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BEHIND THE SCENES: Where will they go? Renos forcing seniors out of Coniston apartments's Jenny Lamothe takes us behind the scenes

In each “Behind the Scenes” segment, Village Media's Scott Sexsmith sits down with one of our local journalists to talk about the story behind the story.

These interviews are designed to help you better understand how our community-based reporters gather the information that lands in your local news feed. You can find more Behind the Scenes from reporter across Ontario here

Today's spotlight is on's Jenny Lamothe, whose story 'Where will they go? Renos forcing seniors out of Coniston apartments' was published on April 25.

Here is the original story if you need to catch up:

In Coniston, there is a community within a community. Several, surely, but this one sits at 21 Balsam Street, a geared-to-seniors apartment complex with neighbours that have lived with each other for years, some as long as decades. 

Coniston is a small, quiet community of around 2,000 people on the eastern edge of the city. It’s self-contained, with its own grocery store, pharmacies and a few stores. Most of its residents are over the age of 50. 

But the relative peace of life at 21 Balsam, a large, U-shaped, two-storey building just off the town’s main drag, hasn’t been the same since tenants began receiving letters March 1 from the new owners of the building, through their lawyer, telling them they’ll have to vacate their apartment for “an unknown period of time” for “extensive renovations.” 

One 88-year-old who asked not to be named told she has lost her son, her daughter and her husband, and has little other family to speak of. She said she is so frightened that she won’t have anywhere to live that the turmoil, stress and fear are affecting her sleep and her health. 

After receiving a letter from the new owner’s lawyer, residents of 21 Balsam Street, an affordable Coniston apartment building — the majority of whom are senior citizens — fear what will happen to them after being informed they’ll have to move out of their units for an unknown length of time, with little affordable housing options available. Mark Gentili /

The tenants of 21 Balsam are senior citizens, many in their 60s and 70s, and a few are older than that. They’ve lived in Coniston for decades and many fear they will have to leave their community to find somewhere to live due to the situation with their building. 

When they met as a group with, they told our reporter they are worried about finding a new home, but more than that, they are worried about affording one in the midst of a housing crisis. Many of them are on a fixed or pension income. 

They also believe that these renovations will be far from extensive. There were five vacant apartments at the time of the sale, said the tenants group. So far, three have been rented, and two are on the market now. 

The apartments were renovated before they were listed for rent, but according to the tenants group, the renos are limited to paint and flooring. Anything in excess could require a permit, but the tenants group said no permits were ever visible. Now back on the market, those apartments' rental amounts are almost double what the current tenants are paying. 

Currently, the tenants pay an average of $800 for a two-bedroom apartment. The recently renovated two-bedroom apartment is listed at $1,675.

Rolland Piche, 55, has been living in a two-bedroom apartment at 21 Balsam for 14 years. He said receiving his letter was “a slap in the face.” 

“Where else are we supposed to go?” Piche said.

He also said he thinks evicting some tenants was the owner’s plan from the start. 

“These new owners bought the building Feb. 1, then one month later, March 1, we get a letter from the lawyer,” he said. “This was planned.” 

While eight to 10 tenants have received the letter, (some did not speak to others received a phone call from a lawyer, Glenn Gosling of Hamilton-based Caveat LLP, on behalf of the building’s owner. 

Some, like 68-year-old Pauline Boivin, who has lived in the building for six years, have received no information at all. Boivin said she even called Greater Sudbury Property Management, which she said is managing the property for the owners, but said the company wouldn’t give her any answers.

“Everyone is in a panic,” she said.

She said she also called the company in February when they took over maintenance of the building and they assured her, “absolutely nothing will change.” A week later, there were changes, said Boivin, including the dismissal of their beloved, if a bit grumpy, superintendent, Henry. 

Henry was offered his apartment, should he wish to stay, but while it was included in his contract previously, he would now have to pay $1,700 in rent. 

The sale

The apartment complex at 21 Balsam was purchased by a numbered company, 1000738746 Ontario Inc., which was incorporated on Dec. 13, 2023.

The company directors (and also officers) are Lev Osipian and May Sarjinsky, both registered to the same Richmond Hill residential address. The company itself is headquartered at 3175 Rutherford Road, unit 71, in Vaughan. That address is attached to the Body and Soul Clinic, a cosmetic laser and skin treatment centre with six Greater Toronto locations. The name May Sarjinsky also appears as a real estate agent in Richmond Hill, though could not confirm they are one in the same. 

