Toronto tenants were told they could move back in after renovations. 3 years later, they're still waiting 27 January 2023 04:16 AM: Delroy Curling just wants to return to the downtown Toronto apartment he lived in for 47 years. 

The long-time renter was told he had to leave 11 Walmer Rd. in Toronto's Annex neighbourhood, where he was paying about $1,300 a month, three years ago for a renovation.

Curling, 85, is on a fixed income. He's now paying about $400 more monthly for a smaller unit on the same street as he waits out a project that has dragged on for years, despite all external signs of it being complete and many new tenants moving into the building. 

"Since the building has been finished, they've ignored us completely," said Curling. "I feel sad. I should be the first one to move back in"

The Residential Tenancies Act states if a tenant is asked to vacate a unit for extensive repairs or renovations, that tenant can choose to move back in after the work is complete without a substantial rent increase, as long as they inform their landlord in writing they intend to return. But advocates say with no enforcement, tenants who have made their intentions known have all too often been left in a quagmire, in this case, for years.

Curling has made his intent to return known in writing multiple times.

In the fall of 2021, Cromwell Management wrote to him, saying "It is expected that the construction will be complete and you will be able to move in the rental unit on November 1, 2021, pending final inspections."

11 Walmer rd
Delroy Curling says he was told the reason he couldn't return to his unit was it was missing a fridge and an oven. Months later, he is still waiting for updates. (Clara Pasieka/CBC News)

When that date came and went, he pressed the company and was told his unit needed more time because it didn't have a fridge and oven yet. He told Cromwell Management last month that he would buy the appliances himself if he could return home. He says nobody has replied to his offer.

Curling doesn't want to give up. He likes that he can walk to see family and services he needs, but the $1,700 he is paying for a bachelor on the same street is something he can barely afford.

"I don't know what next to do," said Curling, who has already contacted his local MPP, Jessica Bell, who is also the Ontario NDP's housing critic.

In May of 2022, multiple units came on the market at 11 Walmer Rd., some similar in size to Curling's, that were advertised for well over $2,000, more than $700 more than he was paying for a unit when he left. 

Jessica Bell
MPP Jessica Bell says she and her team have canvassed the building multiple times and found many renovated units occupied. (Submitted by Jessica Bell)

Bell told CBC Toronto she and her team have canvassed the building multiple times and found many renovated units occupied. Her office has also reached out to the company but not made any headway.

CBC News repeatedly tried to reach the company by phone and email, seeking answers as to the status of renovations and when tenants may be able to return to their homes. A voicemail greeting by the property manager, Nolan Rodrigues, initially indicated he was away until Jan. 23. CBC was told nobody else at the company was available to answer questions. 

'A mystery why we can't move back'

Affected tenants with no timeline in sight feel forced to surveil the property hoping for the best.

Caitlin Gowans, also waiting it out in a smaller, pricier unit across the street, says she frequently sees moving trucks and worries her unit could be rented out one day to someone else, despite sparse contact with building management in which they've assured her they understand she wants to return.

"It's a mystery why we can't move back into our unit," said Gowans. "I have no idea what's going on with the state of the unit."

Meanwhile, she's keeping her eyes on her seventh floor unit from outside, looking for signs of occupation.

11 Walmer rd.
Tenant Caitlin Gowans says she is keeping her eyes on her 7th-floor unit from outside, looking for signs someone else has moved in. (Submitted by Caitlin Gowans)

Bell says tenants like Curling and Gowans are "caught between a rock and a hard place."

The ministry encourages tenants who believe an offence has occurred to contact its Rental Housing Enforcement Unit to investigate.

But these tenants can't prove their landlord has done anything wrong, says Bell. Despite not having access to their homes and having a right to return, the law doesn't state any timeline that would be considered reasonable, she says. She is calling for more enforcement through her proposed bill, the Protecting Renters from Illegal Evictions Act.

Victoria Podbielski, the press secretary for Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark said in a statement: "A landlord who denies someone that right of first refusal commits an offence under provincial law…Our government has cracked down on bad landlords by increasing penalties to up to $50,000 or (or $250,000 if a corporation)."

'Rules are purposely vague'

Geordie Dent, executive director of the Federation of Metro Tenants' Associations, says only 10 to 20 per cent of tenants return after a renovation because people become settled elsewhere or aren't given enough notice.

He says a company like Cromwell may not communicate information with the tenant or stretch it out "with the hope that they don't move back in, like 80 per cent of tenants. If they don't do that and you are a landlord you're popping the champagne and counting 100 dollar bills, because you've just made probably thousands of dollars more a year."

Geordie Dent, executive director of the Federation of Metro Tenants' Associations, says purposely vague rules hurt tenants. (Lauren Pelley/CBC News)

He says for tenants like Curling and Gowans, "It's a terrible situation and the rules are purposely vague to help landlords."

His organization is calling for clear timelines and procedures so tenant knows when to expect to be invited back.

As for Curling, he tells CBC he's already waited this long. 

"I'm going to stick it out."

11 walmer rd
Another view of 11 Walmer Rd. Delroy Curling was paying about $1,300 monthly for his unit in the building. For the past three years, he's been forced to pay $400 more a month to stay in a smaller unit nearby while his apartment is being renovated. (Clara Pasieka/CBC News)

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