They steal underwear, electrocute roommates, and hold motorcycles hostage—and those are just the runners-up. Meet Toronto’s worst landlords (and a terrible tenant or two).
“Our shower developed an electrical charge.”
My last year of film school, my housemates and I lived in the top two floors of a house in the Junction back when it was more of a haven for used mattresses than cool coffee shops. When we went to look at the place, the landlord was wearing work jeans covered in paint and hammering away. It seemed very proactive—look how much elbow grease she puts into her property!
Within a couple weeks of moving in, our roof leaked a torrent of water into the ceiling light fixture, and squirrels moved in. It was so dangerous that every roofer who gave an estimate refused to even step on the roof. She hired a “roofer” to fix it that a) arrived in a cab and b) borrowed a ladder from our neighbour. Bad signs.
Within another couple weeks, we began to have frequent power outages—sometimes several an hour. This was followed by our shower developing an electrical charge, which my housemate found out when he had the gall to lather his hair and his arm went numb. It turned out a ground wire had been exposed to water. Our resourceful landlord brought her dad to look at it and he suggested the Elmer-tested safety trick of wrapping a live wire in Saran Wrap. She suggested we call her “if it gets worse.” We started looking for other places when the electrical charge spread to the water itself. When my housemate called her for the last time to warn her we were in actual danger of dying, she uttered my favourite landlord quote of all time: “I don’t have time for this—I just bought a new condo!”
We told her we were leaving and that, while we weren’t giving the appropriate notice, we were pretty sure the Landlord and Tenant Board would understand.
“How did these mysterious peppers get in?”
Despite his revolving door of tenants, my landlord refused to change any locks.
The front door opened into a hallway, and if you went up the stairs you reached another locked door that led into our apartment. One day when I opened our apartment door, there was a surprise for me: a huge strand of peppers. Fake peppers, of all different sizes and shapes. Given my obsessive-compulsive nature, I knew that I never left the front door unlocked. How did these mysterious peppers get in? Who left them? I’m sure my landlord had plenty of deranged, begrudging ex-tenants. All I know is it left very bad karma on our house.
We suffered through broken toilets, no hot water for a week, no electricity in the house, surprise visits from his sister, who used a key to come into our suite and scare us half to death. Twice in one day. No notice, no real reason. Oh, and he once emailed me saying that he was evicting me for bed bugs, a parade of loud guests, and a dirty dog. Although I was utterly confused—I didn’t have any of those things—I fervently searched for a new apartment. He emailed me back the next day with a lame apology, saying the email was meant for my neighbours.
Oh, and did I mention this was all during the most stressful times of my Master’s thesis?
“She started turning off power to just my unit.”
I was renting a basement apartment during my last year of university. Seemed great—$400 a month, private entry, walled off from the house. I needed documents to get funds for rent expenses, but the landlord wouldn’t sign them. I realized quickly that she wasn’t claiming the income.
She started turning off power to just my unit—her lights would be on, although she’d ignore my knocks—until my food would spoil, trying to drive me out. She threatened to kick me out and keep my belongings, even though I was always paying rent. I threatened to call the fire department and report the lack of smoke detector. In the end, I moved out while she was at work and left the key in her mail slot.
“I never saw another cent.”
In early 2010, when my wife and I moved out of my Liberty Village condo and into a house, we decided to rent out the condo. I hired a real-estate agent to find me a tenant, which they did within three days. All seemed fine. He moved in at the start of February.
Immediately, there was a problem: he was a smoker. Despite my asking for a non-smoker, despite it explicitly saying “no smoking” in the lease, he smoked in there. What I found, however, is that such a clause is unenforceable. As the stench and toxins were building up, damaging my property and disturbing the neighbours, there was nothing I could do about it.
Come June, a rent cheque bounced. He claimed his bank account had been hacked, and he would get it sorted. The next month’s cheque bounced, too. I would propose a schedule, he would miss it; I would propose another, he would miss it. He’d fall further and further behind. I was trying to be helpful for a guy in a bind, but my patience had run out. In October, I filed notice to evict.
We then agreed that he would leave mid-December and pay all he owed until then. In the meantime, I found a replacement tenant to move in immediately after he left.
I never saw another cent. With none of my messages answered, and finding his phone number discontinued, I went to the condo at the start of December expecting to find it abandoned. To my surprise, there he was, claiming all would be sorted and I’d have my money tomorrow, which he’d promised before. And he said that he wouldn’t be leaving next week, but staying until the end of the lease.
That blew my lid. The very next morning, I went to the Landlord and Tenant Board office and filed for eviction on two counts: failure to pay rent, and agreeing to vacate. I paid the fee, and to my astonishment found that a hearing could not be scheduled until mid-January, a mere two weeks before his lease would expire anyway.
When the hearing finally came around, my tenant didn’t show, and the board member readily agreed that he should be evicted. She gave a date of 10 days following.
No surprise: he failed to leave. His furniture was gone, but there was food in the fridge, coats in a pile on the floor, clothes in the washer and dryer, and rotting food strewn about. It was disgusting. Plus, the choking stench of smoke was as strong as ever. By Ontario law, however, I couldn’t get rid of any of it. The eviction date had passed, but only the sheriff could formally enforce the eviction and allow me to clean up.
Already infuriated, I filed to enforce the eviction to find it would cost me over $300. And, I would have to wait two weeks, at which point I could then call the sheriff to schedule an appointment for him to come by and enforce the eviction at some later date.
Even when that was done, and I paid to have the lock changed, I still had to wait three days before I could finally throw his junk out, in case he came to claim it.
So, I’m now short thousands of dollars in unpaid rent that he still hasn’t and likely never will pay, and hundreds of dollars in ridiculous enforcement fees, and even more in attempts to repaint and clean the awful stench of smoke from the place. It took months to fix and clean up and get a new tenant in there.
