‘Renoviction’ victims have legal options: Murray

By Staff

Tenants have options when a landlord attempts a “renoviction,” says Ottawa paralegal Amri Murray, who handles cases of this nature.

The Toronto Star recently reported on a spate of renovictions, which involve landlords using renovations as an excuse to evict people from their apartments — often in an attempt to flip units back onto the market at higher rental prices.

Murray, principal of AJ Murray Legal Services, tells that the practice has become commonplace in recent years.

“It’s happening on such a wide scale now. It’s at the point where landlords are trying to get help to figure out how they can perform a legal renoviction,” she says.

Murray explains that some landlords are exploiting what the Star story called a loophole in the province’s Residential Tenancies Act, which allows them to evict a tenant in order to do “extensive repairs or renovations” which require vacant possession.

She says many tenants feel powerless when they receive an eviction notice that cites the provision to terminate a lease.

“They aren’t typically knowledgeable about what the landlord’s obligations are,” Murray says.

However, she says that tenants may be able to challenge the notice at the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB), noting that the law requires the renovation to be “extensive,” rather than simple or cosmetic.

“We’re not talking about replacing the kitchen cupboards. This is supposed to be the kind of work that requires a building permit,” Murray says. “Even landlords are sometimes unaware that they can’t use this provision for simple tasks.”

In cases where tenants complied with the notice and vacated the premises, she says they may still have recourse at the LTB, depending on their situation.

For example, Murray says tenants evicted under the provision can ask landlords for a right-of-first-refusal on the rental unit once the work is complete.

“Landlords are then supposed to get back to you and check if you want to move back in,” she says.

In addition, if the promised work does not actually occur, Murray says tenants have up to a year to apply to the LTB for a declaration that their eviction was illegal, as well as for compensation.

Landlords found to have breached the Act may be liable not only for a tenant’s moving costs but also for the difference between their old rent and the higher rate they may have been forced to pay as a result of their eviction, she says.

“People think that once they’re out, they no longer have any options because there is no landlord-tenant relationship, but that’s not true,” Murray says.

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