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Squatters, broken system to blame for Ledo’s decrepit state, owner says

George Soule, who has owned the Ledo Hotel downtown since 2007, blames Ontario Landlord and Tenant Board and problem tenants for the state of infamous downtown building
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Squatters and a stagnant Landlord and Tenant Board are to blame for the state of disrepair that the Ledo Hotel has fallen to, the building's owner has told Sudbury.com. (File photo)
Squatters and a stagnant Landlord and Tenant Board are to blame for the state of disrepair that the Ledo Hotel has fallen to, the building's owner has told Sudbury.com.

An Oct. 25 fire displaced 13 residents at the Elgin Street building, and when firefighters were investigating they uncovered a number of safety concerns, prompting an Ontario Fire Marshal Immediate Threat to Life Order to be issued and the building being closed. 

Issues discovered by Greater Sudbury Fire Service include a water leak from the roof that is continuously running through a live electrical panel, an unsecured main electrical room with high-voltage wiring exposed, an inoperable fire alarm system in the building due to water leakage. Given these issues and risk of fire, electricity has been shut off to the building.

The fire department also made note in the posted notice that evidence of trespassing and break and enter was visible throughout all areas of the building and alternative methods of heat, such as candles, were being used when the power was disconnected. 

Of the 13 residents that were displaced, only eight of them were paying tenants, the building's owner, George Soule, said in an interview.

"There were probably four or five squatters and one of them was trying to steal copper and was into this panel, so the fire department was concerned about that, so they had the hydro turned off," said Soule, who says that having squatters at the downtown rooming house is a common occurrence.

"Since COVID started in March there's no place to go, the (Off the Street) shelter downtown wouldn't take these people. If these squatters showed up and caused any harm, the police would come in five minutes, with me they come in five hours maybe."

Soule told Sudbury.com he is the sole owner of the Ledo, which he purchased in 2007. He has been operating it as a rooming house, renting out rooms on a month-to-month basis. While the Ledo has 27 rooms, Soule currently has just eight paying tenants.

"I sell rental time, so if you don't pay me, you're stealing. If you don't pay rent, you're stealing," said Soule. "The last two years, people in apartments not paying me is over half-a-million dollars. The tribunal has gone right sideways. There is not $500,000 of profit in this building. It's not there and the first thing that goes is maintenance, so the maintenance goes and then you become known as a landlord who doesn't look after his building."

Evicting problematic tenants has been an issue that has plagued a number of Sudbury landlords, and a group of them held a protest in front of Tom Davies Square on Oct. 27 to raise awareness of the situation and what many landlords (and tenants) see as a broken Landlord and Tenant Board.

Soule said much the same, arguing he has had his share of issues with troublesome tenants including tenants who don't pay rent, and says that getting an eviction hearing with the Landlord and Tenant Board is a lengthy and arduous process.

"I'm probably one of the bigger landlords (who has issues with problem tenants). I deal with this market down here (in the downtown core). We haven't had a rental tribunal since March and the police say everything is a tribunal issue, so we don't have police," said Soule. "I can no longer protect the tenants that I had in that building, the paying tenants, I can no longer protect my employees."

Soule said he employs six people at the Ledo who handle cleaning duties in the hallways and rooms, along with removing unwanted occupants who are squatting in the building.

"I have two guys go in there because they have to go together. They go in the morning to get rid of the squatters, the police will not come," said Soule. "We had one of our employees pepper-sprayed and the police response was that unless it's on video they can't do anything."

Just two weeks ago, Soule said he had a new steel fire door installed that was quickly pried open. He said windows are pried open or broken by individuals looking for a free place to sleep for the night. 

Soule said damage costs have far outstripped what he is able to cover financially, and he feels he's better off leaving the building vacant at this point.

"I can't do it, there's just not enough money. A building that is supposed to have 27 tenants and you're down to eight paying tenants just doesn't work," said Soule. 

"There is no help, I'm better off to leave it vacant. I was probably one of the more lenient landlords in Sudbury when I started 20 years ago. I believe that an empty apartment doesn't make you any money so you'd rent to five questionable tenants and maybe two wouldn't pay you and in less than two months you could evict them. You didn't have to go to a hearing. 

Now (unpaid rent) very easily adds up to $10,000 — where else in society can you steal from someone and not have any kind of police protection?"

The delays to get a hearing with the Landlord and Tenant Board have created a situation for Soule and other landlords where it's actually less of a cost hinderance to leave an apartment vacant in many cases, the Ledo owner argued. 

Soule said the Ledo would need to be operating at almost 90-per-cent capacity of paying tenants in order to cover the operating costs.

"This market is in real trouble. It's cheaper to leave an apartment empty until you get the tenant you really want," said Soule. "You just don't have any enforcement from the tribunal, from the police."

As far as Soule's responsibility with respect to the building's upkeep, he said that he has been current with all of his fire safety checks, but maintenance has been a challenge.

"With the maintenance, it's kept up as much as I can with the squatters that are in there," said Soule. "I have to do monthly reports on the fire system and I do that, and the city comes in if they want to do inspections and that's fine. 

“The key maintenance issues are a direct result of there is no money. I'm not taking a pile of money home and not doing the maintenance. If you can show me how eight paying tenants can carry a building like that … it doesn't cover my soft costs, I'm better not to have any labour costs."

There is currently an offer on the building from Le Ledo Inc., a group that is proposing a $40-million renovation to the building.

The plans have been in the works for close to a year now, the Le Ledo proponents, who remained unnamed, and will reimagine the entire property with a 150,000-square-foot commercial development in Sudbury’s south section of the Junction district with a combination of existing uses and others allowable within the C-6 commercial zoning.

"There's presently an offer on the building … they (Le Ledo Inc.) have it under contract, they have an offer on it," said Soule. "It's listed to sell, but if it doesn't sell I'll figure out something to do with it."