D.P. Murphy Inc. evicting six-unit apartment building to house Tim Hortons workers in Souris, P.E.I.
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SOURIS, PEI – When Ahava Kálnássy de Kálnás and her neighbors opened their front door on January 6, they found a notice from their landlord.
“The building will be converted for non-residential use, namely staff housing for employees working in Tim Horton’s DP Murphy Inc. operation,” it said.
Kálnássy de Kálnás and their neighbors were devastated.
All six tenants in the building on Pleasant Avenue in Souris have been ordered to vacate by May 31, 2023.
A tenant left immediately. Kálnássy de Kálnás and two of her neighbors, Beverley Harris and Brenda Hanson, are fighting the eviction. Kálnássy de Kálnás has an appeal date with the Iceland Regulatory and Appeals Commission (IRAC) scheduled for February. The other two tenants were waiting to hear from IRAC on January 31st.
They believe the eviction may violate provincial rental regulations.
“It’s just abusive. It is an abuse of power and everyone is afraid. And that’s the bottom line here,” said Kálnássy de Kálnás.
DP Murphy Inc., a major hospitality company in the province, is the property owner. For Kálnássy de Kálnás and its neighbors, there is a clear imbalance of power over such a large entity, especially without government support and clear laws to protect it.
Kálnássy de Kálnás is disabled. The tenant who previously moved out is also a disabled woman. Everyone in the building is a senior, and all but one are women, she said.
This case does not appear to be a renovation, a process in which a landlord increases rents by evicting tenants on the grounds that the unit needs renovations, which requires tenants to move out while the work is done. In some cases, this can allow a landlord to increase rents above the normal annual rate set by IRAC.
In this case, however, one of the new tenants has already moved into the building without any renovations being carried out, the women said.
“It’s just abusive. It’s an abuse of power and everyone is scared. And that is the key here.” – Ahava Kálnássy de Kálnás, resident of Souris
The past few weeks have been stressful, with Hanson constantly thinking about eviction, she said.
“It would just be so nice to get up one morning and not worry or even think about it. It’s just evil. And everywhere you go, they don’t even say hello anymore or how are you. They say: ‘Did you get an apartment?’ You know everyone everywhere who knows us.”
Harris and Hanson have found new housing, but only with the help of government senior housing. No market rents were available.
However, they are still appealing the eviction. They just want to make sure they have somewhere to go if IRAC sides with DP Murphy Inc.
Depending on when Harris appeals, she is willing to pay at least a month’s rent for two apartments – one to stay where she is and another to stay at a government-run seniors’ facility in Souris.
“The rental office called me and I shared my dilemma with them about having to take a seat,” Harris said. “She will call me (January 23) and try to get it done before (January 26). But I have no guarantees.”
As of January 31, they hadn’t called Harris, so Harris will be paying for two separate units.
For her part, Kálnássy de Kálnás wants to fight to the end and hasn’t found a new place yet.
When neighbors received their eviction notices, they began calling local officials asking for help. They got some information from the city but didn’t get far with higher levels of government, they said.
All three said they were disappointed with the apparent lack of concern from the people being paid to provide care.
“The fact that there is nobody in this society, in terms of the community or the MLA, the speaker, nobody. Even Lawrence MacAulay (MP for the area) didn’t respond,” said Kálnássy de Kálnás.
SaltWire Network contacted Souris CAO Shelley LaVie on January 21 to ask if the property owner had applied to rezon the building, what the process is like, and the legality of evicting tenants.
As of Jan. 23, the city had not received a request to change the zoning at the Pleasant Street building, LaVie said.
The company is under no obligation to do so.
“It is currently a zoned apartment building (R3). From our understanding of the situation (based on information from some current tenants), the proposed use will still fall within the criteria of this R3 zone,” said LaVie.
“Only if they turned it into a hotel/motel where they would pay per night fees would they have to change the zoning to commercial.”
The eviction notice cites Section 15.1.b of the HomeLease Act, which covers personal use reasons, a landlord may evict a tenant: “If the landlord is attempting in good faith to (b) use the premises for any non-residential use to convert ”
While the eviction says the use will not be for residential purposes, it also states – in the same sentence – that it is intended to be used as a residence for Tim Hortons workers.
LaVie’s email also states that the municipality does not regulate tenancies or evictions.
“It’s regulated by the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission.”
After the initial hearing of Kálnássy de Kálnás, SaltWire Network contacted DP Murphy Inc. to inquire about the eviction process and whether housing for employees falls under commercial or residential use.
Mark Doucet, general counsel of the DP Murphy Group of Companies, responded via email on Jan. 19.
“We appreciate you reaching out to us about this, but will not attempt to comment.”
Aside from the stress the eviction has caused, all three women said they are concerned about the precedent they are setting.
They argue the eviction takes advantage of the fact that many tenants will not have the knowledge, time, or willpower to take on a big company.
Even if the eviction is struck down by IRAC, Kálnássy de Kálnás said property owners could simply use eviction notices to scare tenants into leaving, noting the neighbor who left immediately after receiving the Jan. 6 notice.
Evictions will only take effect if the tenant accepts them and leaves, or if the government evicts a tenant who refuses to leave, she added.
Hanson agreed, saying they are fighting for the long-term security of their homes.
“What I mean is, if we’ve won that fight, next time we don’t want to have another fight.”
Logan MacLean is a reporter at the SaltWire Network on Prince Edward Island. He can be reached by email at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @loganmaclean94.