J

ess Buckley hadn’t had a place of their own before. 


In April 2019, when they were preparing to move into the two-bedroom condo they’d rented with a friend at 3390 Weston Rd. in North York, Buckley thought of how it would be their first adult home. It came after years of instability that found Buckley living in student housing around York University, with family in New Brunswick, and homeless for a short period. Finally– they thought– they would have some security.

When Buckley arrived at the condo to move in, their roommate was at the door with bad news: “There’s bugs in my bed.”

This was the start to a hellish three-year housing experience in the 25 floor condo building managed by Meritus Group Management Inc., a Toronto-based property management company. During their tenancy, which ended this month, Buckley, their partner, and their roommate dealt with on-and-off bed bug, cockroach, and mice infestations, all of which were shrugged off by management and Buckley’s landlord, who owns the condo and resides in Trinidad.

That first night, Buckley and their then-roommate Amy slept on a shared air mattress in the living room, a sleeping arrangement they continued for a month-and-a-half while they worked to treat the bed bugs and get new furniture. At one point, Buckley sent a picture of what they assumed to be a bed bug to the building manager, pleading with him to address the situation. He responded, “Don’t worry about that, that’s actually just a baby cockroach.”

The unaddressed infestations resulted in immediate health risks. Mouse poop was found in piles under the fridge and stove, and even in a new toaster. After cleaning the droppings, both Buckley and their partner were ill. The bug bites left Buckley with “unbearable” full-body itchiness for a month. 

Meanwhile, Buckley says management policed what residents put on their balconies—patio furniture was okay, but clotheslines weren’t. Window air conditioning units were banned, despite the building not being equipped with air conditioning.

“It’s an extra kick in the pants that they’re so concerned about the optics of the building, but they don’t care at all about the health of anyone in any of the units,” Buckley said in an interview in mid-January.

Buckley says the unit next to theirs, which is occupied by an elderly couple, also had bed bug, mice, and cockroach infestations. While Buckley and their partner managed to mitigate the infestations in their unit by deep cleaning regularly, their neighbours weren’t able to keep up. 

“I talked to the daughter of our next door neighbours,” Buckley said, “and it’s very difficult for them to deal with because they’re elderly folks who can’t do the kind of deep cleaning you need to deal with a building-wide infestation that’s affecting you.” 

Buckley’s partner moved into the unit in October 2021. Within weeks other residents began to strike up conversations with him. Some would ask what their living situation was: whether they were renting or had bought into the building. When Buckley’s partner said they were renting, residents who owned condos in the building let out a sigh of relief.

“People would say, ‘Thank goodness, please get out of here as soon as you can, I have this condo and I’m never going to be able to move out of it,’” Buckley says. “They’re basically trapped there. They don’t have any resources to go anywhere else, and can’t sell because it’s infected and in horrible condition.”

In a written response to The Hoser, Meritus president Dean McCabe said that if Meritus is aware of an issue, they have a pest control contract in place to respond, and that depending on the issue, it may be an owner responsibility or a corporation expense. “I am not aware of any situation that was not responded to quickly,” wrote McCabe. He added that condo owners are responsible for the conditions of their unit and that Meritus Group does not own the property but manages the common areas and corporate duties for the condo board.

Buckley’s ordeal highlights a unique housing issue: the conversion of rental properties into condos in the area. Butterfly Gopaul, an organizer with Jane and Finch Action Against Poverty [JFAAP] and Jane-Finch Housing Coalition, says that while only a few towers in the neighbourhood are condo buildings, it's possible that more will be converted and constructed. She says this opens critical rental housing stock up to purchase by investors, who buy the units and rent them for profit. In these situations, there’s even less incentive to provide support to their tenants, and renters are stuck negotiating with both the owner and property management for repairs and service.

A similarly horrific situation happened at a nearby condo at Jane and Shoreham, which Gopaul says is predominantly occupied by poor and elderly community members. Gopaul says the condo has serious structural issues and is in a state of “major disrepair,” yet the condo management company has continued to raise prices for building services without accountability or transparency for the funds. After outcry and organizing from community members, CBC published a report detailing both the building’s conditions and exorbitant fees charged to residents.

Buckley, who finally moved out of the condo and into a safe living space in late January, says that consultations with York University’s Community and Legal Aid Services Program (CLASP) to look at legal actions against both landlord and management were unsuccessful given how flimsy and few tenant protections are. 

Still, obstacles abound to tenant organizing in the area to push back against these problems. Residents that Buckley approached about organizing in the building seemed uncomfortable at the suggestion, and Gopaul says that COVID has severely restricted the breadth and impact of JFAAP’s organizing. “Everyone is in agreement that organizing is badly needed but COVID hit the community really hard,” says Gopaul.

Despite these challenges, both Gopaul and Buckley feel that tenant organizing will continue to be the most effective way to fight back against poor housing conditions. 

Posted 
Feb 10, 2022
 in 
Local News
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