Glenn Gosling, a lawyer from Hamilton-based Caveat LLP, who sent a letter to the tenants of 21 Balsam on behalf of the new owners, based in Richmond Hill. The letter states the mostly senior residents will have to move out of their apartments, and they’re unsure where they’ll go, and how they’ll afford to pay more in rent. Image: reached out to Gosling, the lawyer, in order to speak to the owners of the building. We were asked to email, rather than telephone, so we sent questions along with our request for an interview. We asked the extent of the renovations, the timeline for their completion, the timeline for receipt of what’s called an N-13 form, as well as what renovations had been completed on the units currently up for rent. 

The N-13 form, a Notice to end your tenancy due to a landlord’s need to demolish, repair or convert a rental unit, is to be completed by the landlord and sent to the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) for approval before tenants are required to vacate their unit. It can be a long process, and the owners may not have their N-13 approved – they can't evict tenants under the N-13 without the renovations being drastic enough to require a permit. If it is approved, and tenants state in writing they intend to move back in, they would be entitled to three months’ rent (or an amount equal to rent for the period of time they must be out, whichever is less), and must be offered another rental unit that is acceptable to the them. 

Gosling replied to our email, simply stating “currently my clients do not wish to comment.”  

One tenant, who does not want to be named, did call Gosling. She said she was told she could receive a years’ rent, and that she would be helped with moving expenses and first and last payments for a new apartment. But when she asked if she could move back in after, she said the lawyer replied, “It’s going to take too long, you’re better off to move on.”

Though the real estate listing is now closed, tenants said the listing agent was Zackary Ireland, currently the salesperson listed for the units now for rent. 

Ireland works for the Lacelle Group in Sudbury, owned by Christian and Brigitte Lacelle. The Lacelle’s also own Greater Sudbury Property Management. contacted Greater Sudbury Property Management, but Brigitte Lacelle declined to comment. 

Christian and Brigitte Lacelle are the realtors behind The Lacelle Group. They run Greater Sudbury Property Management, the company that took over management of 21 Balsam after the sale. Image:

Where will they go?

While the tenants spoke to all admit they are not paying “market value” for their apartments, they don’t think they should have to move out so that others can make a profit off of their home. 

For some, like Mike Beaulieu, this place is all he can afford on the small pension he receives from “toilet-cleaners salary.” Beaulieu, 69, moved into the building two years ago because it was affordable for him. He didn’t get his letter until a week after his neighbours did, he said, because he says he’s so careful with his limited funds that he only goes to the post office once a week. “But I think I better go more often now,” he said. 

But even if they do have to move from their community within a community, there may not be a way to stay in Coniston. Rental options are limited in the small town. Save for the two apartments currently for rent at 21 Balsam, there are only two other large apartment buildings in Coniston: La Ruche de Coniston, a senior’s building across the street from 21 Balsam, and Elmwood, a not-for-profit seniors home that opened last year.

But even non-profit rental rates exceed what they currently pay. 

Elmwood charges $1,200 for one-bedroom units, $1,600-$1,690 for two-bedroom units and $2,200 for three-bedroom units and there is no vacancy. As of February, there was a waitlist 100 names deep. 

Moving from their community to Sudbury could mean an even greater rental increase. From the listings that contain pricing (some ask potential tenants to contact the landlord for rental amounts) the lowest price is a basement apartment at $1,550 a month, and the majority are $2,000 and up. There were a total of 16 listings on

On Kijiji, there are more than 200 listings, with the cheapest apartments being bachelors for approximately $1,000, and a small room for rent for $750.

And among the concerns the tenants have over where they’ll move and how they’ll manage increased rents, they also mourn the loss of the community they’ve built for themselves. 

“The majority of people that live here, we're close, we all stick together, we take care of eachother” said tenant Debbie Geoffrey. “All we want is some answers, and we're just being left in the dark.” 

Piche adds that perhaps the lawyer’s instructions to vacate may have bonded the group more than ever. “Most of us have nowhere to go,” he said. “We have united together to stay strong and fight for our rights.” 

Jenny Lamothe covers vulnerable and marginalized populations for