UNL Associate Professor of Architecture Sarah Deyong is evicting tenants living in a low-rise apartment building she owns with her brother in Toronto, Canada. Late last year, Deyong issued eviction notices to several long-time residents of the building and targeted two tenants with ‘renoviction’. There are several vacant apartments in the building, but rather than temporarily move tenants into those while work is done in their units, Sarah is seeking to force tenants out. In response, tenants have organized and launched a campaign to stop the evictions with the support of local groups in Nebraska including the Lincoln Tenant/Housing Network and Omaha Tenants United.
In January, tenants delivered a demand letter to Sarah and her brother Louis Deyong at their family home in a wealthy, Toronto neighbourhood. Louis told tenants at the door that he had the right to evict tenants for renovations but then admitted to having backed out of the original agreement to relocate tenants into other units in the building while renovations were completed. Next, tenants went door to door in their own Toronto neighbourhood to inform people in the area about the evictions and to encourage them to join a phone zap action. Michael Smith, a long-time neighbourhood resident who wrote to Sarah Deyong in protest of evictions, told us about why he wants the evictions stopped.
“The sister [Sarah] arrived from the United States and immediately started trying to evict people on grounds of doing renovations. This is an apartment building where people have made their homes for fifteen, twenty years. They are good and honest people, including a number of elderly and immigrant tenants. They are being evicted in a landscape in Toronto where finding comparable accommodation in the same price range would be impossible. The landlord has shown no regard for them.”
Renoviction is when a landlord attempts to evict a tenant by claiming they will complete major renovations and need the unit to be empty. In recent years, renovictions have been on the rise in Ontario and have gained notoriety as a landlord tactic to displace tenants and raise rents, as well as a way to increase the price of a property put up for sale. As market rents have increased dramatically in recent years, long-term tenants forced from their homes find themselves pushed out of their neighbourhood. In Ontario law, the tenant has a right to move back into the rental unit after renovations have been completed. In practice landlords have prevented tenants from exercising their right of return by installing a new tenant in the unit at higher rent. As a result, more and more Toronto tenants have chosen to organize and fight renovictions outside the legal system.
Maria Negrete, one of the tenants targeted for renoviction, shared how organizing with her neighbours has helped her deal with the threat of eviction.
“I was very upset because I have lived here for nine years. I work in private homes in my area cooking, cleaning, and doing childcare and if I am evicted and I have to move I will lose jobs. But when I got the eviction notice I talked to my neighbour. She told me that we have rights, so let’s go to fight. Now we are a team and I feel more comfortable. We do letters, we do flyers, and I feel very supported. I feel good because we have power together.”
In the coming weeks, tenants plan to continue their campaign and hope to raise the profile of their eviction fight in Toronto and Nebraska.