Direct action gets the goods for tenants


What if you lost your home?

That’s the question facing Graham and Louis, low-income seniors who’ve shared a two-bedroom apartment on Elgin Street for 42 years. Their building had a fire on June 19, and the landlord asked tenants to move out while repairs were being done.

But as people moved back in, Graham and Louis were told to stay out. As the days and weeks passed, their suspicions grew.

Their apartment had no direct damage from the fire. Insurance adjusters had looked the place over, giving it a thumbs up. Meanwhile, insurance money for temporary housing was running out – by November 1, Graham and Louis would be homeless.

In mid-September, the landlord contacted Graham and Louis, offering $6,000 if they agreed to move out. It sounded like a bribe, and that’s exactly what it was.

Graham and Louis had been protected by rent control for decades. Average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Ottawa now is $2,047, and that’s twice the amount Graham and Louis pay. A lot of money could be made if new tenants moved in.

Graham and Louis drew a reasonable conclusion: the landlord was attempting an eviction. Six thousand dollars sounds great, but not when you factor in where one can move. This was an attempt to leverage financial insecurity for private gain.

To make matters worse, when Graham re-entered the apartment to get a few possessions and paint a wall in need of repair, the superintendent escalated. The power was cut, and the locks were later changed. This landlord was playing hardball.

So, Graham and Louis contacted Community Legal Services of Ottawa and met with a lawyer who advised them on next steps. The lawyer sent a stern letter to the landlord, citing a litany of infractions and insisting they cease. Barring access to the home was not acceptable.

Bad landlords know they can wait out such appeals. Ontario’s Landlord and Tenant Board has collapsed under provincial neglect, and delays for hearings have grown to eight months. Facing the prospect of homelessness within weeks, this was little help to Graham and Louis.

So, Graham reached out to me and ACORN Ottawa. Thanks to ACORN’s organizing efforts, dozens rallied outside Graham and Louis’ building.

The rally worked. Locks were changed, and the power was restored. At Graham and Louis’ invitation, we joined them for a tour of their home. We saw no evidence of water damage, and no indication that the apartment was unsafe.

What we did see was a community that came together. It’s the same Ottawa spirit that helped us survive the “freedom convoy,” the COVID-19 pandemic and recent bouts of extreme weather.

Standing up for what’s right matters, and direct action gets the goods. I want to thank Graham, Louis, Community Legal Services of Ottawa and Ottawa ACORN for reminding us of that.

Share this