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'Painful experience': Locked-out tenant forced to live in her car

Legal Aid Clinic urges province to review Residential Tenancies Act to add protections for the growing number of people renting a room due to affordability issues
Newmarket resident Brie Etwa said there are problems with tenancy rules after she was forced out of her home by her landlord.

Brie Etwa did not expect to be sleeping in her car in February.

But after months of dispute with her landlord, Etwa said she suddenly found herself locked out of her home weeks before a planned move-out date. After multiple calls to the police, Etwa said she finds herself struggling to get her possessions back and needing to find alternative accommodations for a month.

Ultimately, Etwa said she lacks protection from the provincial Residential Tenancies Act because she shared a kitchen with her landlord. She said that reduces her options for potential recourse.

“There’s a lot of bad tenants, yes, but there’s also a lot of bad landlords that take advantage of certain situations, and it’s getting out of hand,” said Etwa, a Newmarket resident. “When it comes to somebody like me, who tries to keep costs down and look for the cheapest alternative, where they’re sharing a space with the landlord, where you don’t have a lot of protection.”

The issues began soon after Etwa moved to the home on Sydor Court. Signing a handwritten agreement in December 2022 for $950 per month, Etwa said the landlord seemed trustworthy, living with family and being welcoming to start.

But Etwa said things soured soon when she was asked to pay more for utilities, despite $950 supposedly being inclusive. Etwa reluctantly agreed. But after that, Etwa said her landlord would demand money for other expenses not part of the original agreement.

Over time, Etwa said her refusal to pay the extra costs led to tension and negative interactions that eventually caused her landlord to try to force her out. Multiple times, Etwa said she had to call police as her landlord tried to have her vehicle towed, with the landlord told by police that was not permitted.

“What really frustrated me is that (the) law, in some ways, allows these people to abuse their tenants and get away with things,” she said. 

A reporter attempted to contact the landlord by phone and email and did not receive a reply to a request for comment before the publication deadline.

In response to an inquiry about York Regional Police responding to calls at that property, media relations officer Const. Lisa Mosakluk said police do not comment on disputes between landlords and tenants.

The Residential Tenancies Act offers several protections to tenants and the ability for both parties to address disputes through the Landlord and Tenant Board.

However, the act does not apply in cases where a landlord and tenant share a kitchen or a bathroom.

Community Legal Aid Clinic of York Region executive director Jeff Schlemmer said protections are minimal in these instances.

“You can’t go to the Landlord and Tenant Board,” he said. “And the landlord can realistically evict you at any time they want … You’re really at the mercy of the landlord.”

The traditional rationale for this, Schlemmer said, is that if a landlord is opening up their home, it is considered more appropriate for them to be able to evict quickly due to changing circumstances.

This kind of arrangement used to be less common, Schlemmer said. But with that is changing, and he said the province should re-examine the law. 

“With rents going so high now, many people can only afford to rent a room,” he said. “You’re seeing a lot more people now in that circumstances. They don’t have the protection of the act. It’s probably something the government needs to look at.” 

The situation has left Etwa wishing there was an easy way to check on the reputation of landlords.

Some landlords will ask for credit ratings, proof of employment and references when examining prospective tenants. Etwa said it should be more socially normal for that kind of check to go the other way around.

“It’s all one-sided,” she said, adding that information on bad landlords and bad tenants should be “open for public and well known.” 

The last few weeks at the home were particularly rough, Etwa said. She described fighting against eviction, having a planned move at the beginning of March, but having the landlord try to push that up.

Etwa used body cameras and car cameras to watch over her belongings, given the repeated attempts to tow her vehicle, she said. That resulted in her putting sticky notes on the window of her car, warning tow truck drivers about the situation, which she said worked to dissuade them.

Now, Etwa said she has no interest in returning to the home but wants to get her belongings back, something that she said the landlord cannot legally hold.

She said events may lead to court action.

“The system allows people to be used, abused, trampled on, and they have no recourse,” he said. “Or haven’t got the ability or knowledge to stand up for themselves or take action.

"It's a painful experience, but it's a lesson," she added. 


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Joseph Quigley

About the Author: Joseph Quigley

Joseph is the municipal reporter for NewmarketToday.
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