'Everyone wants to keep the food bank': Landlord-tenant dispute endangers Toronto food bank

Westlodge tenant-run foodbank. (Courtesy of Paterson Hodgson)

A tenant-run food bank in Toronto could soon be forced to evacuate after a dispute with their property management company.

Tenants of Westlodge Towers in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood have been running a food bank to support their neighbours and community since December of 2020.

What began as a small set-up in their lobby soon grew when the tenants took over an empty unit in their building to run the food bank out of.

In February 2020, after weeks of negotiation with their property management company, Hazelview Properties, the two parties came to an agreement — they would be allowed to continue the food bank, in a different unit, as long as the unit was used for the sole purpose of the food bank.

Paterson Hodgson of Westlodge Tenants says they signed an agreement with Hazelview in February that was set to extend until March 31. She adds that no one followed up with the tenants to extend the terms.

Now, the tenants have been told they’ve violated that agreement.

Hodgson says the property management company entered the suite and told tenants they had been found to not be in alignment with their original agreement—that the suite was being used for purposes other than facilitating a food bank.

“We have always been fully supportive of the tenant-run food bank at West Lodge. We have provided the suite at no cost specifically for food bank purposes, and we have offered additional support to ensure that local families have food,” Colleen Krempulec, Vice President of Branding and Marketing at Hazelview Properties told CTV News Toronto Thursday.

“The terms for usage of the space was mutually agreed upon by both Hazelview and the Food Bank in February 2021. Regrettably, the terms in the agreement are not being abided to and we have learned that the space is being used for purposes not related to the food bank, “ continued Krempulec.

A bucket of paints and a few signs from a previous event are what led the property management team to claim that the tenants were using the suite for additional purposes, says Hodgson. She says they haven’t been using the food bank for a secondary purpose.

Hazelview confirmed to CTV News Toronto that the items found to be in violation of their agreement were painting materials, signage, and brainstorming notes.

The management company is now asking Westlodge Tenants to re-sign an agreement, asking them to use the space only for food bank purposes, but Hodgson says the tenants do not want to sign the same agreement again.

She says the current terms are lacking.

"The terms of their agreement are actually very ambiguous and [..] ambiguity leads to Hazelview being able to use them against us," Hodgson said.

“We need a new agreement, so we went back to them with suggested amendments, and they said, in response to that, ‘If you don't sign this agreement as it is in 14 days, we will change the locks and you'll have 48 hours to leave,’” she continued.

Hazelview Properties disputes asking them to leave,  but maintains they will be required to sign a new agreement.

Since starting the food bank in late 2020, Hodgson says they’ve seen great success, serving approximately 100 Westlodge families a month.

“Running it out of the unit that we're in has been great. Food banks run really smoothly. We've expanded how much we're able to offer and numbers are growing every week,” Hodgson told CTV News Toronto.

“Everyone wants to keep the food bank open,” said Hodgson, “The tenants that use it, the tenants that run it, the tenants that don't use it, our neighbours, everybody wants it.”