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Silencing seniors with intimidation

Kristine Berey

October, 2009

As odious as finding the word “Jew” painted across her front door was, Suzanna Engel says she believes it was the tip of the iceberg of something much more commonplace, but no less insidious: the subtle and routine intimidation some seniors experience in their rented apartments. “It’s not about being Jewish, it’s about human rights,” Engel said.

She suspects the vandalism was committed as a warning for her to back off from criticizing the management for what she considered to be poor maintenance of her Lakeshore Road apartment building. At the time of the incident, she was in the process of collecting names for a petition asking for repairs. “One of the first warnings I got was that my bicycle was taken and a tenant warned me.” While Engel is exceptional in her refusal to be silenced – she has no plans to move – many seniors would prefer to avoid confrontation.

Adele, an eight-year advocate from Arnold Bennett’s Housing Hotline, says it’s not unusual for seniors living alone to be scared to demand their rights. “I’ve seen seniors intimidated by certain landlords. They’re afraid to make requests for repairs, things with which younger people would not have any problem. They’re told if they don’t like it, they can get out. I’m so used to hearing about it, you get to the point you know it’s a veiled threat, but the tenant doesn’t know.”

Certain problems, she says, such as cracked walls, peeling paint and miscellaneous repairs need to be taken care of over time. “But sometimes landlords want to jack up the rent when you’ve been living there for 40 years and tell you it’s you that has to take care of it.” The tenant doesn’t know who to call for assistance and sometimes they’re so shaken they don’t know what to do. “Not everybody has families to help them,” Adele said.

Cathy Inouye of Project Genesis says some landlords neglect to make repairs in the hope that a tenant will leave. “An older person living in an apartment for a long time can refuse a rent increase. If there is a continual refusal of the increase, which is a person’s right, the landlord may not do repairs … trying to get the person out of the building. The tenant feels the pressure.”

Inouye encourages tenants to write a letter to the landlord if there is a health or safety issue. “Maybe what could help people the most is the knowledge that they can’t be thrown out of their apartment if they’re paying their rents on time. Tenants have the right to maintain occupancy. … You have the right to enjoy the apartment.” There are many resources in Montreal, such as Project Genesis, Arnold Bennett’s Tenants’ Clinics and the NDG Senior Citizens Council, which can help tenants, even if they can’t come in on their own.

“Project Genesis has a home advocacy service for people who are housebound,” Inouye said. “A volunteer advisor can come, explain the tenant’s rights and help compose a letter to the landlord if necessary.”

Info: Project Genesis: 514-738-2036; Arnold Bennett’s Housing Hotline: 514-990-0190; NDG Senior Citizens Council: 514-487-1311.



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