It's not news to anyone that living in Toronto is expensive, so finding a cheap place can come with a different kind of expense. For some Torontonians living in Toronto, they've made a home in the notorious 103 and 105 West Lodge Avenue apartments.
The reason that these apartments are so well known is that they have been at the centre of fatal tragedies and rental rights issues, covered by the media several times over the past few years. Just earlier this month, a man was killed after falling off a balcony during an altercation. Another man was beaten to death in a field outside the building in June of this year.
Back in 2008, a 7-year-old girl by the name of Katelynn Sampson was also killed in the building by her caregivers. Police investigating the crime found her blood in every room of the apartment.
In 2016, the CBC did an interview with a tenant that declared the West Lodge apartment the "Harlem of Parkdale." That was the year the Toronto Star published that the city was cracking down on the building's violations, including mould, drafty doors, graffiti, and waste.
NOW Magazine warned first-time renters in Toronto about the buildings in 2017 with an original piece describing how disgusting the buildings are, the same year that an apartment literally blew up after the tenant was trying to cook drugs.
The tenants in the building have given it the nickname "Worst Lodge" and clearly, they have a reason to. The apartment complex's shocking history speaks for itself. But, we wanted to see what life is really like within the building's walls.
Sarah and Jane* have been best friends for over 10 years, since growing up around the block from one another in a small Southern Ontario town. While Sarah had been living in the city for three years prior, Jane decided to go to a college in Toronto in the fall of 2017 when they decided to live together. They signed their lease for April of 2017 for a junior bedroom apartment in 105 West Lodge before they knew what they were in for.
What were your first impressions of the building?
S: I moved in April of 2017, right?
S: And.... it smelt really bad. *laughs* The lobby constantly smells like pee but it’s also, really, the only affordable housing in Toronto. We pay $1200 for a two bedroom apartment, which is unheard of, but it’s a junior two bedroom apartment, which means that the unit was a one bedroom where they added in some walls to make the second bedroom. So my bedroom is the second one, which means it doesn’t have a closet, it’s very, very small and then we just have an extra little space. Basically, it’s good enough for two people, wouldn’t put anymore.
J: I mean, my move in was fine because other people had been living here. I moved on August 26th, 2017, so I mean people had already been living here for what, 4-5 months. When we moved Sarah in, I was standing in the lobby, so people were moving stuff in from the truck, putting it in the lobby so we could put it in the elevator and a man just walked in the front door and just like spit on the ground, of the lobby. Like walked in from outside and spit on the ground of the lobby.
S: So, the tenants of this building also hate the building.
J: Yeah, it was just like I hadn’t even moved in yet and that was my first impression.
How long did it take for you guys to find an issue with the apartment?
S: Oh, immediately. So, because I moved in during April, it was still pretty cold. My heat didn’t work and I put in four work orders before my heat was actually fixed and had several conversations with the building manager.
So what was wrong with the heat, how did that play out?
S: There are electric heaters and mine, in my bedroom, just was not working. Like nothing was coming out, no air, no heat, nothing at all. The work orders weren’t listened to at all. But, I didn’t get heat then until the following January.
How many months is that?
S: Eight. I went eight months without heat into mid-winter in Canada.
J: We also have to consider the fact, because this apartment was a one-bedroom chopped into two, the placement and circulation of the heat aren’t the greatest. The heaters are in Sarah’s room, which is supposed to heat the major living quarters, and the other one is in my bedroom.
Do you have no heat in your living room?
J: No, no. Our bedrooms are on opposite sides.
S: We use the oven in the winter for heat because still my heater, which yes is supposed to heat most of the apartment, the heat doesn’t go far. You can feel it if you’re very close to it and that’s really it. It doesn’t go much farther than that, so come winter we turn on the oven.
J: We also have tea towels in the [balcony] door because the door isn’t sealed properly. So if you don’t have something in between the screen door and the big door you can feel the draft.
S: So, they did fix my heat and left my wall open for a couple of days, which was disgusting and bug-ridden. Now, they did close the wall, but they left the drywall. They didn’t bother painting it - they just left it and when I came in, the heater wasn’t put together. I had to figure out how to put it together myself so the front piece is just hanging. The cover plates on the heater are not properly placed and I guessed, so they’re hanging off.
So you said bug-ridden... Tell me about the bugs, where do they start?
