The Landlord and Tenant Board hearings for nine men living in the Knights Inn resumed on Monday with news that one of them was withdrawing his application for full tenancy status.
“This whole process is tainted,” said James Moak, the paralegal representing the Knights Inn.
Moak presented a letter to the tribunal adjudicator, Gerald Naud, supposedly from inn resident Andrew Marsland claiming, according to Moak, that Marsland had been “threatened, harassed and forced to be part of the process.”
John Done, lead lawyer from the Kingston Community Legal Clinic, questioned the origin of the letter, which had been signed by Marsland around the time the clinic began representing the men.
“Who drafted this letter?” Done asked. “What are the circumstances?”
When Marsland appeared before the hearing a few minutes later, Done’s suspicions were confirmed.
The man said he had, indeed, signed the letter but “had no idea” who had drafted it.
“I do not have any issues or complaints,” Marsland told the hearing.
Marsland said he signed only because “there was a rumour going around that he [motel owner Lachman Tipu] was going to kick people out.”
Tipu later acknowledged that he had asked a friend to draft the letter for Marsland to sign because he felt Marsland was being “used” by others in their effort to win tenancy status.
Naud made no ruling about the admissibility of the letter.
Marsland and the eight other men living at the Knights Inn, most of them recipients of provincial welfare, want the Landlord and Tenant Board to rule they have tenancy status in order to challenge what they believe are substandard living conditions at the Knights Inn.
They are also seeking reimbursement for 99 per cent of the rent they paid for a year because they had to deal with bed bug infestations, unsafe stairs and black mold on their walls and ceilings.
The inn is arguing, however, that the men should be covered by the Innkeepers Act, which would allow management to evict them without serving lengthy notice.
One of the Knights Inn residents, Tom Gumersell, has already been determined to be covered by the Residential Tenancy Act, but the status of the remaining eight will be decided in separate hearings at later dates.
Gumersell returned to the tribunal on Monday to have his claim for an $8,910 reimbursement heard.
He also want compensation for about $3,000 worth of damages to personal property.
The nine men are seeking a total rent abatement of nearly $100,000.
Gumersell has lived in his single room at the inn for three years. He said he moved there because it is affordable; the $750 he pays each month is automatically deducted from his Ontario disability payment of $1,050.
“When I first moved in, I was desperate for a place,” said Gumersell, who quickly found out there was a bed bug infestation and that his door was broken and wouldn’t lock properly.
“Prior to moving into this unit, I never experienced bed bugs,” Gumersell recalled, adding that he now has “open sores and lesions on my body” from the bites.
He said he doesn’t want to have his daughter and granddaughter visit, for fear they will be bitten and take the bugs back to their home.
Gumersell also complained that water service to the rooms is regularly shut off for maintenance, for hours at a time, without notice.
He said that in October 2015, he fell through some stairs at the motel, creating a deep gash in his leg and resulting in long-term health complications.
In his final summation of Gumersell’s case, Done described the Knights Inn as a “decrepit building full of units with bed bugs.”
He said a 99 per cent refund of a year’s rent reflected the true value of where Gumersell was living.
The question, Done said, is “how much would a reasonable person pay for this kind of room? That’s the real issue here — bed bugs.”
Done said Tipu only agreed to fix problems in the rooms and common areas of the motel after the issues came to light in stories written by the Whig-Standard and after the legal clinic took action.
“This is an opportunistic landlord,” Done said.
In his summation, however, Moak argued that the bed bug infestation was being perpetuated by the fact that Gumersell kept two pet rats.
“He has pet rats,” Moak said. “They were the ones contributing to the bed bug problem.”
He suggested that Gumersell was making his complaints to the legal clinic “solely to bolster a civil claim” against the Knights Inn related to the fall through the stairs.
“He thinks there’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.”
Done said there was no civil case pending on Gumersell’s behalf.
After listening to the evidence, arguments and summations, Naud said he would reserve his decision until later.
The hearing then moved on to hear the status cases for the remaining eight men.
By the end of the day, however, they only heard that of former Knights Inn resident Donald Fowler.
Fowler described similar conditions in his $750-a-month room: a leaky window, water damage to walls and baseboards and a leaky bathtub faucet.
His door was so “flimsy” that he feared a break-in and slept with a pool cue at night for protection.
Eventually, the room was broken into and he had a number of items stolen, including a computer.
Fowler, too, had experienced bed bugs so bad that he had to throw out three mattresses, the last two he had bought himself.
“I wouldn’t dare invite anyone to my place. I brought it [the infestation] to my parents’, which was horrible,” he said. “It’s stressful.”
Fowler testified that much of the spraying was done by the Knights Inn property manager and that when he finished, there would be puddles of liquid chemical left on his floor.
In his final summation, Moak argued that Fowler and the other residents understood they did not have to pay first and last month’s rent when they came to the Knights Inn and that they could be asked to leave at any time.
He said places like the Knights Inn provide shelter to “a vulnerable sector of society” who are “typically transient” and may suddenly have to go into rehab for addictions or to deal with mental health issues.
“The intent is they can move tomorrow,” Moak said.
“If this complex was so bad for such a long period of time, why are they still there?” he asked. “Everyone is saying this is the most terrible place to live, but they still live there.”
Moak presented previous legal cases that he said indicate “the intentions of the parties” are most important.
“The intention is to give a section of society a place to live,” he said. “Mr. Fowler wants a place that meets his budget.”
Again, Naud reserved judgment, saying he would hear all of the applicants’ cases first.
No date was set for the next hearing.