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Could eviction changes help fix a broken system or lead to good tenants being unduly turfed? Depends on who you ask

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Last year Mark Farquharson and his young family were almost evicted. After helping organize strikes against an above-guideline rent increase at his building in Parkdale, the landlord, Nuspor Investments, served him with eviction notices. He was accused of abusing staff and hindering the safety of other tenants. He denied the accusations, and instead accused the landlord of retaliating.

The case went through the hearing process at the Landlord and Tenant Board, and last November the adjudicator sided with Farquharson and dismissed the landlord’s application. Farquharson, who says his family had been under intense pressure throughout the lengthy process, was relieved but made an ominous prediction about the future of renters.

“With Doug Ford in power, it’s going to be even easier for landlords to force people out and raise the rents,” he said at the time of the decision.

Fast forward to Tuesday this week, the Star reported that the Ford government was already looking for ways to speed up eviction processes in Ontario — notably by reducing the waiting periods for eviction notices and using private bailiffs to remove tenants.

The news, which the province in internal government documents portrayed as an effort to make more rental housing available, has sparked strong reactions from both sides. Tenants are worried about being thrown out into the red-hot and increasingly unaffordable housing market, while landlords welcome the proposal as a step toward fixing a “broken” process.

While Farquharson can see the reasoning behind the proposal — “the more people that get evicted for their wrongdoings, the more available homes and rentals for better tenants,” he said — he’s concerned about the lack of protection for good tenants who could get caught in the “greedy” system as housing prices continue to skyrocket.

Farquharson said he pays about $1,200 for a one-bedroom apartment, and knows a similar room could go for around $2,000 in the current market. Generally, it is therefore in a landlord’s interest to try and evict longtime tenants in order to make more money on units, he said.

“It’s in their best interest to put applications out to evict people for very minimal situations,” he said, noting a lot of tenants just give up and leave instead of going to the board to fight the evictions.

“This is a vicious loophole and the tenants are on the losing side big time.”

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Tenants occupy damaged Junction-area house rather than risk losing affordable housing

Ebony Menzies, a Toronto west-end resident who has been evicted twice, called the proposal to ease the eviction process “unfair and downright cruel.”

She said the practice of “renovictions” — in which a landlords pushes tenants out for housing renovations and increase rent prices afterwards — is already rampant, and the province’s new proposal to speed up the eviction process is only going to make the situation worse for tenants.

“It makes me very upset and angry,” said Menzies, who is also a member of affordable housing advocacy group ACORN Toronto. She said more evictions will send more people into homelessness and cause even more problems for a shelter system that’s operating at full capacity.

“I don’t think anybody is ready for that,” she said. “I think it’s a poorly thought out idea. They should instead invest more in community housing.”

In a statement to the Star, the Federation of Rental-Housing Providers of Ontario (FRPO) said it welcomes the move and will continue to consult with the province in addressing the housing supply crisis.

“The current Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) process is fundamentally broken and does not work for either landlords or tenants,” said spokesperson Danny Roth.

He said the board often doesn’t meet its timelines to process applications, taking months longer than in other provinces. In places such as Toronto, even enforcing an order after the board has issued it can take an “additional two or three months due to capacity issues,” he said.

Joe Movassaghi, who owns a condo he rents out in downtown Toronto, said he welcomes the proposal and hopes it will help him get out of a situation he’s been stuck in for the past three years.

He said his tenant has been putting the unit on Airbnb, “sometimes to 20 or 30 people,” despite the contract stating subleasing is not allowed. He took the issue to court, but found out that there’s no law against it in Toronto.

“I actually have a lot of stress and anxiety because of it. My hands are totally tied as a landlord,” he said, noting he’s also been given rent cheques that have bounced.

He hopes the proposal can make it fair for him as an investor to have an option to evict a tenant if they misbehave or breach the rental contract.

“I respect the rules around rent control but it has to be fair for me as an investor,” he said. “Otherwise I want out now so I can sleep at night.”

At Queen’s Park, NDP MPP Suze Morrison expressed alarm at the revelations in the Star about the government’s proposal to expedite evictions.

“At a time when the rising cost of housing is making it harder for Ontario families to find a place they can afford, and keep a roof over their heads, Doug Ford’s Conservatives are focused on helping landlords toss tenants out on the street faster,” said Morrison (Toronto Centre).

“Everyday Ontarians need more affordable places to live — not more crackdowns on renters.”

With files from Robert Benzie

Gilbert Ngabo is a breaking news reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @dugilbo

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Anglais

‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Anglais

Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Anglais

Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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