The sides to a rooming house

A University student walks along a street in Highland Creek

A University student walks along a street in Highland Creek. Rooming houses are common, but illegal in Scarborough.

Owning a rooming house in Scarborough may be illegal, but that doesnt mean the law is a good one, says a former tenant.

Two such structures were closed down and the owners fined $5,000 earlier this month in a crackdown by city authorities. Some residents are dead set against the multiple-unit houses, but others understand a need for inexpensive living beyond downtown Toronto.

Chia Barsen, a former tenant, says laws against rooming houses here are “just stupid.”

“Any law that prosecutes people for creating affordable housing for people who cannot afford it is going against the grain,” Barsen says.

“People are not doing this out of sheer joy, they’re doing this out of desperation most of the time, and this is the only economical route that they have.”

Barsen, who now lives near Morningside Avenue and Ellesmere Road, paid $330 a month when living in a rooming house that had six tenants. He said these houses are a place for people in transition.

“When you move into [a rooming house], it’s got its own group of people,” says Barsen, a social sciences student attending the University of Toronto at Scarborough.

“Some are students, but mostly it’s broken up families. People who are just coming to Canada and don’t want to spend a lot of money on rent pregnant mothers, husbands, wives, runaways — I’ve seen it all.”

Another former tenant regrets moving into an overcrowded rooming house.

“You’re kind of afraid for your belongings, especially when you’re not there,” says Eric Jorens, a U. of T. student.

Jorens lived near Ellesmere and Morrish Roads last year and paid $400 a month for a large room with basic cable and poor Internet.

“I wouldn’t recommend it,” Jorens says. “I think there is a certain overpopulation limit when it comes to that kind of thing.

“Once you go over six or eight people, it becomes less of a household ideal and more of an apartment style.”

Ward 44 councillor Ron Moeser acknowledges there are several illegal rooming houses in Scarborough, some identified and others suspected.

He doesn’t see anything wrong with the $5,000 fine issued to owners of illegal rooming houses.

“I think that its a happy medium actually, if you look at the impact that it has had on the community,” Moeser said.

“We’ve had some awful experiences where there were some guns involved, people jumping over fences, people running up the roads undressed.

“Those are the worst case scenarios.”

Moeser says it often takes years to identify a rooming house, and disagrees with fellow councillor Norm Kelly’s idea that rooming houses be allowed on designated streets.

“Once you open that door, I don’t think you’ll ever close it. I think if you allow it [on certain streets], people will interpret it as, ‘if they can do, it why can’t I?’”

Moeser also says rooming houses are a quality of life issue that should not be allowed in Scarborough.

“I think people buy [houses] in suburbs to enjoy certain lifestyle, and I think we should respect that this is very much a single-family community. One person can do this illegally and change the whole perspective of a neighbourhood.”