when the knock comes, i know it's him. He has a young man with him. "This is my son. He'll be moving into your unit," he tells me, thrusting an official-looking paper at me.It's just over a year since my landlord bought this Annex rooming house -- my home -- and started to renovate. Renovate. A harmless-sounding word unless you've lived through it: months of hammering, pounding, the screech of electric saws on metal pipes. All this as I sit at my desk trying to write, trying to earn a living.
There are only two of us left of the 10 tenants who used to live here. People started leaving almost as soon as the For Sale sign went up, citing inevitability.
The second and third floors are transformed. Walls that divided small rooms have been torn down; floors are redone. Tenants move in as soon as the costly new spaces are ready. I'm on the first floor. The waves of change are lapping against my door.
The landlord's paper is Form N12: Notice to Terminate a Tenancy at the End of Term for Landlord's or Purchaser's Own Use. He's checked the right boxes, signed in the right places. The date of my proposed eviction is right there on the front page. May 31, 2001.
I'm standing in the way of progress, of profit, of change -- a cardinal sin in the real estate market of the 21st century. But, as the song says, I will not be moved. A brave thought for someone who struggles every month to pay the rent (raised from $475 to $575 as soon as he legally could), to keep her home.
The lawyer I find, after some searching, Julius Mlynarski, at West Toronto Community Legal Services, is not optimistic. More landlords are using this excuse these days, and the Rental Housing Tribunal seems to accept it.
I write up a flyer and start e-mailing friends and acquaintances for support. I include the landlord's name, address and phone number; this is war, after all.
If I didn't have a phone during my search for representation, or a computer connected to the Internet, or friends who could download the required forms, and if my literacy skills weren't up to the legalese, I wouldn't have a chance in hell. The hearing itself takes a few hours, and the adjudicator says he'll rule the next week.
It seemed to go well. Our three-part argument was that the eviction is punitive, since I'd complained about the noise of the renovation; that the son doesn't need to move in to take care of the building since he only lives a few blocks away, at his father's house (and there is an empty unit on the same floor); and that even if he does need to move, on balance, my long tenancy and the difficulty of finding suitable accommodation at my income level outweigh his interest.
We are optimistic, but that feeling wanes over the following weeks, as I wait every morning for the mail, desperate for a resolution, hearing nothing. The judgment comes dated July 26. "The tenancy between the Landlord and the Tenant is terminated. The Tenant must move out of the rental unit on or before October 31, 2001."
As near as I can make out the reasoning, I've lost because I'm deemed capable of finding affordable housing. Reading the judge's statement, I discover that my cachet as an activist is actually working against me -- a clear case of being punished for my virtues. There's a warning here: the achievements of your life may interfere with your rights as a tenant.
The judgment says: "Ms. Capponi has been successful in achieving a lifestyle that is simple, devoid of the external trappings that plague the lives of her economically successful associates. She is able to engage in her life's work, which is to heal herself through her writing and help others with similar experiences. I conclude that her lifestyle is her choice, and furthermore reject the reference that characterizes her lifestyle as being "poor.' Hers is a lifestyle that is rich beyond comprehension."
Not being poor, indeed having chosen a lifestyle "rich beyond comprehension," what's the problem with being evicted?
Both Mlynarski and the clinic are incensed at the ruling and agree to appeal -- a rarity that he and the clinic only undertake once or twice a year. Mlynarski suggests to me that the landlord may change his mind once he looks at the cost of defending against appeals to the court and to the tribunal, and he's right. I get a call from the son saying, "Good news. We've decided you can stay." On September 12, five and a half months after the knock on my door, an order dismissing the application for eviction is sent to me.
Alas, I returned home yesterday to find a For Sale sign hammered into the front lawn.