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Earlscourt apartment owner appeals “unprecedented” decision by Landlord Tenant Board

Some tenants continue to be locked out
721 Earlscourt Dr.

The landlord ordered to pay unprecedented fines for illegally locking out his tenants after a fire at 721 Earlscourt Dr. has appealed the decision.

The appeal could take as long as a year, says lawyer Andrew Bolter from CLAS (Community Legal Aid Sarnia), which is representing about 20 tenants who lived in 14 apartments at 721 Earlscourt Dr. before a fire extensively damaged a second-storey unit in February 2023.

The appeal is another blow to the tenants who were displaced after the fire, including those who are still not back in their homes, said Bolter.

“As far as we’re concerned, they should all have their keys and be back in,” he said. “The system is generally very slow. 

“There needs to be checks and balances within the system to ensure appeals aren’t frivolous, especially with the Landlord Tenant Act. The more you appeal, the more tenants give up,” Bolter said.

In today’s rental climate, tenants who give up their fight with landlords, can’t find affordable housing and frequently wind up homeless, Bolter added.

“It’s a fast track from Earlscourt Drive to Rainbow Park (where there is currently an encampment of people experiencing homelessness).”

In March, the Landlord Tenant Board’s vice chair Robert Patchett released a series of decisions and imposed precedent-setting fines against Mississauga-based Equity Builders Ltd. (EQB), which owns numerous apartment buildings in Ontario including the 40 units at 721 Earlscourt.

Patchett levied the maximum fines permitted of $35,000 for each of 14 applications that CLAS made on behalf of the Earlscourt tenants. That money goes to the LTB, which adjudicates most landlord and tenant disputes in Ontario.

Patchett also ordered a total of $151,482 in damages to be paid to the 20 people represented by the 14 applications. Damages to each individual tenant vary depending on individual circumstances. They range between a few thousand dollars each and approximately $20,000.

721B Earlscourt Dr., before renovations began. (Cathy Dobson photo)

In one case, EQB was ordered to pay about $17,000 to a family of four that found their unit full of water and bugs when they returned months later after the fire.

All payments are on hold until the appeal is heard, Bolter said.

“At the moment we are reviewing the appeal,” he said.  EQB is appealing on the grounds that there was bias on behalf of the board and the fines were not appropriate, Bolter added.

“It’s a very complicated situation and we don’t think there’s merit.”

Last summer, Earlscourt landlord and EQB president Ash Singh, said safety concerns related to air quality in the building after the fire prompted EQB’s insurance company to direct the company to lock tenants out.

“We are not here to ruin people’s lives,” Singh said at the time. “I have letters from the Ministry of Health and an engineer that say the building is unsafe for occupancy.”

Singh told The Journal his insurance company hired a contractor to renovate the building and that he was not aware of the work schedule.

He said hardships suffered by his locked-out tenants could have been avoided if they all had tenant’s insurance.

Renovations slowly progressed, so slowly that Platchett ruled: “In my view the contractors had complete control over (the building) for 16-plus weeks and were unable to complete the work in a timely manner and did not provide a reasonable explanation for their delays.”

When numerous Earlscourt units were finally cleared for tenancy last summer, the tenants arrived to find the locks had been changed and they were still locked out.

The Sherriff later cut the locks and let them in five months after the fire.

For some, it was the end of a long ordeal that involved couch surfing with relatives and friends, sometimes sleeping rough, and using the city’s shelters for the homeless.

Many Earlscourt tenants are on low and fixed incomes, Bolter said. They pay $700 or $800 a month in rent, about half what the going market rate is for a one-bedroom apartment.

“We know that the more a landlord appeals, the more tenants just walk away. But, to their credit, most at Earlscourt have stuck it out because losing affordable housing is a very big deal,” said Bolter.

At least three more units are renovated and ready for tenants but the landlord continues to lock them out, according to CLAS. Two others are not yet habitable.  

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