The Hamilton Spectator
‘Renoviction’ applications on the rise
Tight housing market squeezed further by surge in applications from landlords, lack of rent controls
Applications to evict tenants for renovations in Hamilton continue to pile up as rents keep trending higher.
Last year, the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) fielded 103 applications to evict renters to do work on buildings.
That was up from 60 the year before, 33 in 2020 and 21 in 2019, according to data from the provincial tribunal.
Unit turnover for renovations represents a “huge factor” for affordability, says Brian Doucet, a University of Waterloo professor who studies gentrification, including along Hamilton’s LRT corridor.
“This is one of the main ways in which housing that is already affordable to people on low and moderate incomes is actively eroded and actively lost and not being replaced,” Doucet said of evictions for renovations, also known as “renovictions.”
In Ontario, property owners are able to evict tenants for demolitions or renovations that require vacancy. If displaced renters want to return after the work is done, they must inform their landlords in writing.
Tribunal disputes can arise when tenants challenge if vacancy is really needed for work to be done.
The LTB figures only offer a snapshot of such eviction efforts. They don’t reflect when renters, sometimes offered cash incentives to clear out, leave their homes without landlords filing applications with the tribunal.
Some tenants face barriers, such as social and health conditions, that discourage them from learning about their rights and mounting LTB challenges, said lawyer Roberto Henriquez, who’s representing renters in a Hamilton building without running water. “They’re in difficult places.”
Some, he added, “are simply saying, ‘Well, it looks like my landlord wants to push me out. I suppose I have to just go along with it because what right do I have?’ ”
The city has hired a consultant to help draft a potential bylaw to protect tenants that draws inspiration from anti-renoviction regulations in New Westminster, B.C.
Staff are also examining rental replacement policies that could oblige property owners that demolish rental stock to find displaced tenants other comparable units.
As well, the city is drafting a longterm “road map” to address Hamilton’s affordability crisis that considers a range of strategies, including more affordable housing, repairing existing stock and subsidies for renters.
But provincial policy has a “huge role to play” in bolstering affordability for tenants via tighter rent control, Doucet said.
Premier Doug Ford’s government made new buildings exempt from rent control, which in Ontario, involves an annually capped rate — it’s 2.5 per cent this year — for occupied units.
In all cases, when units become vacant, there’s no regulated limit for how much a landlord can hike rates for new tenants.
“That creates a huge incentive for landlords to evict sitting tenants, especially in the context where rents are going up very rapidly ... so they can easily, in many cases, double the rent,” Doucet said.
Overall, the average rent for apartments in Hamilton has increased by more than 15 per cent since February 2022, according to the most recent report from Rentals.ca. Onebedroom units are now going for $1,828, and two-bedrooms for $2,234.
Housing expert Steve Pomeroy, who’s helping draft the road map, recently told council Hamilton is losing affordable units faster than it’s building them.
But with limited government funding for new affordable stock, the city must also focus on helping tenants stay in their homes through subsidies, said Pomeroy, executive adviser to the McMaster University-based Canadian Housing Evidence Collaborative.
Meanwhile, provincial policy, including a lack of rent control, is a considerable factor, Ward 13 Coun. Alex Wilson suggested.
“I’m a renter around this table. I’m 26 years old. In my lifetime, rents have tripled. In the past decade, less than the past decade, rents have doubled in this city.”
Large corporate entities, like real estate investment trusts are “not hurting,” said Wilson, who asked how much a cap on rents to 2015 levels, with mitigation for smaller landlords, could affect the housing crisis.
The rental sector needs investors, but they only put their dollars in the market “if they can actually make a return on their equity,” Pomeroy said.
“So we’ve got to find that balance about making sure that we’ve got enough investment that we continue to build enough purpose-built rentals and don’t scare developers off completely.”
But if there was ever a time to push for changes to provincial policy, like rent control, it’s now, suggested Pomeroy, noting politicians are paying more attention to the affordability issue than they have in decades.
“You know, 30 per cent of the voters are renters, a large constituency of renters that can mobilize a campaign ...”