The 98-year-old sole remaining resident of a Toronto seniors’ residence has been offered $20,000 to leave by the end of April, despite her family’s concerns about relocating during a pandemic.
Betty Robinson is the last remaining tenant at what used to be Davenhill Senior Living, which officially closed at the end of November, 2019. Dan Tomlinson, chair of its board of directors, e-mailed her daughter, Dianne Robinson, on Monday, offering a cash payment to move.
“Support services to find a new location and coverage of moving expenses can be provided and would be deducted from the offer,” he said in the message. (Mr. Tomlinson did not respond to a request for comment).
Dianne Robinson does not understand why her mother, who moved into the facility nearly six years ago, is being pushed out in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Given the pandemic, people aren’t moving; there’s not going to be any application or permit to either redevelop or renovate the building. I would think anything like this is on hold at this moment, so why does she have to get out now when we can’t possibly do anything?” she said.
The not-for-profit home for about 150 residents was sold to a numbered company, 2692518 Ontario Inc., in May, 2019. Two months later, Mr. Tomlinson wrote to residents, saying a decision to shutter the building had been made “only after it became clear that closure of the facility is inevitable and that the only question was how much control we would have over the timing.” Residents were offered assistance with relocation and told the building would close on Nov. 30.
“I’m still here because this is where I want to live. When I came here, I expected to be here for the rest of my life,” Betty Robinson said.
Clara McGregor, a lawyer from the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly, explained at a July 18 meeting with the residents that the only way retirement homes can legally evict residents is by obtaining a permit from the province’s Landlord and Tenant Board. In the case of eviction for the purpose of conversion, demolition, repair or renovation, a landlord must provide tenants with compensation, generally equivalent to three months’ rent. These rules did not apply to residents who had accepted help from Davenhill’s transitional coaches to find an alternate accommodation, however.
The Robinsons submitted a formal complaint late November with the provincial government’s Rental Housing Enforcement Unit. They alleged that even before the closing date, Davenhill employees shut down certain floors, cancelled meal programs and sold or donated furniture and appliances from the common room areas, including the tea room, the chapel, the library and the auditorium. The complaint also alleged that employees urged residents to leave on a daily basis. But the RHEU closed the file earlier this year, noting Ms. Robinson had maintained her residency, had access to vital services such as hot water and electricity, and was no longer being inundated with calls, text messages and e-mails.
Since the building’s closing, rent decreased from $2,500 to $1,800, as Ms. Robinson no longer has to pay the community fees and extra services, including telephone, cleaning and cable fees.
On March 24 – one week after Ontario declared a state of emergency owing to the spread of COVID-19 – two employees of Davenhill, neither wearing protective measures, delivered a letter to Betty Robinson. It informed her that she would need to start mailing her rent cheque, rather than leaving it at the concierge’s desk. Her family was concerned a visit to the post office poses a safety risk for her as well, given the pandemic. Mr. Tomlinson reversed the company’s position.
Two days after the visit from employees, Dianne Robinson said she received a call from Mr. Tomlinson. He said he wanted to reiterate the offer of $20,000; she contends it was the first time she had heard that amount. He followed up with the e-mail on March 30.
Ms. Robinson said old neighbours miss their lives at Davenhill. Most are unhappy with their new living situation because of the smaller apartment size, increased rent, inconvenient location or homesickness. Some even left the province in the search for affordable accommodation.
“They miss their friends. They were just taken from their family because the residents were like a family,” she said.
University-Rosedale NDP MPP Jessica Bell, who advocated on behalf of the residents, decried the company’s failure to effectively communicate with their tenants about their rights. “Davenhill should have the responsibility to work ethically transparently with the residents," she said. “This includes telling them that they have the right to stay, informing them if they accept help from the transitional coaches provided by Davenhill, they are no longer eligible for compensation. Davenhill didn’t do that.”
Betty Robinson agreed that Davenhill’s management should be held accountable for their actions and provide answers to the residents who are still in the dark as to what led to the building’s closing.
“Some day, their children will be in a same position if nothing is done. It’s not only for us, but it’s for the future,” she said.
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