By Fatima Al-Sayed, Connor Atkinson, Sarah Bhola, Anna Boyes and Joseph Burrell

Nightmare at 500 Dawes

Nightmare at 500 Dawes
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Jennifer Reid has lived at 500 Dawes Rd. in East York since 2015. For her, it has been nothing but a nightmare. When she first moved in, the screen door to her balcony was broken. It still has yet to be repaired, in 2017.

“It is as though the doors don’t even fit in the frames,” Reid said in an interview in March.

What started as little issues quickly turned into larger risks to her health and safety.

“A large problem is actually the people that live there and the way they treat the grounds,” Reid said. “You’ll have urine, rotting food, blood or vomit in the stairwells and elevators.”

Mice, cockroaches and ants also run rampant throughout the building.

“They are very hard to get rid of. You’re basically eating and drinking them. I don’t know how to get rid of them,” Reid said.

Reid’s comments highlight the continuing problems for residents of the Dawes Road apartment that has a reputation as one of the worst rental buildings in the city of Toronto.

500 Dawes: A closer look

The 14-story building at 500 Dawes Rd. has been the subject of many complaints which are logged in the City of Toronto’s Municipal Licensing and Standards database. They range from one complaint for zoning and one for graffiti to 129 complaints for property standards-related issues.

Between 2010 to 2017, based on Toronto Observer’s research, city officials received 287 complaints from tenants of 500 Dawes.

Click on the markers below to see the details of complaints, according to the City of Toronto’s most recent database:

(Joseph Burrell/Toronto Observer)

In 2017, there were 25 complaints in the first four months, and the city issued several orders to the landlord to do renovations, including this one, with eight violations, due to be fixed by July 2017.

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List of building code violations
March 24, 2017 order by the City of Toronto to extensive repairs at 500 Dawes Road.

Municipal Licensing and Standards

Toronto Observer went to the East York building to see firsthand how the landlord was complying (or not) with city orders.

The outdoor swimming pool had been filled in with soil,  after an order from the city which addressed health and safety concerns.

However, garbage is strewn in the backyard of the building, while the grass is decorated with discarded cigarette butts. The hallways reek of marijuana and old refuse. The green carpets are dotted with black, mouldy stains. Patches of yellow cover the once-white stairwell tiles.

Yet, life goes on in the complex. Resident children return on their bikes from school, people leave to walk their dogs, while others loiter in the lobby entrance, waiting for someone to open the door.

The building’s Facebook page says plenty about the conditions people endure. Some residents have called it the “most disgusting building in the city.”

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Facebook comments

From Facebook

A simple “500 Dawes” search on Google reveals numerous crimes that have occurred around the building inlcuding shootings and stabbings.

The East York building’s landlord is Havcare Investments Inc. and the landlord is known to her tenants as Marian Linton. According to a court document, her legal name is Carolyn Goodman and she sometimes uses her married name, Carolyn Krebs. For the sake of clarity, we’ll be using her legal name: Carolyn Goodman.

Havcare Investments started in 1995 and currently owns 11 Toronto buildings, six of which were in a 2015 list in the Torontoist of the top 250 worst buildings, for total complaints:

Since that list came out, the building at 500 Dawes seems to have improved in the past two years, according to Geri Stevens.

Stevens moved into a two-bedroom apartment at 500 Dawes Rd. in October 2011. Two months later, Stevens joined the East York chapter of the Association for Community Organization Reform Now (ACORN).

She explained there are cleaners who pick up the dog poop and Toronto Observer saw there was a bucket and mop in the lobby of the building, although it was filled with black water.

Nevertheless, some tenants still feel the building and the city could do more to improve the living situation.

500 Dawes, a 14-story building in East York, has been the subject of approx. 287 complaints to the City of Toronto since 2010. The notorious building was investigated several times but this time, Toronto Observer's Fatima Al-Sayed took a walk through the building to see if the residents' living conditions have improved and whether the landlord has complied with recent city orders to make repairs.

Geri

Witnessing the events following a Dec. 8, 2011 elevator fire, Stevens was roused to join ACORN, where she could make a difference.

“Immediately after the fire was horrendous,” says Stevens. While the fire did not impact her unit, other tenants weren’t as fortunate. The fire was a breaking point for already irate tenants, who for the past couple of years filed numerous investigation requests to the city.  That December, tenants, with the help of ACORN, held a media conference to protest building owner Carolyn Goodman’s upkeep of the building.

Since then, Stevens has called the Toronto Municipal Licensing and Standards (ML&S) herself numerous times to report building complaints.

“Management turns a blind eye to chronic ongoing problems in the building, such as smoking,” says Stevens. She has called Toronto Health Connection two times to report indoor smoking incidents.

“People walk up and down through the hallways smoking and people will actually sit in the stairwell on the stairs and smoke two or three cigarettes,” Stevens says.

