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City inspectors say the residential units were constructed without a permit
A group of Toronto tenants say they were evicted with just 24 hours’ notice after a carbon monoxide detector in one unit went off and caused city inspectors to deem their building unsafe last week.
The carbon monoxide detector installed by a resident at the four-unit apartment building above an auto repair shop at 1407-1409 Bloor West, went off around 1:30 am on March 10. Toronto Fire Services responded to a call for assistance along with city inspectors. Tenants returned to their units, thinking that the carbon monoxide issue had been resolved.
But on March 11, nine tenants received notice from the city and the landlord that they had to vacate the premises by midnight on March 12.
Fire officials told CP24 they found “elevated CO levels” and Enbridge had to be called in to shut off the gas, leaving residents without heat.
In a statement, the city said inspectors also found the four units, owned by landlord and developer Brad J. Lamb, were constructed without a building permit.
The city’s inspection also determined that the apartment building only had a single exit instead of the two required for fire safety.
The 24 hours’ eviction notice to move out left the tenants with nowhere to go.
Tahsin Davdani says she “panicked” after learning she and her two daughters would have to move out.
“I can’t move that fast. I have two kids, I’m running them around school, I’m making sure that they’re safe,” Davdani says. “You can’t find an apartment or a place to live on 24 hours’ notice.”
She says that because of the pandemic, it’s more difficult to find somewhere to stay; not everyone can move into a relative’s home if they’re vulnerable to COVID-19 or immunocompromised.
Davdani says she explained to the property manager that she would have to leave her belongings and furniture until she can figure out more permanent arrangements.
“It feels very much a bully situation, like they’re saying, ‘I don’t want to pay for it, so you got to get out.'”
Lawyers specializing in housing law say this situation brings municipal codes into conflict with provincial rules governing residential tenancies.
The Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) states no tenancy will be terminated except under the circumstances in which the landlord gets an eviction order approved by the Landlord and Tenant Board.
Benjamin Ries, a staff lawyer at Downtown Legal Services, says there’s legal precedent that the RTA overrides all other legislation, including municipal legislation, except for the Human Rights Code.
He says that while giving tenants 24 hours notice “might be the thing that for certain city staff seems like the most straightforward solution to their problem, it’s not in compliance with law.”
Even if the city has determined the units were constructed without building permits and are not safe to live in, tenants have the right to remain in their home and do not have to move until their tenancy ends.
Ries says that liability is with the building’s owner who should have confirmed the building followed codes and zoning bylaws.
Liza McWilliams, a spokesperson for Lamb, sent a statement that says he will reimburse tenants “any and all reasonable expenses related to this terrible situation.”
“Toronto Fire issued a notice of violation and asked the landlord to make minor remedies in the detection system, which were done immediately,” the statement reads.
McWilliams did not comment on whether Lamb was aware of the lack of building permits.
Lamb’s statement adds: “While I never want to displace anyone, vacating the premises was a direct order by the City and we were all forced to comply. At no time did we communicate to our tenants that financial restitution would be denied. Any statement to this effect is simply untrue.We offer our deepest sympathies to all our tenants.”
Ries says that when a landlord terminates a tenancy through other avenues, including converting to non-residential use, they must give tenants 120 days notice. The landlord must also pay a lump sum compensation to each tenant.
“My concern is that the city, by being a little bit ambiguous in its wording in its notices, may lead tenants who don’t totally know the law into thinking that they have to fully move out,” he says.
Ries worries about tenants who vacate and move out their belongings without notifying the landlord that they are not giving up possession and intend on moving back once it’s safe. In that case the landlord could argue at the LTB that the tenants moved out “voluntarily.”
Davdani says what frustrates her is that the correct building permits were not in place.
“This never would have happened,” she says.
Ries says this situation comes down to a problem with Ontario tenancy laws, which are murky on how liable a landlord is for the health and safety of tenants.
“The law says that part of the landlord’s responsibility is to make sure that your place is safe and in good repair and fit for human habitation,” he says.
However, he notes that doesn’t always mean a landlord is “strictly liable” and is obligated to compensate and cover any potential expenses.
“That’s something where I think the city kind of fails too often to adequately protect the most vulnerable.”