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Roommate or tenant? The question is at the heart of Ontario rental dispute that led to viral video

A bitter dispute between two people who were living in the same London, Ont., house has become the subject of a viral video, fuelled by resentment and anger directed at landlords in Ontario’s highly competitive housing market.

Mikayla Koevoets rented part of a three-bedroom house in east London with a shared kitchen and shower for $900 a month for 18 months. The 27-year-old social worker said she moved out April 25 after the man she was renting from asked her to leave the house this summer so his fiancée could move in. 

Koevoets searched for an apartment for weeks, but eventually moved into her stepmother’s basement because she couldn’t find an apartment within her price range. 

“It was absolutely brutal,” she said. “I was going to see an apartment every single day and being stood up by people who wouldn’t show up to the viewing. There was one unit that I absolutely loved. I applied that night, and apparently so did three other people, and I was outbid for the unit.”

Unit up rent at $300 over what she paid

“I offered $1,100,” she said. “People are bidding over asking on apartments.” 

Koevoets said that on May 10, she saw her former apartment listed online. It was for rent at $1,200 a month, $300 more than what she paid while living there a little over two weeks ago. 

“I was absolutely speechless,” she said. “That feeling of being deceived, of being lied to. I took it personally.”

Within an hour of finding out, she created a video on TikTok. The story opens with Koevoets making a rude gesture at the door to her old apartment, and since it was published on the social media platform, the video has racked up tens of thousands of likes and more than a thousand comments.

I was absolutely speechless. That feeling of being deceived, of being lied to, I took it personally.– Mikayla Koevoets

“It’s kind of blown up a bit,” she said of the video, adding many of the comments have suggested what the man she was renting from did wasn’t right. 

Except, that’s not how he sees it. CBC News has agreed not to publish the man’s name or the location of his house because of his concerns over his own personal safety.

He said since the video was published, he’s received online abuse and threats. 

Homeowner gets ‘flat out evil’ comments

“It’s not nice things read,” he said. “I’m seeing comments that are pure flat out evil that have nothing to do with anything, like, ‘Oh, let’s hope his house doesn’t burn down’ or ‘I hope his relationship goes down.'”

“People are emailing me, saying ‘I hope your business goes down.’ There are messages on Facebook saying, ‘I don’t want to live here because you’re like an evil landlord.'”

“I’m concerned for my safety. You don’t know what crazy people are on the internet, speaking your address, saying, ‘I wonder what would happen if his house burns down?'”

The man said he’s asked Koevoets multiple times to take the video down, but she has refused. 

“I don’t want to cause her any harm. I’ve asked multiple times nicely,” he said. “I don’t want to pursue this legally, but I might have to.” 

I’m concerned for my safety. You don’t know what crazy people are on the internet.– Homeowner-landlord

The owner of the house, who is a trained paralegal, argues that under the law, Koevoets was never his tenant even though she paid rent. The pair shared a shower and a kitchen, so he argues they were roommates under Ontario’s Residential Tenancies Act. 

Not ‘a standard landlord-tenant relationship’

“This isn’t a standard landlord-tenant relationship; this is strictly shared space,” he said, adding he could have asked her to leave anytime he wanted for any reason. 

 “It could be as simple as, ‘I’m unhappy with you as a roommate, please leave.'”

The man said he’s looking for a short-term renter while he sorts out his future with his fiancée, and he only raised the rent after Koevoets told him what the going rate was in London. 

“It’s actually indicative of what she told me. She was saying, ‘Wow. I can’t find anything under $1,300,'” he said. “There’s high demand. Anyone in my position would do the same thing.

“It’s none of her business what price I choose to put. She chose to leave.” 

She might have a remote case, says lawyer

While she chose to leave, when Koevoets originally signed her lease, the owner did not live inside the house, and that could mean she has a case, albeit a remote one, according to Ian Dantzer.

roommate or tenant the question is at the heart of ontario rental dispute that led to viral video
Ian Dantzer, review counsel with Community Legal Services operated by the law faculty at Western University, says Koevoets may have a legal case against the homeowner but it depends on how the rental was advertised and other factors. (Western Law/Western University)

The London, Ont., lawyer is a review counsel for Western University Community Legal Services, a student law clinic that helps out on legal aid cases, including landlord-tenant disputes. 

“The only possibility is what she knew about sharing a bathroom or a kitchen with the landlord before she moved in. Was it advertised that way? Was it promoted that way? Was it explained that way?

“If she can establish she knew nothing about it, if she can establish that’s the case, then she may be able to apply and seek a bad-faith claim for the fact that he’s renting the apartment and not actually using it for possession.”

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