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Hamilton senior says landlord changed the locks while she was out at Tim Hortons

A Hamilton senior says her landlord changed the locks on her rented home unannounced, then began moving her family’s things out a few days later.

The woman has been drawing from her limited income to rent a hotel room since Saturday, when she was locked out, she said.

Crys is 67 and works as a nurse. CBC Hamilton has agreed to withhold her last name, as the woman fears her employment and future housing options may be at risk due to the eviction. 

Crys rented a downtown townhouse, living with her husband and adult son, on Cathcart Street. 

She said she had been told to expect a visit from a plumber Saturday, so her husband was trusting when someone — seemingly a contractor — arrived.

She says the worker said he had recently had COVID-19 and suggested they leave the house while he worked. They complied – going to a nearby Tim Hortons for something to eat – and found their locks had been changed when they returned. Their possessions, including medications and pet cats, remained inside.

They were shocked and Crys’s husband started crying, Crys told CBC Hamilton on Tuesday, as she stood outside her home, surrounded by concerned neighbours, hoping to be eventually let back inside.

Two people hold a yellow banner in front of a truck
Members of Hamilton Tenants in Unity blocked the ramp to a moving truck with a banner, on Cathcart Street in Hamilton on Tuesday, April 4, 2023. (Aicha Smith-Belghaba/CBC)

According to Crys, several people with U-Haul truck arrived Tuesday morning and started to move items out of the house – whipping up a furor on the close-knit street that saw neighbours gathered on the sidewalks for much of the day, while police officers present tried to mediate conversations between Crys and the homeowner. 

“We don’t have enough money to stay in hotels all the time,” Crys said, noting her husband lives with a psychiatric disorder and both of them need medication that’s still inside the house.

“I give the beds at the hotel to my husband and son because they are the most sick in the family. I am sleeping in the car,” she said.

A woman on the phone is at the entry way to a house
A woman neighbours identified as the landlord walks inside the Cathcart Street home on Tuesday, past some of Crys’ belongings, which were piled up outside. (Saira Peesker/CBC)

“I haven’t had my proper bed; my orthopedic bed,” Crys said, adding she was also fearful of how her cats were managing. “I am full of pain. And I worry about my cats.”

According to property records, the building is owned by a company called 2714099 ONTARIO INC. and registered to two people, including Ruth Lewis. 

CBC Hamilton spoke to a woman in front of the property Tuesday who Crys’ family and several neighbours identified as Lewis. Lewis said she hoped CBC would tell both sides of the story, and declined to give further comments. 

Phone calls to Lewis for comment have also not been returned.

Police say removal of property can be considered theft

It was a chaotic scene on the narrow, dead-end street Tuesday: a passing garbage truck barely made it past the numerous police cruisers and the U-Haul truck.

Neighbours watched the scene from front stoops, driveways and sidewalks, while volunteers from Hamilton Tenants in Unity stood with a banner blocking the U-Haul loading ramp.

Crys told CBC Hamilton she knew the landlord had sold the home and that she’d likely have to leave eventually. But she says she wasn’t presented with any eviction documentation from the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB), so the sudden urgency on the landlord’s behalf came as a surprise.

She says she had been waiting for the landlord to fumigate the home – which she says is infested with ants, bedbugs and cockroaches – before moving to a new place, so she wouldn’t bring the pests with her to a new place. 

Hamilton Police Const. Indy Bharaj told CBC Hamilton that officers arrived at the scene at about 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, “in response to a tenant having their property removed… without properly being evicted.”

People hug near parked cars. It is misty outside
Onlookers hug on Cathcart Street in Hamilton on Tuesday, while a local resident waits to see if she will get back inside her home after being forced out by her landlord. (Aicha Smith-Belghaba/CBC)

He said officers were able to get an agent from the LTB on the phone, and facilitated a call that included the landlord. 

“The landlord was advised of the repercussions… if they were to follow through” with removing Crys’ possessions from the house, Bharaj said.

“Officers did advise that if they didn’t return the property it could result in theft and possession [of stolen property] charges.

“The landlord was going to be moving the property back inside.”

As of about 3 p.m., that hadn’t happened yet, Crys told CBC Hamilton in a phone call Tuesday afternoon.

She was hopeful that discussions between her paralegal, Joseph Kazubek, and the landlord would lead to fumigation of her belongings and access to the house.

Paralegal warns of ‘new way of evicting people’

Kazubek says tactics like these – where landlords lock out residents and deal with the repercussions later – are increasingly common, and used as a way to circumvent the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) proceedings.

He says such proceedings can take up to a year, and many tenants will give up on the process if they have already been pushed out of their homes and don’t expect to get back in.

“It’s the new way of evicting people,” he says, lauding Crys for her getting help right away, before her things had been moved out.

He said it appears that Crys did not receive an eviction notice, which should have been required.

He also noted that while breaching the Residential Tenancies Act can come with a fine of up to a $50,000, it can be hard to stop such evictions in the moment because the police have limited power to interfere with landlord-tenant affairs.

“The police are only here to keep the peace,” he said Tuesday.

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