Abusive Landlords and Knowing Your Rights: Megan’s Story
In 2015, Megan signed a 1-year lease in Kensington Market but only stayed there for three weeks. Her landlord was extremely creepy — and with the help of friends and family, she could make the move.
It was the perfect spot in Kensington Market, a ten-minute walk from OCADU where she was studying. The rent was only $500 a month which was a steal for Toronto, especially on a student budget. However, the boundaries this man overstepped was too much.
Fast forward to 2019, and a picture circulates around Facebook. It’s a screenshot of a bald, middle-aged man’s Facebook profile and his cover photo is a collage of about thirty young, white girls who he’s rented rooms to. After this incident, the young women made an email group together to share horror stories of other harassment like going into their rooms without permission while they slept, breaking building regulations, and screaming in the middle of the night.
Megan was one of those girls.
“All these girls came together and said — ‘Holy Shit, I’m in that photo.’ There’s about thirty of us and we all share our horror stories about him.” — Megan Savage
Most of the women appeared to be between the ages of 18–22, the majority of them were low-income students who couldn’t afford to move freely. The man was extremely inappropriate, and Megan quickly knew that it was a bad living situation.
Lucky for Megan, her friend had an extra bedroom so she could leave the situation right away. Some girls had stayed there much longer, due to the high rent of other rooms, and the competitive rental market.
“I was very fortunate to have the support of my friends and family, and knowledge of my rights as a tenant. A lot of people don’t know their rights and don’t have access to information on what’s legal or not. People may have a gut feeling something is off and not know what they can do about it.” — Megan Savage
It gets worse.
When Megan went looking into her rights and protection against this man, she learned he was already known to the police, and also did not own the house, but instead was a tenant as well. It was a tricky situation where he was actually a tenant but did all the transactions the landlord would. The real owners of the house weren’t easy to contact, and were not involved in the rental process whatsoever.
“It’s absurd that he harassed women living there before me in 2006 and yet was still continuing to do so in 2015. It’s a really bad example of police not protecting young women.” — Megan Savage
After experiencing this situation for herself, she quickly learned that she was not alone. In her direct network, she knew of women who had come in from work visas, and have gone to live in rooming houses where they had their doors broken, were robbed, and had an unsafe living environment.
“One of them said they didn’t feel safe at home. It’s a cheap house and her place has been robbed before, all her money stolen. A friend helped her report the landlord but there’s so many landlords like that. When you come in with a work visa, you don’t have support.” — Megan Savage
Megan’s co-worker also struggles with the delays in condo development. Her co-worker’s condo is five years delayed, she’s thirty-three and living at home even though she’s paying a 3k mortgage a month.
“When you envision homelessness, you think of someone tattered on the streets. So many people live in Toronto, work full-time, are completely normal but stay with a friend and have no stable housing.” — Megan Savage
From friends who’ve couchsurfed for months to young women living in predatory conditions, phantom homelessness is real. The security of owning a home, especially for first-time renters, is difficult to navigate. Proper education on rights and knowing what can be declined is so important. There are landlords that implement no guests after 11 pm, have places that are ridden with bugs- access to information and services is vital for those in vulnerable situations.
“I do work with Sistering, a 24 hour homeless drop-in at Toronto. Half the women in there are on their smartphones, with wifi, data and access to technology. The fact that non-profits aren’t connecting to technology needs to be solved. “ — Megan Savage
Megan went to school with CG, and when she heard CG’s work with Ample Labs, she knew it was meeting a real need. Their digital tool, Chalmers is Toronto’s only 24/7 service for real-time information on nearest shelters, meals, emergency numbers and more — as easy as messaging a friend. Lack of information is a real barrier in empowering young women. Bridging the gap between tech and accessibility is a must in order to make Toronto safe for everyone to live in.
This is Megan’s message to those who may be experiencing abusive landlords:
“Know your rights. Access to information on what’s legal and what’s not is really important. Just knowing what you can decline- watching if they are asking invasive questions and realizing there is support is vital.” -Megan Savage
Here are some additional resources and community support:
Ontario Landlord and Tenant Rights
Bad Landlords of Toronto