Innisfil family struggles to repay rent after refusing to pay landlords for unlivable conditions
“There is no end to this pandemic and I sat there at the [Landlord and Tenant Board] The court is watching them order tenants to pay thousands of dollars, ”said Elizabeth Hopkins, a resident of Innisfil, who was ordered to reimburse her landlord more than $ 7,000 in rent at a recent hearing.
In October 2019, Hopkins rented a quaint cabin in Innisfil for $ 1,500 per month with her husband, one-year-old daughter and puppy. Prior to moving in, their new owners assured them that the single-story timber building had been “fully winterized” with newly installed baseboard heaters and updated waterproofing for animal and weather protection.
As December arrived, Hopkins noticed that the floors had turned “cold as ice” and all the water lines had frozen over. When hiring a plumber to investigate, it was discovered that there was no insulation under the floorboards or around the water pipes.
The owners (who live in Toronto but also own a cottage directly across from the Hopkins) have offered to wrap a heating coil around the main water line, allowing liquid water to be collected from a faucet to the interior of the dwelling.
“The ground was so cold we always wore slippers or shoes,” Hopkins described. “We filled pots of water to flush the toilets, boiled water to clean dishes, and visited friends for showers… we tried to use as little as possible. water possible.
In January, Hopkins said the home’s drains had started backing up with dirty water and sewage, creating a whole new mess of problems for the family.
The owners then hired a company to pump out the septic tank, but did not know where the tank was on the large property. After a week of “exploratory digging”, the septic tank turned out to be “extremely old, closed by rust, pierced with tree roots and leaking into groundwater”.
“The environmental risk alone made the area unliveable – not to mention the dangerous holes in the yard that made it unsafe for our daughter to play outside,” Hopkins said.
In January 2020, the landlords emailed their tenants informing them that they would not be doing any of the repairs needed to bring the house up to habitability standards and, therefore, would end the lease. They suggested the Hopkins “take immediate action to find a new location” and offered them (in writing) a full refund of rent payments and return all their post-dated checks.
“We were very grateful for this offer, especially given the circumstances,” Hopkins said. “[The landlords] even said they were glad we didn’t go to a hotel as they should have paid for these accommodations.
But Hopkins said the owners then took an immediate turn, like a “weird switch” she describes.
“We found a possible new home in February [but] securing the space required immediate payment of the first and last month’s rent [and] in order to provide this, we needed to access past payments that our owners had promised to repay.
Hopkins says the owners refused to refund any payment on the grounds that the offer only applied if the Hopkins had moved “immediately.” Unfortunately, the family were unable to secure alternative accommodation on time, forcing them to stay in the dangerous house as the province moved into a pandemic lockdown situation.
“We missed the window to post a deposit and lost our chance to move,” she laments. “Then, in March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and changed the entire rental landscape. Very few people were moving, and the few places that did hit the market were the subject of vicious bidding wars in which we didn’t have the funds to compete.
Before the pandemic, Hopkins worked as a school counselor and her husband ran a construction company. However, due to the pandemic, the couple were unable to work and had to collect CERB payments.
Despite frantic searches, the couple were unable to secure a new home until August 2020. Meanwhile, the septic tank remained exposed and the yard was demolished. The Hopkins made the most of the situation and attempted to plug the leaking septic tank, but (according to Hopkins) the owners were visiting the property and removing the boards and continuing to make it difficult for the family.
The landlords cashed the rent checks for February and March, and in April the Hopkins chose to stop paying all future rental checks, saying they “lived in an uninhabitable house with a septic tank exposed in it. the yard and pipes that continued to freeze. ”The Hopkins also had to try to save the first and last month’s rent so they could vacate the premises.
“We believed that our landlords, based on their originally stated intention to return our rent checks uncashed, did not expect additional rent from us as we tried our best to find another one. place to live, ”she said.
In February, Hopkins consulted the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) to be ready to file a complaint, but at the time, she still hoped the situation could be resolved amicably.
In November 2020, three months after the Hopkins had already moved into their new home, they received notice from the CLI to attend a hearing based on allegations of unpaid rent. Understandably, Hopkins consulted a lawyer and was told their case seemed “strong” and would not need a lawyer to represent them at the hearing.
Hopkins was expecting her second baby, with a due date just four days after the hearing date, and requested that it be changed, but was refused and was told that if she could not attend the hearing, she would have to have her husband or someone else. represent it instead. She was also told by the CLI arbitrator that her owners would have to “approve” the new trial date and that her reason “was not sufficient reason to postpone.”
The hearing took place over two days (once in November and another in February 2021) and despite the judge seemed sympathetic to the unique details of their case, the LTB ruled against the Hopkins family and ordered them to repay more than $ 7,000 in rent. On top of that, they had to repay the arrears within six months without an appeal process.
Landlords were ordered to pay tenants the cost of the plywood they purchased and used to keep the exposed septic tank closed for safety reasons.
“During the hearing, [the landlords] said horrible things, “said Hopkins, adding that the owners have said they” don’t want them to do this to another owner. ” “Nothing we said mattered – we lived in the house and had to pay the rent. I would have been fine with a “blank slate” [and] walk away… I was just stunned!
Arbitrator Jitewa Edu who oversaw the case was not available for comment.
The owners, Thomas and Anna Baldwin, have provided this statement:
“We offered to reimburse them for the rent for the first few months if they moved immediately. They decided to call it a “promise”, but they never budged. There has never been any evidence of actual action on their part to find alternative accommodation, ”said Thomas. “There was a very fair hearing and the arbitrator said they had to pay the rent for the entire time they lived there. Our offer to reimburse them for the rent they paid until January was conditional on them taking immediate action to vacate the premises. The adjudicator found this to be the case and she awarded us unpaid rent for the time they actually lived on the property.
He added: “We think the CLI, which is not known to be fair to landlords, they are there to watch over tenants’ interests, was very fair… after the arbitrator heard from both sides of the story. story, she said they were “not entitled to live for free.
To date, the Baldwins have not received any payment from the Hopkins. Thomas reports that the septic tank remains exposed on the property due to required approvals from the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority.
“The septic tank problem was a total surprise to everyone, and the water problem was one we had never encountered before. A pipe froze, twice, and we fixed it with a plumber. We returned the rent for January. We tried to be fair and generous throughout, and they painted us like monsters, ”Thomas said. “The referee’s decision is final. The decision was made. It wasn’t the one we were completely happy with – we wanted to be reimbursed for the cost of electricity (over $ 1,000).
To this day, the Hopkins family continue to struggle to repay the amount ordered and have initiated a GoFundMe page to help their fate.
“We expect to be paid on September 30,” Thomas said. “Our attitude towards this is pretty much the same attitude we had towards the apparent GoFundMe, we just let it go and have no comment on it. There is no object behind it from our point of view. If they don’t pay, we are out of money and will have to bring in another lawyer to assert the claim. This is another bridge that will be crossed if they do not honor the LTB’s decision.