Renoviction’s toll on the Region

The combination of rising housing prices, rent increases, and a lack of affordable housing continues to put stress on residents across Waterloo Region. In addition to these issues, renters in Waterloo Region are increasingly being evicted from their units to find themselves without affordable options.

Kitchener resident Wendy Sparkes is being evicted from her apartment near Belmont Village after receiving a Form N12 from her landlord, which indicates that the owner is ending their tenancy because the landlord, a purchaser or a family member requires the rental unit. 

Sparkes has lived in her apartment for 13 years since selling her house after her husband passed away. She said she was not able to find a comparably priced rental unit in Kitchener and has chosen to leave the city.

“I sold my house at what would now seem like a ridiculous price. What little money I had, I  put into a little investment and then moved in here and started paying rent again,” Sparkes said.

The building Sparkes’ apartment is in was sold in February. Sparkes and the other building tenants received their eviction notices shortly after the sale was finalized. 

The new owners told the tenants that the building was going to be torn down for a new building, but Sparkes said their actions since have not reflected that plan. She added that the tenants are not sure who the new owners of the building are since they are only listed as an Ontario-numbered corporation.

“They sent us a notice of intent to enter the buildings to inspect for damages as a comparison against photos taken at move-in. None of us ever had photos taken when we moved in. I thought, ‘if you’re going to tear the buildings down, why do you need to come in and inspect for damages?’,” Sparkes said.

Sparkes is moving to Nova Scotia to live with her sister, who moved there last year. She said they had a plan where Sparkes would eventually move there, but the eviction has accelerated her move. 

“This is one of those things where my hand has been forced. I don’t really want to move because I love this neighbourhood so much. I know all my neighbours and I love all my neighbours. I just don’t want to live anywhere else,” Sparkes said.

Debbie Chapman is Kitchener city councilor for Ward 9, where Sparkes’ apartment is located. She said the city has worked since 2019 to address the intersecting issues of rental prices, evictions and renovictions across Kitchener. 

Chapman is a member of the advisory council for the city’s Housing For All strategy presented to Kitchener City Council in December 2020. The plan includes tracking and monitoring renovictions where tenants are displaced from their homes to allow significant renovations or redevelopment to proceed. 

“We are going to monitor it and track it, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to stop it. But what’s important about the monitoring and tracking is we have no idea how many renovictions or evictions there are in the city,” Chapman said.

She added that renters to know their rights regarding evictions. 

“What I would encourage people to do when they get an eviction notice from a landlord is to contact Waterloo Region Community Legal Services. I think it’s really important that people be informed,” Chapman said.

Chapman said the City of Kitchener continues to petition the provincial government for changes that will protect renters from renoviction and sudden rent increases. 

“Housing is a human right. I don’t say that just as a mantra. I happen to be a privileged homeowner. When we do a renovation in our house, we try to work around it, we don’t suddenly become homeless as the renovation is happening,” she said. “I think that’s what the approach of the property owner should be. Work with the residents to ensure that they can continue to be housed. I think there are ways to do this without evicting people for renovation.” 

Chapman said that while the city passed a motion last October calling on the province to take meaningful steps to address renovictions, it can’t stop them since they fall under the provincial Landlord and Tenants Act.

“If we can show that we’ve got a real problem here, it could certainly strengthen our lobbying to the provincial government to see ways to to stop this,” Chapman said.

Jess Rediker is another Kitchener resident who has received an eviction notice for the East Ward neighborhood rental unit she shares with her partner. She said that the rent was reasonable and that looking for new options in Kitchener close to transit has not been successful as the city has become unaffordable for them. Without an option in Kitchener, Rediker and her partner have chosen to move to Ottawa, which has a more affordable rental market, for a year before moving to Montreal. 

“The fundamental problem is that we’ve commodified housing instead of treating it as a human right. Until we reverse that, nothing is going to change,” Rediker said.

Rediker added that she feels the city risks losing residents to more affordable communities. 

“The city is going to lose people who love the city, People who wanted nothing but to see Kitchener built up and made better. Kitchener is going to lose all of those people over time,” she said.