Editor’s Letter: And slumlord of the decade goes to…

Editor’s Letter: And slumlord of the decade goes to…

Our investigative feature on Toronto’s worst landlord is both an exposé of one particularly malicious property owner and an indictment of the system she so handily manipulates

Photo by Daniel Ehrenworth

The most notorious address in Toronto is 500 Dawes Road, a 14-storey apartment building in the east end. It’s owned by a woman named Carolyn Krebs, who also goes by Carolyn Goodman, except when she goes by Marian Linton as a way of evading justice. You see, it’s hard to be held responsible for the mistreatment of hundreds of low-income tenants when no one knows your real name or where to find you. And a lot of people wish to find her.

While the exterior of 500 Dawes is bleak—peeling paint, rusted-out balconies, broken windows—the interior is heartbreaking. Residents live with bedbugs, roaches and mice. The ceilings leak, and the windows are drafty. When appliances break, repairs take ages if they happen at all.

Related: True tales from Toronto’s rental crisis

In her Thornhill community, Krebs is known as a caring mother of seven; she was a doting wife to her late husband. Professionally, however, she may be the most hated landlord in Toronto. 500 Dawes has the dubious distinction of being one of the city’s most complained-about ­buildings—595 grievances have been filed over the past six years. The public record is filled with other examples of Krebs’s malfeasance. She has attempted to deny housing to a tenant with a disability, evicted tenants unjustly and then thrown out their belongings before they could retrieve them, and pressured an employee to lie on her behalf before an adjudicator. She has admitted that her aliases help her elude tenants.

Many of Krebs’s tenants are on disability, earning a maximum of $1,300 per month, which is enough to cover rent but not much else. For them, 500 Dawes is the place of last resort, one step away from a shelter or the streets. Perversely, Krebs has found a way to cash in on this marginalized population. She knows they often lack the resources to fight back.

The exterior of 500 Dawes, one of the most complained-about apartment buildings in the city

They’re also useful for another reason. Krebs has discovered a loophole in the landlord-tenant system that allows her to double-dip: she tells her tenants she’s raising their rent by a certain amount per month but forges documents ­showing a higher amount in her books, which puts tenants in arrears without them knowing. Then Krebs appears before the Landlord and Tenant Board ready to evict so she can raise the rent by even more. The renter is perplexed and panicked: How did I end up $5,000 in debt? And where am I supposed to live?

Here’s the kicker: when a tenant is on government assistance and can’t pay immediately, the public purse often pays out—it’s a failsafe to keep people from becoming homeless. Krebs uses this social safety net like an ATM. It’s a win-win for someone without a discernible conscience.

Her company, called Havcare—the irony oozes—owns several apartment buildings across the city that keep the revenue stream flowing. She also owns a home in Thornhill and another in Florida. Our investigative exposé of Krebs (“The Good Liar”), by journalist Rachel Browne, comes at a time of unprecedented tension between renters and landlords. The cost of living has never been higher, yet wages lag far behind. Many renters have found solidarity and power by banding together to withhold their rent. It’s clearly not a viable long-term solution, but they see no better option.

Browne attempts to figure out who Krebs is, how she operates and where she’s holed up. Her reporting is as riveting as her message is disturbing: Krebs isn’t the only landlord exploiting desperate tenants. She has merely perfected the art.

Malcolm Johnston is the editor of Toronto Life. He can be reached via email at editor@torontolife.com.