One morning last September, Aden Hassan returned from a quick trip to the corner store to find his entire two-bedroom Hamilton apartment was flooded.
The sloshing inches of water had destroyed baseboards, walls and most of his family’s belongings, Hassan said. He lives in the apartment with his wife and four children.
In the days following, the landlord made emergency repairs — hiring a contractor to strip away a few feet of soggy drywall, according to an eviction notice that describes events and was filed months later.
But the repair work stopped there, and seven months later the family is still living in “very difficult” conditions at 235 Rebecca St. Hassan said.
Hassan, 27, showed CBC Hamilton the extensive damage, gesturing to loose wires, exposed concrete and caulking, and sharp metal corners that pose a constant danger to his 18-month-old son.
He points out black mould blooming in corners and closets. He can see the bathtub’s underbelly through a giant hole in the bedroom wall. And the bottom of his bathroom cupboard has never fully dried.
“I’m frustrated, overwhelmed and very depressed,” Hassan said. “I don’t have time to keep fighting for this to be solved in days or months.”
The family relies solely on Hassan’s income as a construction worker, and can’t afford to move anywhere else. Hassan said he’s paying just over $1,500 a month in rent, while two-bedroom units elsewhere can cost $2,000 or more.
He and his wife were born in Somalia and moved to Canada as refugees. He said they’re still learning English and about their tenant rights, and was hopeful the landlord would follow through on repairs.
But in recent weeks, out of desperation, he said he got in touch with tenant advocacy group ACORN, Hamilton Community Legal Clinic (HCLC) lawyers and HCLC Black justice coordinator Gachi Issa.
“It’s time to speak out,” Hassan said.
His family’s “deeply concerning” living situation is not only a symptom of Hamilton’s ongoing housing crisis, but also an example of anti-Black racism, said Issa.
“A lot of landlords, especially in the downtown core, take advantage of migrants often, those with language barriers and those who are vulnerable,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking to see.”
Two legal experts told CBC Hamilton there’s no excuse for the unit to still be in this condition.
“The landlord has an obligation to fix it, period, end of story,” said Harry Fine, a retired paralegal who isn’t connected to the case.
If the landlord believes the tenant is to blame, it can then go to the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) to recover the repair costs, he said.
Landlord says ‘dialogue’ with tenant is ongoing
Medallion Corporation, a Toronto-based real estate development and property management company, owns and maintains the apartment building.
Medallion spokesperson Danny Roth declined to answer CBC Hamilton’s questions as to why the repairs haven’t been completed.
“The issues in this situation are specific to an individual tenancy and do not speak to systemic issues in the community or industry,” he said in a statement.
“Medallion continues to believe that individual tenant matters are best resolved directly — between management and resident, and not through the media. That process of dialogue is ongoing between the resident and management.”
The day Hassan’s apartment flooded, Sept. 22, 2022, the city had shut off water in the area to replace a fire hydrant, said Monica Ciriello, Hamilton’s bylaw and licensing services director.
Medallion served Hassan an eviction notice in January — in it, the company blamed Hassan for the flood, claiming he left the kitchen tap on and a plug in the drain.
When the city turned the water back on an hour later, it filled up the sink and flowed onto the floor, the notice said.
Hassan is adamant the flood was not his fault. He said it likely began in the washroom, where the toilet bowl often overflows with water and floods into the bedroom. He said it’s been an ongoing issue since he moved into the unit four years ago and despite repeatedly asking the landlord to do repairs, the problem has never been fixed. The same can be said for his leaking kitchen sink.
“This building has a water problem, and everyone knows about it,” Hassan said. “I’ve been paying to live here for four years and I have a right to stay.”
The landlord told Hassan and his family to move out of the unit by the end of March or pay $11,878 to repair the damages.
Hassan said he recently took out a $5,000 loan to give Medallion, in the hopes it would stop the eviction process and motivate them to make the repairs.
“I am willing to solve the problem and work together as a team,” he said.
But Medallion is continuing to pursue eviction, filing an application with the LTB, according to an email from the LTB to Hassan.
The LTB will eventually hear the case and make a decision.
No bylaw order for landlord to make repairs
Hassan also made a complaint with city bylaw in early April, confirmed Ciriello, the city’s bylaw director.
According to Hamilton’s rental property bylaws, landlords are required to maintain and repair interior floors and walls, plumbing and electrical.
Hassan provided CBC Hamilton with a recording of a phone call from April 5, in which he said he spoke with a bylaw officer.
In the recording, the officer seems reluctant to go to the property and discourages Hassan from pursuing an order. The officer says he’s already spoken to the landlord, who indicated they’d appeal any order from the city.
“I would leave it and let [the landlord] fix it when they can,” the officer is heard saying. “I’ve been doing the job for 30 years and I’m just trying to help you.”
After Hassan asked again for help, the officer said, “I’m going to come but your landlord is going to come down on you hard to evict you, I know that.”
When asked about the recording and whether the response was in line with messaging bylaw should be providing to residents, the city declined to comment.
“We cannot confirm conversations that may or may not have taken place before or after inspection,” said Ciriello.
A bylaw officer “worked with the property manager to make repairs,” she said. A month later, the officer confirmed the landlord had hired a contractor to complete the work.
As of Friday, Hassan said he hadn’t heard anything from the landlord about repairs.
And standing in the middle of his living room, with the couch pushed into the middle, away from the exposed wires and concrete, Hassan said clearly the work hadn’t started.