The building at 500 Dawes Rd. is advertised as a non-smoking building. The response to indoor smoking at multi-residential buildings is not enough, says Stevens. The city’s first approach is to educate the community, by putting up anti-smoking stickers in public areas of the building. If a specific unit is reported, the city will speak to the residents of that unit, effectively letting the residents off with a warning. The last time a fine was imposed on a tenant for smoking was in 2007, says Stevens.

This January, Stevens called ML&S to her unit about a maintenance issue. While walking up the stairwell to her unit with the ML&S officer, they came across a tenant smoking. Both Stevens and the officer told the tenant that smoking was not allowed indoors, but kept walking.

“Don’t you have the authority to issue a warning or a fine?” Stevens asked, but says the officer did not respond. Later she e-mailed him the same question and again did not receive a response.

“There are bylaws but they’re not enforced, that’s a huge problem in a so called ‘world class city’ because it enables poverty and squalor in buildings that are poorly run,” Stevens says.

Toronto Observer's Sarah Bhola speaks with Geri Stephens, one of the ACORN tenants' rights volunteers, about her own experiences living at 500 Dawes Rd. in Toronto's East York neighbourhood.

Stevens has spoken multiple times in front of city council on behalf of ACORN. Once, at a 2013 meeting with former mayor Rob Ford, she shouted, “The city is in bed with slumlords”.

Stevens credits that statement for bringing Ford out to see 500 Dawes in person in 2013.

As a recipient of the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) benefits, Stevens says the two-bedroom apartment at 500 Dawes is the best she can afford, though she is thinking of moving later this year to Ottawa in order to be closer to her daughter.

Tenant Abuse

Jennifer Reid finds the option of leaving more challenging. Due to financial barriers, 500 Dawes Rd. was the only affordable building that would take her ODSP payments. Reid says that the worst violation of her rights as a tenant happened last spring. Reid was told by landlord Carolyn Krebs upon moving in in 2015 that there would be fees for a key to the building’s underground parking garage. Reid asked Krebs to have this request in writing and then would gladly pay for the key. Nothing was provided to her. It was forgotten about, as months passed.

After speaking to a Toronto television news network in May 2016 about the building’s conditions, Krebs probed into Reid’s tenant records and rediscovered the parking key was never paid for. Reid alleges that Krebs forged several documents stating that the payment had been asked for repeatedly.

“I had forgotten all about it! It is not as though I was doing it on purpose,” Reid said.

Krebs filed an eviction application to the Landlord and Tenant Board. Using the news report as evidence and motivation for the case, Krebs convinced the tribunal that forms were signed and presented to Reid on May 2, 2016. The news report did not air until May 16, 2016.

“I asked them; ‘So, do you believe in time travel?’ and they refused to reopen my case,” Reid said. “I have no problem paying what I owe. It was just a forgery of the documents.”

Reid was ordered to pay $1,500 in fees in order to stay in the building.

Experts say tenant abuse is the knowing creation of unfavourable and sometimes uninhabitable living conditions by landlords. For the victims of tenant abuse, also referred to as landlord harassment, it can feel as if there are no real solutions and home becomes hell.

In Toronto, abuse is a growing problem for low-income renters, according to the Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations (FMTA) executive director Geordie Dent. Dent says tenant abuse has two major causes: bad regulations and Toronto’s rental market.

“If I rob that coffee shop across that street I’ll appear in front of a judge in 24 hours,” Dent told Toronto Observer. “If your landlord is allowing a baby… to live in a room with toxic mould, there’s not a whole lot we can do.”

The best thing a tenant can do when fighting a landlord is to learn their rights, and Dent helps them do this.

An investigation into living conditions at one of Toronto's most notorious buildings and what residents can do to combat tenant abuse. Toronto Observer's Anna Boyes has the story.

The City of Toronto has limited access to private residences and few staff members to conduct property standards inspections. Currently the City of Toronto has 24 full-time working staff members in inspection and bylaw enforcement. A previously proposed funding plan for the 2017 budget requested six additional full time staff members.

“The city tried for example to replace the boiler, and bill the landlord of 500 Dawes, but… I think she just locked the door and the city can’t legally just (break) down the door and do the work,” Dent said.

Landlords inflict tenant abuse by withholding maintenance on the building and creating harsher living conditions, he says.

The building at 500 Dawes has been audited by the Municipal Licensing and Standard’s multi-residential apartment building (MLS MRAB) program many times since the program began in 2009. While most property standards were complied with after the audits, the building owners did continue to neglect the property and slack on cleanliness.

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Poster for cleaner
A poster hanging inside 500 Dawes Road asking for cleaners.

Joseph Burrell/Toronto Observer

In 2015, ML&S hired workers to complete orders. The cost of cleaning was $25,297.95, and along with the costs of 64 re-inspections, was added to the building’s property taxes.

