Caught in the housing crunch

Barb Sweet
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Man says his concerns about apartment got him an eviction notice

David Perry shows St. John’s Centre NDP MHA Gerry Rogers leaking pipes in the apartment he has been evicted from. Perry said his notice came after he complained about disrepair around the unit. — Photo by Barb Sweet/The Telegram

On his birthday this week, David Perry hauls out a box of newspapers he’s saved from his frustrating apartment hunt.

Perry, 54, was supposed to be out of his centre city apartment several days ago. He said he was given his eviction notice after complaining about issues with the apartment, including water leaking over a hot water tank and electrical wires.

Perry said the owner claimed the house was being sold, but no real estate sign ever went up.

 “I’m going to stay determined, not only for myself, but looking at other people who are in the same predicament, afraid to go to council or they will get a notice to get out,” he said.

But Perry couldn’t find another place to live and said he is on a waiting list at Newfoundland and Labrador Housing.

His girlfriend, Wanda Davis, was helping him find an apartment and described calling one listing.

The prospective landlord asked where Perry worked.

“Of course that was the welfare question,” Davis said, adding she explained he has a disability and receives social assistance. 

“He said, ‘I wouldn’t dare put anybody from social services in my apartment. My apartment is too good for ye people.’”

Davis also rents and finds it hard to make ends meet in the face of housing costs — $525 plus utilities for a small bachelor apartment.

The social assistance rent rate structure varies from $299-$522 a month. Allowances after that are based on various factors including number of dependants and special needs. Perry has no dependants and said once he pays his utilities, he sometimes has to go without food.

“This place really drained me dry,” said Perry, who has a club foot that often kept him home from school as a child. He said he has a Grade 3 education and worked at painting houses until several years ago when he suffered severe repetitive-strain issues.

St. John’s Centre NDP MHA Gerry Rogers’ office has been trying to help Perry, who said he moved to the St. John’s apartment in January because his rent was nearly doubled in Mount Pearl after the house was sold to new owners.

The St. John’s apartment costs $600 plus utilities, but the light bill in the winter was upwards of $400 a month, said Perry, adding he has not been reimbursed for repairs in the unit, including new taps and oven elements.

“Wanda and David are the epitome of the housing crisis we’ve found ourselves in, and everybody is so vulnerable if they have low income — assistance or minimum wage,” Rogers said.

While The Telegram and Rogers spoke with Perry at his home this week, two Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officers showed up.

The landlord, believed to live in the U.S., has a local man managing his properties, but the manager seems to spend most of his time out of the country, Perry and Davis said, adding that the man’s cellphone is mostly turned off and its mailbox usually full.

Because Perry and other tenants, as well as officials, were phoning the manager’s elderly mother, the RNC officers said she is ill and doesn’t want calls anymore.

Const. Jennifer Clarke, filling in Friday as the RNC’s media spokeswoman, said such calls are for general assistance and the RNC tries to provide advice to mediate situations, including referring people to the provincial landlord-tenants office.

Clarke said the RNC receives calls from landlords and tenants every day.

Jennifer Mills, spokeswoman for the City of St. John’s, said in May the St. John’s Regional Fire Department had ordered repairs because of the water dripping over the wiring at Perry’s apartment, but the tenant was allowed back in when that was fixed.

She said there is an outstanding work order for the owner to do plumbing and outside maintenance work, but a permit has been obtained.

The city has received some complaints about garbage and noise around the two-apartment property, but it hasn’t been traced to a particular resident.

In Perry’s apartment, which has a overpowering sour smell, the water is still dripping over the water tank, where there also appears to be electrical wiring. Perry said he’s been unable to use his hot water. The tub is full of brown residue from draining the tank.

He said neighbourhood cats can get in through a gap in the foundation behind his tub and urinate there, and there’s electrical running under it.

Davis said since Perry moved in, there has been a mice and flea infestation and the toilet was backed up for two weeks.

On Friday, Perry was still looking for a place to live and was trying to avoid shelters because of a traumatic experience he had at a shelter in the past.

A call to the landlord was not returned by deadline.

Organizations: Newfoundland and Labrador Housing, Regional Fire Department

Geographic location: Mount Pearl, U.S.

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Recent comments

  • Dar
    July 08, 2012 - 01:30

    I totally agree with Perry, and for the record I work full time and still can't afford the prices in NL. I actually work part time somewhere else as well and still I cannot afford to rent a decent place. My landlord actually yells at me if less than a week late with rent, yet while I"m paying his mortgage!.. And I have the same issues with the landlord, won't do maintenance. All my oil Heat went out the window as there was a 2 inch gap under the door for about 2 yrs. Mould on top of bathroom ceiling, drawers falling apart, the hotwater runs out after 5 mins or so and turn brownish.. But yes he yells at me.. I also worked with gov previously making fairly good $$ but still found it difficult being single and keeping up all bills. I moved back to NL about 8 yrs ago and realize now that I'm beginning to wish I hadn't, jobs aren't that many, wages have not gone up.. but holy prices have hit the skies on everything else. Next thing you know your on the street if you go to the city. Something really needs to be done about this. If anyone from the paper wants to contact me on this please feel free via email as I'd love to address the issue further and back up what Perry is saying.

