KAWARTHA LAKES-Mary Webster just wants to feel safe in her own home. But she says since she answered the City’s call for people to step up and provide accommodation for the homeless she’s been left to her own devices to deal with an unruly and non-paying tenant.
It all began on May 4, 2020 when the City put out a notice looking to “partner with landlords who own apartments in Kawartha Lakes and the County of Haliburton to help end homelessness during COVID-19”.
The appeal stated, “During the pandemic, the most vulnerable are at an even higher risk and the City is looking to landlords to help house homeless community members.”
The 88-year-old read about it in the local print newspaper and thought she would like to help. She contacted the City and by July she had a tenant moving into her basement. She says the problems started almost immediately.
“They told me she was without a home through no fault of her own. They didn’t tell me she was mentally ill. At first, it was good but then it was horrible.” Webster told Kawartha 411 News. “A short time after she moved in here she brought a common law husband in and they (the city) said we can’t do anything about that she’s allowed to have someone.” (He moved out in December 2022)
That was just the beginning of a “nightmare” for Webster.
She says she has not been able to use the laundry room in the basement even though it’s stated in the lease that she is to be allowed access. Kawartha 411 has confirmed the tenant has piled junk in the basement doorway preventing her from entering. Sometimes, according to Webster, it has been taped shut. Webster now has to go to the local laundromat to do her laundry.
When you open the door to the basement a blast of overwhelming heat hits you. Webster claims the tenant leaves the oven and stove on all day and night, even when she’s not home.
“I’m afraid she is going to burn the house down. At first, she would put out the garbage every week but that soon stopped and I couldn’t figure out what she was doing with the garbage. Then I had to have a new furnace installed and when I got into the basement, there was junk everywhere, and all the garbage and recycling were in my fruit cellar. As far as I know, it’s still there.” Webster explains. “Around the 28th of December, she dragged a discarded real Christmas tree down the stairs into the apartment and it’s been there ever since.”
Webster lives on a quiet street in the north end of Lindsay. Many of her neighbours are also elderly, single women. According to Webster, the tenant has been harassing her neighbours at all hours of the day and night.
“She’s always prowling around at night time. she went to the next-door neighbour at 10:15pm and knocked on the door and said I’m here with an axe and I’m going to cut that tree down. And the neighbour was very upset. She’s now put in a security camera. The lady on the corner, she went there and asked if she could live in her basement. That was at midnight. Then later she was caught on video around 2 am digging up flowers in the neighbour’s flowerbed.”
Then there is the issue of unpaid rent. Documents filed with the Landlord Tenant Board show a track record of inconsistent to nonexistent payments starting just months after the tenant moved in. Webster says she is currently behind almost 5 months on her portion of the rent. Half is paid directly through ODSP, although that too has been cut off a couple of times.
A contract signed by the tenant on City of Kawartha Lakes letterhead says Webster should notify the program coordinator with the City if she has any concerns about the condition of the unit, someone not named on the lease living there or the behaviour of the tenant or a visitor. A handwritten note on the letter says to contact Elise Karklins, Rapid Re-housing Coordinator with the City with any concerns. Mary says she has tried that but to no avail.
“Every rule they gave was broken, every one. They told me they would stand by and help but they didn’t. The only thing they did was tell me she has no place else to go she has to stay. I was at the police station, I called the fire department, I called the health board, the City and they all refer me back to the Landlord Tenant Board.”
Webster, with the help of her niece, filed a Notice of Termination with the Landlord and Tenant Board on November 5, 2021. At the time the tenant owed more than $4,300 in rent. She finally got her hearing on April 27, 2022 and an order for eviction was issued. However, the tenant, with the help of a taxpayer-funded paralegal, appealed the decision, paid the balance owing and was given permission to stay by the board.
The City says this is between the landlord and the tenant and there’s nothing they can do.
“The City provided some upfront incentives such as prepaid rent for a couple of months, along with some short-term tenant supports. No formal agreement or contract was in place between the City and the landlord or tenant, as both the landlord and tenant signed a lease governed by the Residential Tenancies Act.” Michelle Corley, Housing Manager at City of Kawartha Lakes told Kawartha 411 News. “We have been in contact with the landlord on several occasions and attempts have been made by our staff to mediate and resolve challenges. We have tried to re-engage the tenant for support, unfortunately, these attempts were not successful and the City has no legal authority surrounding the tenant’s right to remain there. We also can’t force tenants to participate in supports, and a lease under the RTA doesn’t allow a tenant to be evicted due to not participating in supports.”
Corley puts the blame on the Landlord Tenant Board and says the rules are unreasonable and delays are unacceptable.
“Earlier in 2022, City staff shared concerns with the Residential Tenancies Act and the Landlord and Tenant Board with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs as well as our local MPP. We would like to see reforms to the Residential Tenancy Act in the following areas:
– The Landlord and Tenant Board needs to be more responsive in situations that involve serious events to maintain safety
– We have seen a higher tolerance for situations that would previously be grounds for eviction. The standard for eviction needs to be brought back to a reasonable level.”
The City says the program is no longer in operation.
“This program was released two and a half years ago, on a short-term basis during the pandemic. A dozen private landlords offered their rental units. This was a temporary program in response to increased levels of homelessness during the pandemic.” said Corley
But the “nightmare” continues for Webster.
“I just want her out, I want my home back.”
According to a legal expert we spoke to Webster can attempt to have the tenant evicted for endangering her safety or to have a caregiver/family member use the apartment but there’s no guarantee she would be successful and it could take years to work its way through the tribunal again.