"They live and work in an old munitions factory in the west end, on Sterling Rd. The units are perfect as studios and, because of the high ceilings, they are also perfect for flying through the air with the greatest of ease."
Ramon Perez went to the Landlord and Tenant Board the other day. He came in the company of his neighbours, many of whom are trapeze performers. They have a battle on their hands.
They live and work in an old munitions factory in the west end, on Sterling Rd. The units are perfect as studios and, because of the high ceilings, they are also perfect for flying through the air with the greatest of ease.
For some years now, Ramon and the others have enjoyed live-work status in the building; they achieved that status with the help of their former landlord.
But the new landlord has begun offering the tenants commercial leases on what seems to be a sign-or-move-out basis. Tenants fear the worst; they have the scent of redevelopment in their nostrils and commercial leases do not offer them much protection. There are reports of units being padlocked.
Ramon refused to sign his new lease; he continues to pay rent, although he said the landlord has not yet cashed his last cheque. There is a lot riding on the outcome. It is no stretch to say that a tiny corner of the soul of the city is at stake.
I spent some time with Ramon and his neighbours last week. One of the aerialists said if they lose their right to live in the building, they might have to move to Hamilton, where there is plenty of cheap industrial space for artists. Toronto will be poorer if that happens.
The chief virtue of the Landlord and Tenant Board is that participants are urged, nudged, coaxed, cajoled and asked politely if they might reach some sort of, um, accommodation prior to a ruling.
Ramon was represented by Parkdale Legal, and the landlord was represented by a suave lawyer in a sharp suit. The lawyers huddled, but there was no agreement reached, and it took a couple of hours to reach that conclusion, and you know how it is with lawyers' schedules; the hearing was deferred until later in the summer.
The good news? Until Ramon's case is heard, no doors will be padlocked.
During a quiet moment in the hallway, I asked the landlord's lawyer why Ramon and the others were being offered commercial leases when they enjoy legal and official live-work status. The lawyer said I should make sure to get my facts straight. I am an easygoing fellow. I asked which were the facts I should get straight. The lawyer said he could not comment on what the landlord was legally doing, nor could he say why the landlord was legally doing it. He stressed that word, "legal." He was right to do so. And the sword of justice is sharp along both its edges.
A community worker for Parkdale Legal, Elinor Mahoney – she had been working on the file, and came to the hearing even though she was supposed to be on vacation – said that tenants like Ramon have been protected by residential zoning for some years now.
You'd think that would be trumps, but I am neither a lawyer nor a landlord and would rather see than be one.
You know that stuff about making lemonade when life hands you lemons? There are several dozen tenants in that old building; they want nothing more than to live cheaply, develop photos, paint pictures, and dangle upside-down in mid-air while clinging to aerial silks. In a perfect world, a landlord would recognize this as a legitimate source of income. In an imperfect world, a tenant has to fight for the rights he already enjoys. And in a hard, cold world, our artists move to Hamilton.