By Shafiqullah Aziz & Sara Jaffri
“Open the door or we’ll kill you!” are hardly the words Reshma* anticipated hearing outside the doors of her new apartment shortly after moving in. Neither did she imagine that although the unit was mostly clean, the very obvious soya sauce-coloured stains on the living room walls and some of the kitchen cabinets would reveal a much darker and disturbing truth behind them.
After her move into a Markham and Eglinton area high-rise at the beginning of April this year, Reshma started getting to know her neighbours a little better and having conversations with them. During one of these conversations, a neighbour asked her if she knew anything about the brutal attack that happened in her apartment before she moved in. Of course, she was at a loss for words and dumbfounded. Other neighbours confirmed the same story.
Two weeks before Reshma moved into 3400 Eglinton Avenue East, a man living in her current apartment was beaten bloody by his step-sons. The incident had left the hallway outside of her unit filled with blood, and the man later died in hospital. She quickly realized what the stains on her apartment wall really were.
The superintendent made no prior disclosure to Reshma about the murder, nor any attempt to inform her of what situation her apartment was in. The building management had hastily brought in the new tenant within two weeks after the beating and death had occurred, after the wife of the murdered father ran away from the building. The rush to bring in new tenancy to the unit explains why the blood had not even been cleaned from the apartment, despite it resulting in an unclean and hazardous living situation for Reshma and her two-year-old son.
To make matters worse, there have been several instances where people have come to Reshma’s door, demanding to speak to the previous tenants who used to live in the apartment. Sometimes the visitors knocked, and at other times there has been more aggressive banging and issuing of death threats and warnings. Reshma reports that once somebody knocked on her door shouting, “you borrowed money from me, give me back my money!”. When she approached the police for assistance, they simply advised her to not open the door when people come around. No action was taken by the superintendent to ensure Reshma’s safety.
The ongoing neglect by the building management pushed Reshma finally to want to move out of the apartment. Something as essential as clean drinking water is even out of reach as the unit pipes are rusted, forcing Reshma to spend on bottled water for herself and her child. “We want to vacate the unit and move out of this building” she remarks.
Reshma had also demanded that the building superintendent, Shamu, clean the mess left by the blood and was told “go buy paint and clean it up yourself”. After complaining to Mahmoud, one of the owners of Premax Properties (a landlord owning several buildings in the city’s east end), Reshma was told that she would not be reimbursed her last month’s rent if she wanted to move out before the end of her one year lease.
After Reshma had complained about the apartment, Shamu began to use Reshma’s personal life and family as leverage to further intimidate her. Shamu went so far as to spread rumours about her, telling Reshma’s husband that she is talking to other men in suggestive ways. Shamu has also visited Reshma and threatened to charge her for the full year’s rent, call the police and provide false information to Children’s Aid Services (CAS), claiming that Reshma is neglecting to take care of her child, saying “I will take your kid away from you. I will call CAS and the cops”.
Shamu has also attempted to silence Reshma further by calling the police and telling them that Reshma is harassing her. This resulted in a visit by the police to Reshma, who once again failed to provide any real solutions and told her to cease communication with Shamu and to instead take her complaints to the Landlord and Tenant Board.
Reshma does not deserve to be treated with hostility and neglect, nor does she deserve to have to pay rent to live in an unclean and unsafe environment. The superintendent, building management and police have shown nothing but the strongest desire to punish Reshma for demanding what is rightfully hers- a decent living condition for herself and her family.
There is no doubt that richer tenants in upper class neighbourhoods do not have to deal with cleaning up the aftermath of murders in their new homes, nor do they come under attacks by landlords or the police when they ask for service. Meanwhile, working class tenants like Reshma are not only left to live in dangerous and disgusting conditions, but are also subject to their life and family being regularly threatened whenever they speak out.
The shared incompetence and subsequent aggression of Reshma’s superintendent and police is not a coincidence. It is obvious that the belligerence against working class tenants is real and deliberate. Not every tenant may have bloodstains in their apartment, but countless tenants in the area have shared how unhelpful and abusive police and landlords have been. We must unite and organize ourselves collectively to fight against the multiple forms of authority that exist and work together to weaken, silence and criminalize us simply for surviving.
*At her request, we have given Reshma a pseudonym for this article.
(Photo Credit: Shafiqullah Aziz)