Studies have shown that tenant abuse often occurs in areas with rent control regulations, which restrict a landlord’s ability to freely increase monthly rent. The Residential Tenancies Act 2006 states that Ontario landlords can only increase rent at a rate to be determined annually and they must give tenants 90-days written notice before the increase goes into effect.

A Monday April 3 meeting between the City of Toronto’s affordable housing committee and its tenant issues committee requested that the Ontario government improve the RTA. The committees’ goal is to have the act protect affordability and increase the city’s rental housing stock.

The next day, a report released by economist Benjamin Tal for CIBC, argued against the need for increased rental regulations and rent control.

“Lack of supply will turn not only landlords against tenants, but also tenants against tenants as they compete over dwindling housing supply, resulting in the emergence of a rental black market.” wrote Tal.

Discrimination against prospective tenants by landlords can lead to action by the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. In 2014, Carolyn Goodman and her company Havcare Investments Inc. were ordered to pay $10,000 to a young woman who was denied an apartment in 2011. The then 17-year-old was told by a superintendent that she was too young to sign a lease, though Ontario law allows 16 and 17-year-olds to sign a lease.

Bringing an abusive landlord to justice can take a long time and requires tenants to use different resources. Organizations like FMTA and ACORN try to bring residents as much help as possible, but according to Dent sometimes all you can do is move out.

“It is a landlord’s rental market right now and they get to pick and chose who they want to get, act however they want to act, and if you move out they are guaranteed to find someone to take over,” Dent said.

Tenant Rights

For some landlords, Geri Stevens is the opposite of the tenant they want to have. That’s because she’s informed and knows her legal rights. Unfortunately for Stevens, however, justice doesn’t come swiftly to her building.

Dent says tenants’ rights laws need bigger and better teeth, because “even if the teeth aren’t used, if the landlord fears the bite, that’ll be huge.”

Stevens already had received two eviction notices for non-payment of rent, something she has denied doing. She saw her rent increased mistakenly by a prior landlord. Her new landlord moved in and demanded the extra money, without ever issuing a notice about what the new rate would be, so Stevens never paid the difference. She also knew that landlords don’t have the power to evict a tenant, without a hearing, so when she received each notice, known as N-5, she simply filed them away.

The legality of eviction is the crux of tenants rights, and yet many are unaware of the fact that only a sheriff can physically evict a tenant. Furthermore, this usually only happens after the Landlord and Tenant board has held a hearing. While this protocol offers significant protection to tenants, most renters don’t realize that it exists, and this makes it easy to scare away tenants with fake eviction notices. Beyond that, the law offers landlords a myriad of ways to force out a tenant.

“We used to have vacancy control in Ontario… it kept rent from doing what it’s doing now where it’s basically spiralling out of control,” Dent said. “And [apartments] built after 1991 are exempt (from rent control). What that means is that they can raise rent every year however much they want.”

In other words, there’s no limit on how much rent can be adjusted between one tenant leaving and another signing on. What’s worse, even if you renew your lease from year to year, in a unit built after 1991 there is nothing stopping your landlord from hiking rent by 1,000 per cent on the next contract.

“It’s called an economic eviction,” Dent said.

Until now, there wasn’t any recourse for landlords who exploited the law in this way. That’s why FMTA was fighting to have Toronto City Council introduce a yearly $10 per unit landlord licensing fee, not because the fee itself will be prohibitive for businesses looking to make a buck through renting, but instead because the new bylaw, adopted March 29, 2017, includes a plan to use the money collected to increase the number of investigators responding to complaints, and dealing with negligent landlords.

“Right now 500 Dawes can do repairs if and when they feel like it,” Dent said. “The thing that I think landlords are really worried about is what the fee will be used for, which is more compliance.”
For more information on tenants’ rights and how to protect yourself, see the attachment below…

A tenant's rights advocate explains why Ontario's outdated rental laws needed changing. Geordie Dent, of the Federation of Metro Tenants' Associations, speaks with Toronto Observer's Joseph Burrell about the various ways that some bad landlords have been legally gouging their tenants in some Toronto apartment buildings.

The New Bylaw

This March, Toronto city council approved a landlord regulatory bylaw. The bylaw will take effect Jul. 1, 2017, and in it landlords will be given a three to four month window to register their properties.

Landlords will be required to:

The whole document may be read below.

In 2018, city council will review the impact from the implementation of the bylaw. A sum of $60, 000 had been allocated to tenant engagement (door-to-door conversations with tenants informing them of their rights with the new bylaw).

Toronto Observer staff reached out to Carolyn Goodman over the phone for a comment on this story.

In response to the numerous complaints about 500 Dawes Rd.,  Goodman said that the building is always full and that the tenant waiting list is very long.

“Multiple city agencies want their people in the building,” Goodman said. When asked for clarification she said “Thank you for calling” and hung up.

Timeline by Anna Boyes/Toronto Observer

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