S: There have been cockroaches since we’ve moved in.
J: Literally since day one.
S: We are right beside the garbage chute, so there’s constantly cockroaches. We’ve had two cockroach treatments, the spray and the gel. We tried to have the gel once before, we made the work order and it turns out the office did not process it properly. So we got the sheet, it had the date on it, I stayed home from work in order to be there to ensure they did the treatment everywhere because we’ve heard from other tenants that they don’t treat the bedrooms if you’re not there. They just close the doors when the cockroaches are in the bedrooms as well.
J: In June, we had it fumigated, where we had to “evacuate.” Then when we came home our bedroom doors were closed.
They just didn’t fumigate your bedrooms?
J: We don’t know. Don’t think so, but you would just think that all of our crap being pulled out into the middle of the bedrooms, like put two and two together. You’re already here, and what makes you think that they’re just in this unit?
S: Yeah. So it’s completely bug ridden.
Where do they come from, that you’ve seen them come from?
S: We’ve seen them coming from cracks between the cupboards and behind the oven where we’ve put in caulking.
J: So, there are little cracks in the cupboards themselves that we’ve seen crawl into, we’ve seen them crawl under the cupboards and floor tiles, they come out of the drains. They come out behind the cabinet.
S: Our unit wasn’t properly sealed, though. The caulking should have been sealing all these cracks, especially because we’re beside the garbage chute.
J: Yeah, and on top of it being beside the garbage chute, we also have other tenants on the floor that don’t carry garbage downstairs if it doesn’t fit. They just leave it on the floor. It has to wait until the day that our floor gets maintained by the maintenance crew.
Are there any other pests?
S: We’ve also found several dead mice, we have no idea where they’re coming from, but our cat kills them.
You also said that there was something wrong with the elevators?
S: For the most part of us living here, there have been one to two elevators in use at all times when there are four possible elevators.
J: That’s a combination of many things. From one being in service, from people moving in and out or the maintenance people using it, or they’re broken.
S: At one point, for at least a week, three of the four elevators were broken. There was one elevator that was sometimes in service. So, if you lived on the 19th floor, you just had to walk.
J: That means 414 units are relying on one elevator.
That’s insane, that’s absolutely insane. How do you get 400 people in an elevator that can hold maybe 10?
S: It’s ridiculous because there are the people who bring in bikes, too.
J: Exactly. We'll also have the people who live below the fifth floor and need to take the elevator - like absolutely need to. That’s true, but I am also saying this with a hint of sarcasm. They’re taking a space from someone who might have a thing of groceries, a mom, or yeah, someone with a bike who is going to the eleventh floor.
As for neighbours, have you had any issues with the people around you?
S: The lady above us. Jane, this is yours to tell.
J: So it started after nine o’clock one day, laying in bed, starting some TV. I hear someone launch water off of their balcony and this water comes flying into my bedroom. It doesn’t smell great, but I have yet to know what is to come. I was just like, “okay well I have to clean this up now,” so I started cleaning it up. Sarah came home, I told her what happened. She passed a comment that people have tarps on their balconies, someone just probably pushed the water off because we had bad rain just before that. It didn’t happen, maybe for a week or two, it was a while ago so it’s kind of fuzzy. But, yeah a week or two after that and then it started happening regularly - then it started smelling terrible.
What would you define as regularly?
S: It was a minimum of once a week.
J: Not even, once a day. Sometimes it was once a day, and then it wouldn’t happen for a day, and then happen three times the following day.
Okay, so in this monthly period, it was happening a lot?
J: When I say regularly, I guess I should say that it averaged out to like two times a day. Just because it was very sporadic, she picks and chooses. So, it kept happening and it kept happening, and it smelt terrible. A combination of urine and feces. But, when you see it coming off the edge of this woman's balcony, it doesn’t look like that. That sounds so gross, but I think we all know what it would look like if someone was dumping urine and feces off of their balcony - but, it looks like water.
S: It’s clear, yeah.
J: It’s clear, it’s not chunky, it just smells. It smells so bad.
So then that’s getting into your bedroom, Jane?
S: And on our balcony.