Having a tenant fib and lie his way to living in my condo at my expense—all the while causing damage—was stressful enough on me personally and financially. However, the delays in bureaucracy, and the fees and further delays to enlist the help of police, made me feel like the law made it okay for the tenant to steal from me—like it was my fault for letting someone rent my property. I can understand that the law needs to protect tenants from being unlawfully thrown from their homes, but there’s no protection for small landlords that put their own finances at risk by providing a rental property. I expect I’ll never see those thousands of dollars I’m owed to fill the hole I’m in, and he got away with it. The banks are far less forgiving on a mortgage.
“I hate my job, I hate my job, I hate my job…”
I work for a collection company specializing in tenancies. It’s the worst job ever.
I have to call people after they’ve been evicted, or have damaged apartments. Obviously, most of these people don’t care at all, but we keep calling for up to six years. We’re all expected to collect a certain number each month, which is obviously impossible due to the fact that (1) the economy is bad, (2) a lot of these people are government-assisted, (3) a big portion of this country is either not educated about the perks of having good credit or simply don’t care. I find more and more that people are becoming educated in the tenant laws and know when I call them that they can’t be sued, and that nothing can be enforced (which is not always the case but sometimes my colleagues try to scare people into paying, which is easier than going to court). We do often bring people to court, but many times due to mistakes in paperwork the order is either dismissed or delayed..
I have spent time reading through files that can include disturbing things like people throwing diapers over the balcony, threatening neighbors and staff, distributing photocopied flyers saying “Wanna buy crack?! Come to unit 301!,” neighbours complaining about hookers coming to their door looking for extra money—the list goes on and on and on. In the beginning it was entertaining, but now the job is entirely sucking my soul. All I can think is “I hate my job, I hate my job, I hate my job, could someone please pay their bill!?”
“At one point, I was killing one rat a day.”
I moved into what I thought was the perfect apartment: large loft, lots of light, with a great rooftop patio in the heart of Cabbagetown. Shortly after, reality set in.
It was above a restaurant space that had changed hands many times. The restaurateurs trying to make a go of it while I lived there had to deal with an “as-is” commercial lease that basically stipulated they had to take the place as it was and pay for any up-keep themselves—on top of their premium market rent of course. Living above them had obvious ramifications for me. Some of the chronic problems: mice, rat, bedbug, and squirrel infestations. One evening, the squirrels went so stir-crazy that they broke through the drywall above my television and scared the crap out of my girlfriend and I. The rats got really bad, and at one point I was killing one a day, though this turned out to be because the elderly neighbour next door had died.
The total lack of a separating firewall between my landlord’s town-home and the adjacent one made for easy travel for the critters. When I pointed out code violations such as this, the landlord would hire his gap-toothed two-by-four–carrying handyman to make patch-work. (I was a licensed and unionized drywaller.)
The roof was another major problem, as every time there was a problem, it had been covered with another layer of shingles. There must have been between three and five layers of shingles, but this didn’t keep the water from soaking through the roof and producing pregnant bellies of water damage behind the plaster.
Then there was the time I came home from working construction in the middle of winter hoping to grab a warm shower, and instead discovered frozen pipes. I would call the landlord and he would come by to set up his home hair-dryer near the hot-water pipe to un-freeze it. The “permanent” solution was to keep the water running. Eventually, I developed respiratory problems and extreme allergies.
Being a construction worker, I did my best to clean and caulk every inch of the interior I could, eventually taking apart the kitchen counter to discover what must have been years of mouse and rat feces and giant holes, as well as obvious signs of just covering existing problems with the cabinets instead of re-drywalling. At this point, my newly developed allergies and respiratory condition made it impossible to stay in the apartment—I would have a coughing fit upon entering the building.
I called City inspectors, but they only did a visual inspection of my apartment, and since I had already worked hard at making it clean, they saw no problems. The giant pregnant-mold-growth in the hallway? They said that since it was in the hallway it couldn’t possibly be bothering me. They said that, without central heating, my apartment was “hermetically sealed.” I do not think they understood the porousness of plaster walls—cracked and rotting walls at that. Nor does it seem they understood “hermetic,” or anything about indoor air quality for that matter. While staying on a friend’s couch I tried to fight the landlord at the Landlord and Tenant Board, but lost and was evicted. The landlord fought me tooth-and-nail, crying poor the whole time. The fight was so exhausting, and the relationship with the landlord had become so stressful, that I honestly felt fighting for my rights further was damaging to my health. I decided to cut my losses and move.
“I noticed that my husband was acting a little
strange and grumpy. Why? We had a new baby!”
I was in the hospital recovering from delivering my baby when I noticed that my husband was acting a little strange and grumpy. Why? We had a new baby!
After some prompting I found out that he had received a phone call from our landlord. Our rent was due in a couple of days, and my husband gave him the cheque early, knowing that we would be busy with our baby. Apparently our landlord called him and said that now that we had added a tenant, our rent would have to go up by $100. Added a tenant.
There are so many things about this that still make me angry over four years later. Besides the fact that it is completely illegal, and that he knew for approximately five months that a “new tenant” was coming, I will never forgive him for bringing this up while we were still in the hospital, if at all. If ever I speak of the birth of our only child, I will always remember the anger and stress that we experienced. We should not have been thinking about our landlord, and my husband should not have had to leave the hospital to confront him and threaten him with a lawyer. My gut reaction was, well, we’re moving. But this was a new life for us: we couldn’t just give notice, pack up, and move out. We just had a baby!
The icing on the cake was that, when we finally moved out, the landlord asked my husband if I was going to come and say goodbye. Good riddance was more like it.
Think you can do them all one worse? Share your story of a nightmarish landlord, or tenant (no names, please!) in the comments section below.