  • Cathy
    July 08, 2012 - 01:13

    Sure, move people who are disabled to small towns. Great solution, wise guys. Many people on social assistance can't afford to own and maintain a vehicle to get around so small town living may not be feasible. (If they can, it's because they are working under the table or have an income earner living with them and are defrauding the system) Small towns don't have hospitals and may not even have doctors. If there is a grocery store it is usually a Mom & Pop operation that is quite a bit more expensive than the chain stores. Some people cannot work and have to rely on social assistance. Get over it.

  • tally
    July 07, 2012 - 21:33

    I have a few comments: 1) why does he want to stay there with such horrible living conditions? He should have given his one month notice long ago, and started his plan to look for a new place way in advance. 2) those numbers are not totally correct, as eastern health also ups the amount people get for rent. So social assistance might pay up to 500, but then eastern health would pay the rest. There are people i know who have similar disabilities who live in $1000 apartments. I also know a man who owns his own house with a basement apt and eastern health still gives him money for heat and light. 3) why is he not living with his girlfriend? 4) he needs to let nl housing know of this, as they often accomodate for emergencies.

  • Renter
    July 07, 2012 - 16:13

    Where is this great place where the rent is cheaper in Newfoundland? Truth is that there's a housing crisis ALL ACROSS THE PROVINCE! If the PCs opened their eyes they'd see that but they only listen to the lanlords and contractors who pay for their election campaigns!

  • james from winnipeg
    July 07, 2012 - 12:31

    if you want to see poor, come to winnipeg and see first hand where people are housed in cheap run down hotel rooms payed by taxpayers through social assistance. the government in power here. THE NDP, so socialist dont throw stones at glass houses.

  • David
    July 07, 2012 - 10:46

    Real estate is a lynchpin of the overall economy. Specifically, housing is a revenue generator and a proft-seeking economic endeavor. Rental housing is not provided by millionaires looking to assist the poor, or anyone else so oblivious to their own finanical obligations that they are motivated to secure their place in heaven. When governemnt takes care of the bottom 5%, there's always a new, and bigger, "bottom" bunch that takes their place in the soup line. Sober up NDP.... you're socialist, taxpayer-funded view of the world is simply insane. The only reason you have the luxury of believing in this populist tripe is that you are never given the opportunity to implement it and oversee the economic carnage.

  • Michelle
    July 07, 2012 - 10:08

    I would like to know how many people who make negative comments about those on social assistance or 'welfare' have ever actually experienced poverty or known and cared for someone who has? It is so ignorant to assume that all these people are lazy, etc. I know well-educated, hard working people who have gone through difficult life experiences and found themselves in the exact situation as Mr. Perry. They are stripped of their dignity, given no respect and treated like second class citizens. It's really a sad situation.

  • Randy
    July 07, 2012 - 08:46

    Thanks to the NDP for keeping the housing crisis on the front page!

  • marsha
    July 07, 2012 - 08:42

    Why dont you hear more cases of slumlords being convicted for providing poor or unsuitable housing. Maybe if they had to be held accountable they wouldn't let it get so bad.

  • Lookie
    July 07, 2012 - 08:33

    Why should the poor be shipped off somewhere. We are a have province but not for poor people. Shame on Newfoundland to treat people like dirt because they are poor. Go NDP!!!

  • Xray
    July 07, 2012 - 07:54

    Instead of advocating for more government funded housing in St. John's, why not help these people re-locate to areas of the province where housing is less expensive? Why do they have to stay in St. John's? Maybe they can afford rent in Conception Bay North, Bell Island, Bishop Falls, etc. Typical NDP. Let's just spend the invisible tax payer's money our way to feeling good instead of hurting someone's feelings.

    • Nicholas Morine
      July 07, 2012 - 08:41

      Xray: Great idea. We should ship all the cripples and the other various "human waste" (your insinuation, not mine) out to rural areas (not like those are important anyways) and free up over-priced slumlord apartments for those who can afford the usurious rate, like students on 40k loans or half of St. John's (service industry workers making min wage or maybe a buck or two better). You're so out of touch it's completely painful. Come back to the debate table when you have solutions that don't come from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. PS: I'd like to see how you deal with a deformity and the pursuant life problems it begets, just like Mr. Perry here. I doubt you would have half the courage.

    • Barry
      July 07, 2012 - 12:24

      best comment on here today, you are on to something XRAY, if people are not going to pay their own rent and depend on us tax payers to do it then maybe the best thing to do is move elsewhere in the province where rent is cheaper