by Rachel Ward
Hasan Yildiz, the owner of the rooming house at 2179 Gottingen Street, says he was “very, very shocked” when the city shut down his rental property and evicted its tenants on October 30. City inspectors and the fire marshall, says a city spokesperson, had determined the property had “serious electrical, structural and fire code issues that make it unsafe for anyone to live in the building.”
Seven people, says Yildiz, were put out on the streets, including some tenants who he says lived there for at least five years. Now the tenants must find new places to live. The Department of Community Services has been helping several who were already clients, according to a spokesperson.
Yildiz says he believes people in the neighbourhood called the city by-law enforcers.
“They didn’t like me,” he says. “They were complaining 24/7.”
Amy Donovan ran her clothing store, Cocoon Boutique, out of the main floor of the building for a year. Last month she moved out, opening up instead on Queen Street in the city’s South End.
“It was one headache after another, it felt like,” she says of her rental on Gottingen Street. “I really had to get out of there.”
Donovan says the problems started right away. She says she and her husband did all the startup renovations. They also dealt with multiple floods from broken plumbing, and had to sell damaged merchandise at a discount. For all the difficulties she had, Donovan says the worst was the rooms for rent.
“It was absolutely disgusting up there,” she says. “Half the time there was no heat, no water. The kitchens were really gross. The windows were often broken.”
Evan Coole from ACORN, a tenants advocacy group, says he’s heard similar complaints in the past. For example, he says he knows of residents who visited Donovan’s store to ask for water, since theirs wasn’t working. He says ACORN wants landlords to be licensed, so government inspectors must proactively check to make sure housing is suitable.
Currently the Department of Community Services is tasked with inspecting housing of income assistance renters. A 2010 auditor general report found that DCS was inconsistently checking, but a 2012 update said the situation had improved. Low income renters can receive income assistance housing allowances from DCS, ranging from $300 to $535 a month for a single person.
Coole says he worries staff are still too overworked to check housing is safe.
DCS was $45.4 million over budget as of March 2014 due to “higher than expected client volumes,” says the provincial public accounts report.
Donovan says she thinks many of the tenants were receiving the housing allowance, a fact that she says helped Yildiz. “He was pretty much after the welfare cheque and that was it,” says Donovan. “I feel like he really took advantage of them.”
Yildiz rebuts that, saying he had a good relationship with his tenants, although some had addictions problems. “They are very good people,” he says. The location of the rooming house was a big selling point for people with addictions, he says, because it was on the same street as useful social services including the methadone clinic and the health centre.
The Halifax Regional Police Department says there have been 35 calls to the rooming house since January 1 of this year. They calls have been categorized as Break & Enter, Theft Under $5,000, Theft Not in Progress, Mischief/Property Damage, Provincial Liquor Act, Miscellaneous/Suspicious Circumstances, Domestic Dispute, Verbal Dispute, Mentally Ill Person, Assault with a Weapon, Drugs, Suspicious Person/Vehicle, Assist Citizen, Threats, Assist other Agency, and Alarms and Assaults.
Yildiz bought the property in September 2009, two months after the death of Aurora Breakthrough, a seven-week old baby girl who was assaulted in the building. In 2010, the child’s father, Ashiqur Rahman, was convicted of manslaughter and aggravated assault and sentenced to six and a half years in prison.
Yildiz tells the Examiner that when he bought the property it was more than worth the asking price. According to viewpoint.ca, the listed sale price for the property was $285,000 and it sold for $267,500. The property is now assessed at $175,500. Yildiz said he worries someone reported him to the city in order to force him to sell. This person, he says, wants to “kick these tenants out so they can put high-end condos in.”
“Of course, Gottingen is changing. Before, when I bought it, all of the buildings around me almost seemed level,” says Yildiz. “But Gottingen people, they’re improving. The buildings, they’re upgrading.”
Yildiz owns six other buildings including ones on Cunard Street and Charles Street, two in Dartmouth, and one in each Bridgetown and North Sydney. In total they’re now assessed at over $1.5 million. See each of his properties here:
Yildiz cannot rent again at his Gottingen Street property until a city inspector approves of his fixes. Yildiz should have expected the crackdown, says Donovan, because he’d been warned before. Donovan applied for an occupancy permit from the city a year ago, and at the time, she says inspectors said the building had serious problems. Yildiz, she says, refused to renovate unless her store signed a five year lease, and that he wanted to tailor the necessary upgrades to the business, whether that be a retail store or restaurant, for example. He later tried to raise her rent, she says.
“People will find something to be angry,” says Yildiz, noting Donovan’s rent was set at $1,250 per month for the first six months, utilities included.
For now, Yildiz says he’s working to make the required fixes, although he says he’s not sure how much that will cost. “This is a difficult time for me so I just want it over.”