit occupied before Nov. 15, 2018, is subject to rent controls. However, landlords can charge whatever they want for vacant apartments and raise the rent any amount on tenants in all apartments occupied for the first time after Nov. 15, 2018, following a change to the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) made by Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government.
Ontario tenants can be asked to pay a set increase each year, a number determined by the province. The increase for 2020 is 2.2 per cent, the highest annual increase since rents were raised 2.5 per cent in 2013.
Changes to the RTA are expected to be announced this winter. That review includes consultations with landlords and tenants and analysis provincewide on applications before all boards, including N12 and N13 applications, a spokesperson for Ontario Housing Minister Steve Clark told the Star via email.
“The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing works very closely with the Ministry of Attorney General and Tribunals Ontario/Landlord and Tenant Board to share information, such as provincewide trends for N12 and N13 applications received by the Board, amongst other data it collects,” wrote Julie O’Driscoll.
Looking forward, McKenzie is researching entomology programs and hopes to work with animals, ideally outdoors.
It won’t be in Toronto and she asked the Star not to publish where she was thinking of heading because after a stressful and unusually high-profile experience she wants a fresh start.
“Honestly I feel like a weight has lifted.”