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The low-rise apartment building at 1 Kingswood Rd., Toronto.D'Arcy McGovern/The Globe and Mail

A Toronto city councillor is raising alarms over landlords that send renovation-related eviction notices during the coronavirus pandemic, especially for non-essential work.

“In this precise moment I would be very concerned about any landlord going ahead with any non-urgent projects," said Beaches East-York Councillor Brad Bradford, who sits on the City’s Subcommittee for the Protection of Affordable Rental Housing. "This would be a major problem for impacted tenants who might struggle to make alternative arrangements in the midst of a global health pandemic.”

On April 1 the five remaining tenants of a 12-unit apartment complex at 1 Kingswood Rd. in Mr. Bradford’s ward received N13 forms, “Notice to End your Tenancy Because the Landlord Wants to Demolish the Rental Unit, Repair it or Convert it to Another Use.” The property was purchased for $2.57-million on Dec. 5, 2019, by a numbered company, 2721993 Ontario Inc., controlled by Brendan Riley and Nicholas Martin. Mr. Martin is a realtor, Mr. Riley runs a renovation business that focuses on purchasing, updating and flipping multifamily residential units. His website describes the Kingswood project as having a timeline of 12-18 months before it is completed.

“Nothing illegal is going on here,” Mr. Riley said. “No one's getting evicted, those words do not come out of my mouth, it's a temporary vacating of your apartment while we're trying to improve people’s lifestyle. There’s no threat that you can't come back, I have not once ever said that.”

Mr. Riley said the renovation will be extensive and will include replacing knob and tube wiring and galvanized pipes, in addition to reconfiguring units to add a den. Notices to tenants have also warned there will be underpinning work. Mr. Riley applied for his permits ahead of the City’s pandemic restrictions came into effect, but as yet permission on those permits has not been granted.

The Social Justice Tribunals of Ontario annual reports don’t give detailed breakdowns of all eviction types, but what is clear that in recent years the number of so-called “no-fault” eviction applications has been on the rise. In the most recent data available, from the 2018-2019 annual report, the number of eviction applications for non-payment of rent was 46,043, representing 62 per cent of all applications (down from 49,489 and 67 per cent in 2016-2017). Over the same period the applications for “other reasons” which includes N13s and N12s (eviction for a landlord’s own use) jumped to 13,945 (18.9 per cent of all applications) in 2018-2019 from 9,987 (13 per cent) in 2016-2017.

“Nobody’s doing anything untoward in the middle of a pandemic, but I still have to follow the protocols,” said Steven J. Smith, a paralegal with Handsmith Advocate & Paralegal representing Mr. Riley. Mr. Smith said the tenants knew an N13 was coming, one was initially sent in December by Mr. Riley and then retracted because there were errors in the notice. “Nothing is going to happen immediately, no tenants are getting evicted. I’m aware the sheriff is offline, I’m aware of the judicial order to stop the board to stop issuing eviction orders.

“There’s no judicial order saying Mr. Smith you can’t issue any notices at this time. I’m merely putting them in so they are in the queue to be processed eventually. If I can get this guy a hearing, you know, by August I’ll be shocked in all honesty. In my mind, it’s probably going to be September if we’re lucky.”

Tenants in the building were not willing to speak on the record, but did describe workers in and out of the building, knocking on doors and requesting access to their apartments in the weeks since the N13s were sent, raising concerns of possible spread of the Coronavirus. They describe a building that was fully rented before the December N13, and as of January half the tenants moved away rather than fight an eviction.

Mr. Smith’s April N13 comes with one break for tenants: For the next three months no rent will be collected, as provincial rules stipulate that amount of compensation is mandatory.

Tenants who spoke to The Globe raised concerns that Mr. Riley is still using the property management firm of the building’s previous owner, Bassem Hanna, who is the co-founder of cannabis company Terrascend that markets “socially conscious” products. In September, representatives for Mr. Hanna’s property company Almega Capital Limited Partnership sent tenants legal letters warning them that the number of rental units in the building were to be reduced from 12 to six. After Councillor Bradford opposed the planning approval, the company sent tenants new communications in October that claimed the eviction warnings were premature.

“Riley Real Estate knew nothing about the previous attempts or any ongoings with regards to deoccupation or vacating their units. We knew nothing about that,” said Mr. Riley, who purchased the building just weeks after those events. “How that was previously attempted is not how we do our business.”

Mr. Riley said he was willing to offer financial packages to tenants to help them move sooner, but was unwilling to discuss his potential terms. “We’re offering to pay them a substantial amount higher than [the three-month minimum] in order for them to deoccupy and to move on to another unit if they so choose,” he said. “No one’s getting forced or coerced or threatened or challenged or anything like that. I want to be very clear on that.”

After Mr. Riley spoke with The Globe and Mail, some tenants were sent copies of a non-disclosure agreement that Riley Real Estate representatives asked them to sign prior to any negotiations over a financial package.

“Hearing about any kind of eviction in the midst of this pandemic is extremely concerning to me. I am disappointed to hear that any landlord would do this unless there were some immediate concern for health or safety,” Mr. Bradford said. “All of that is before even considering the potential health impacts on workers on-site. Again – this is not the time for any non-essential work.”

Mr. Riley hopes the city permits will come quickly so he can continue his renovations.

“We own the building. We need to operate it as a business. We want to make the place better. We want to upgrade it for the tenants there,” he said. “We are improving the quality of the building and therefore the quality of the tenants that will be living there in the future.”

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