J: Right, and so it actually smells very, very similar to what the lobby smells like - so yeah, good times. She dumps it the one day and Sarah and I are both at home, we run outside and start screaming up to her balcony because we finally catch her, we finally catch where this is coming from. We run outside, scream up at her, someone that is two floors below her is also outside and wondering what the f*ck is going on. He’s screaming up to us - I shouldn’t say screaming, he’s yelling up to us, thinking that she has a pet, and that’s something that hadn’t even crossed our minds. We are yelling at her, yelling at her, telling her to stop. She finally comes over to the edge, looking over the edge like “Oh, who could possibly be yelling up to me, like I’m doing nothing wrong?” She noticed us and we asked her what she was doing. Like honestly, what in your right mind are you doing?!
S: She said that there were birds on the balcony because she took her net down. We’re supposed to be mandated to have the nets on our balcony. It says in our lease that if you remove it, you’re charged a fee, but hers is gone. We’ve told the building manager, she said that she’s dumping water off her balcony to get the bird nests off.
J: And to keep the birds from walking on her balcony.
S: We asked her not to or to get a net, she didn’t really respond.
J: She was like okay, okay, but it continued. We realized she wasn’t going to stop after politely asking and not so politely asking. In and amongst all of this we have made calls to security, down to the office. Whenever you call security here, the answering machine is either full, they don’t pick up so you get the full answering machine. Or it’s “yeah, okay” and then you don’t hear if anything has been done, or they pick up and hang up.
S: Yeah. Since we had a meeting with the building manager, which when we told him the apartment number he was upset because apparently he’s been dealing with this woman for a while. She’s been having many issues. I still don’t know why she doesn’t have a net up on her balcony.
J: He was stopped in his tracks. He was on his computer about to type something in and we told him the apartment building and unit number, he just scoffed.
S: Yeah, we’ve called the police. So now the Toronto Police have come to our unit, talked to us about it, looked at our balcony to see where it’s coming from and went and talked to her. They said all they can do is give her a warning, basically.
J: Mind you, when we called the police that night it was right after, pretty much as she was dumping water off of her balcony. When we called we were told, obviously because it’s not an emergency, that the police would show up when they could. They came about 2-3 hours later and we were explaining the situation to them. They walked out onto the balcony and they said they could smell it as soon as they walked out there. They could just smell urine.
Which is pretty impressive, considering you guys are high up in the building too. So, you would think the fresh air would dissipate the smell.
J: Right, we get good gusts of wind. But, at this point - this was only a month and a half ago that we had the police here - and at that point, it had been happening for in between two and four months.
S: It’s been since spring, it started in the spring. Maybe we just started noticing it in the spring though because our windows were open?
J: And that’s the thing, yeah, I’ve been really happy to close my windows because summer is ending.
S: So, still nothing has been done. It’s still happening, the building manager just doesn’t respond to us anymore.
Would you chalk up the issues of "Worst Lodge" apartments to half management and half tenants?
S: It's a two-way street because management isn't doing a good job and hasn't done a good job since these buildings opened, really.
J: We've always been told five years. "Five years ago this building was fantastic," do you remember that? Always hear tenants say five years ago it started to turn to sh*t before that it was fantastic.
S: For a long time I would say that the building managers weren't doing their jobs, so the tenants weren't respecting the buildings and then the building managers didn't respect the tenants. It just keeps getting worse.
So, what would you want to see happen? Would you want to see it shut down and fixed properly or do you think it can be fixed while being maintained?
S: Realistically I don't think the bug problem in this building can ever be fixed.
J: The people that live here, if they came in and did the maintenance work that needs to be done, I'm going to assume that they would take full advantage if everyone was gone, so they revamp all the units. These people cannot afford to come back and pay what they would hike the rent up to because of all the renovations that they did. So at the end of the day, even if you told them to leave, not every single person is going to come back.
Especially if the rent were to be raised.
J: There are at least two instances where I have been in the elevator and overheard conversations where people are just going on about how their stuck in this position. Where they live here because the rent is cheap and if they go anywhere else it's just absolutely ridiculous pricing and you don't have a life. You don't have money to do fun things.
S: I think my biggest hope for this building, though, is that the building management would be more on top of work orders. That's the minimum requirement that I would want to see of just tenants getting their requests met.
Their notice has assured residents that upgrades to the building are coming soon and that they will be looking forward to providing them a superior experience.
While it's not clear if the history of the West Lodge apartments can be washed away under new management, we can only hope that this new start can bring some much-needed changes to the building.
* Names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals