“When I fought back against the developers, they tried to evict me”: True tales from the rental crisis

“When I fought back against the developers, they tried to evict me”: True tales from the rental crisis

“I’ve spent thousands of hours filing complaints and dealing with building notices”

Photo by Ian Brown

Terry Demerson, a 48-year-old web developer, dance instructor and performer, loved his Liberty Village apartment. But, after the building was sold, the new owners attempted to evict him and his fellow tenants to make way for a renovation. For the past eight years, he’s been fighting to stay in his home.

True Tales From the Rental Crisis

In 2004, I moved into a 1,300-square-foot loft in Liberty Village. My building is one of the three historic low-rises on the property. The unit itself is gorgeous, with wood beams and exposed brick walls. There’s even an elevator that comes directly into my shared foyer. And the rent was relatively cheap when I moved in—less than $1,400. Because the apartment has a live-work designation, which allows people like me to live in the same space where I operate my business, I spend a lot of time there.

It was great. But, in 2014, the complex was sold. The new owners planned to renovate my building and demolish the others to make room for a glossy new co-working space. In November, they sent out a notice informing my fellow tenants and me that we had to be out by March 2015. I’ve been fighting to keep my home ever since.

Under the Residential Tenancies Act, tenants are entitled to compensation—either the equivalent of three months’ rent or another apartment—if their units are turned into commercial space. However, when the developer submitted their renovation application to the city, they listed the building’s current use as commercial—meaning that residential protections wouldn’t apply.

Eighteen of my neighbours panicked and moved out. But I decided to fight back. I took my case to the Landlord and Tenant Board, arguing that my unit should be designated as a residential live-work space, not a commercial one. And I won, which set a precedent: existing tenants had the right to stay, and those who had left were entitled to compensation.

But the battle wasn’t over yet. The developer attempted to move forward while following the city’s housing bylaws by amending their proposal to include new off-site live-work units for existing tenants. The city stipulates that such replacement units must be “like-for-like”—meaning of a similar type and size, for a similar rent. Developers must keep up existing service and maintenance, and they can’t harass us.

To make sure that all happens, I helped found a tenants’ association and became its president. We’ve been busy. In 2015, my building lost its full-time superintendent, allowing it to fall into a neglected state. At one point, laundry services were removed. I was no longer able to use the elevator that came into my studio. Tenants were denied access to the building from the parking lot and back courtyard. Inspectors often came with big drilling rigs to survey the property, working throughout the day and making the building shake. 

I’ve spent thousands of hours filing complaints and dealing with building notices. That’s a significant amount of time for anybody, but especially for a freelancer who is paid by the hour like me. Going up against a developer while trying to ensure that the city enforces its bylaws feels like attempting to move a mountain. Housing is a political issue, and the fight for fair treatment extends far beyond the LTB.

In 2020, the complex was sold to another developer that planned to continue the redevelopment. The issues have only persisted. One winter, they didn’t turn on the heating. Landscaping has fallen by the wayside, and many of my building’s outdoor lights have burned out, making the whole place look derelict and attracting trouble. Most recently, the owners filed an eviction notice against me for accessing the roof deck, which we’d all been using since before 2014. 

I’ve been in limbo for eight years now, worrying about when I’ll lose my home and workspace. The battle has taken its toll. At this point, I know I’ll have to move out during the renovation, but I want to be treated decently and in accordance with the law.

Ideally, the developer and the city will make it possible for me to move elsewhere in Liberty Village with a similar layout and monthly rent. Then, after the renovation, I can come back to the building and get a similar unit for a similar price. Would I take a buyout instead? Maybe, but I’ve only ever been offered $2,500 to walk away. That doesn’t replace what I’m losing—or what the developer is gaining.

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