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Niagara Falls
Wednesday, February 28, 2024
Tenant won’t leave, NOTL woman is on outside looking in
Shirley Jenne shows of the photo of the home she is renovating so she can move in. A tenant currently living in the home, however, refuses to leave. Richard Hutton

Shirley Jenne says she now knows she made a mistake back in 2014 when she allowed a man to live in a house she was renovating in St. Catharines.

In her mind, it was a short-term thing when she let the man — who said he was about to be homeless — in Jenne’s words, “hang out” in the home until he found a new place to live.

“He hung around a little longer than I anticipated,” said Jenne, a Niagara-on-the-Lake native who works in town. “He was supposed to be looking for a place.”

When the weather turned colder, she said the man agreed to pay $400 a month toward the cost of utilities – heat, hydro and water. That was in January of 2015.

Fast-forward to two years ago when Jenne, after going through a divorce, said she wanted to move into the house she has been renovating “paycheque to paycheque” for years.

The man refused to leave and stopped paying anything nearly a year and a half ago, Jenne said, and by her estimation, the man owes her $6,800 based on the $400 per month.

Jenne took her case to the Ontario Landlord Tenant Board Tribunal, which ruled in favour of the man and said he was not obligated to leave.

So, he is still there today, Jenne said. 

“I had no intention of ever renting again in my life,” she said. “I was just helping this guy with a roof over his head because I’m one of these people that do this.”

As it turned out, that agreement for the man to chip in for the cost of the utilities was crucial in the tribunal’s decision.

“Once I accepted that $400 towards the utilities, that became a contract (in the eyes of the tribunal),” she said, officially making her a landlord in this situation.

She is appealing the decision.

“Obviously, nobody rents out a house for $400 a month,” she said. “That’s just strictly chipping in for utilities.”

Jenne said she realized her intentions, however good, worked against her. She wants her story to be a cautionary tale to other landlords or people who think they might want to become one.

Landlords being unable to remove tenants is “happening more than everybody knows,” Jenne said. 

The Lake Report contacted both the Niagara Community Legal Clinic and the Toronto-based Landlord’s Self-Help Centre for this story. Both organizations declined to comment.

A spokesperson for the legal clinic said the organization does not comment on landlord issues and referred inquiries to the self-help centre.

In turn, the self-help centre said its staff “does not provide an opinion on active litigation as we do not want to speculate on the potential outcome.”

The centre does, however, produce fact sheets for landlords that include information on the tribunal and how to end a tenancy.

It also includes a section regarding basic information a landlord should consider before renting, including “security of tenure.”

“Landlords should realize that in Ontario tenants have security of tenure. This means that a landlord cannot end the rental agreement unless they have reason to do so as defined by the Residential Tenancies Act,” the website reads.

A shortage of rental housing has made affordability an issue and resulted in increased rental costs, putting the squeeze on people looking for a place to live.

According to a report by rentals.ca, rent for a one-bedroom apartment in St. Catharines as of November is $1,685 a month, up five per cent over last year.

Niagara-on-the-Lake Coun. Gary Burroughs has spoken with Jenne and said she is not the only landlord he knows of facing issues with unwanted tenants. Despite that, he was surprised such situations happen. 

“I don’t know why it is happening, but it’s happening,” he said.

He knows of at least two other cases in town where landlords are having a problem getting tenants to leave.

“There’s something wrong with the (landlord-tenant) system,” Burroughs said, referring to landlords being unable to remove tenants who are causing them problems.

The whole situation has been a cause of great stress for Jenne.

“I’ve been forced to rent and pay bills elsewhere and I’m still paying my mortgage and bills at the house that I can’t have back,” she said.

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