Avneet Taneja’s old apartment, above an Italian restaurant on a busy stretch of Toronto’s St. Clair Avenue West, has undergone a startling transformation since his landlord evicted him and his roommates last year. The walls are now painted with multi-colour details, the radiators are a bright shade of purple, and there are enough beds to accommodate more than a dozen people.

Taneja says he was evicted last May, after his landlord told tenants he planned to move into the unit with his daughter — a legal eviction under Ontario law for a landlord who gives tenants adequate notice and meets other criteria.

But until recently, the unit was listed on Airbnb under the name the “Colour Factory.” The space Taneja shared with his girlfriend and two other roommates now promised space for 14 guests and featured a room containing two sets of bunk beds.

After viewing the listing, Taneja believes the eviction was based on a lie, intended to clear out the tenants and allow the landlord to begin listing the unit for short-term rentals.

“It looks like an attraction,” Taneja said. “Also, he’s not going to have six kids.”

The apartment, located at 1108B St. Clair Avenue West, is one of a small network of units, mainly on Queen Street West, linked to the same property owner.

City staff confirmed they had previously revoked short-term rental registrations for listings in a Queen West building linked to the same owner.

In theory, local bylaws can prevent property owners from converting houses and apartments into profitable short-term rentals, depleting the city’s rental stock amid a series of housing and affordability crises, but the St. Clair unit suggests property owners can disregard the same guidelines and profit in plain sight without consequence.

City of Toronto staff said they had received no complaints about the St. Clair unit. After a Ricochet reporter shared additional information contained in this story, the city said it had launched an investigation of the unit. Staff declined to provide additional information.

‘Kind of an enigma’

The units are linked to Barry Park, whose former tenants described him as a Toronto landlord who has owned buildings in the city’s west end. He did not respond to several requests for comment.

Properties linked to Park include 629/631 Queen Street West, 876 Queen Street West, and 1166 Queen Street West, all of which have been advertised for rent on Airbnb in recent months, mainly for large groups.

A listing for a unit at 876 Queen Street West, steps from Toronto’s popular Trinity Bellwoods Park, promised 11 beds, three bedrooms, and three bathrooms. A listing for nearby 1166B Queen Street West featured the same photographs, but recently disappeared from the platform. Other units linked to Park also vanished from Airbnb as Ricochet prepared to publish this story.

At least three listings at 629/631 Queen Street West, sharing the same short-term rental registration number, advertised a spacious unit that could accommodate more than 16 guests.

Under City of Toronto regulations, short-term rental operators can only list their primary residence for rent — the address that is listed on their identification, for tax purposes, and where they receive mail. An operator is allowed to rent out their entire home for up to 180 nights per year. Airbnb listings that are available for 28 days or longer are not subject to the same guidelines.

“There was not one personal item or even a logical place to store personal items. There was nothing in the fridge or freezer. In the kitchen there was stuff that would make sense for people staying there for a couple days but nothing to do real cooking. It was decorated like a hotel/hostel, not a home.”

City staff said in an email they revoked short-term rental registrations for a fourth and fifth listing at 631 Queen Street after receiving complaints about “the principal residency requirement and the 180 night per year limit for these two short-term rentals.”

Former tenants identified Shalini Kanesh as a property manager for Park. In an interview with Ricochet, Kanesh said she had not worked for Park since late 2022, aside from briefly assisting him contacting a tenant in 2023. (Taneja shared WhatsApp messages he exchanged with Kanesh, showing she was in regular contact with him up until May 2023.)

Reviews on units linked to Park described Kanesh as an excellent host. Kanesh insisted there were tenants in Park’s Queen Street units, and claimed they were using her name while communicating with Airbnb users.

“I don’t have a lot of experience with the Airbnb platform. I don’t understand the Airbnb platform,” Kanesh said. “The regulation is what it is, and I believe that Barry followed the regulation.”

“It’s my name, I understand. I totally agree with you. Yes, Shalini is the host. But it’s a host. It’s kind of an enigma. It’s not — it doesn’t mean anything.”

Sarah Smith, who spent one night at 1108B St. Clair Avenue West in November, told Ricochet the unit did not appear to be anyone’s primary residence.

“There was not one personal item or even a logical place to store personal items. There was nothing in the fridge or freezer,” Smith said in an email. “In the kitchen there was stuff that would make sense for people staying there for a couple days but nothing to do real cooking. It was decorated like a hotel/hostel, not a home.”

The unit was recently listed on Airbnb only for stays of 28 nights or longer. Reviewers on another unit linked to Park described both short- and long-term stays.

Luke Ottenhof was renting the apartment at 1108B St. Clair Avenue West in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, when he received an email from his corporate landlord, Clopark Inc., who warned, “This is not a time to take advantage of the lack of evictions in the city.” A 2021 Landlord and Tenant Board order Ottenhof shared with Ricochet names Park, Kanesh, and Clopark Inc. as landlords for 1108B St. Clair Avenue West.

His landlord added they could report tenants to credit rating agencies. Ottenhof took to Twitter to complain about Park and Kanesh, whose name appeared on the letter. (CityNews reported on the email in 2020.)

@KeepYourRent @ParkdaleOrg our landlords barry park and shalini kanesh sent this cute threat to tenants, are other tenants experiencing this?

— Luke Ottenhof (@lukeottenhof) March 30, 2020

The letter sent in 2020 was from a company email for Clopark Management, and included a Toronto address: 5453 Yonge Street.

Clopark Holdings Inc. is listed as the owner of 629 and 876 Queen Street West, according to municipal records consulted by Ricochet. 1166 Queen Street West is owned by Park, according to similar records. Provincial property records list Clopark as the owner of 629 and 876 Queen Street West; 1166 Queen Street West is owned by a numbered company, according to the records.

The same numbered company, also named in the message Ottenhof received, owns 1108B St. Clair Avenue West, according to provincial and municipal records. The company’s mailing address is 5453 Yonge Street.

Pamela Clark, a one-time resident of 432 St. Clarens Avenue in Toronto’s west end, identified Park as her former landlord when contacted by Ricochet. A lease agreement Clark shared with Ricochet lists the landlord as Q B Ventures Inc., with the same mailing address found in the message Ottenhof received.

‘I’m screwed’

Taneja said Park claimed he was getting divorced, and urgently needed the unit for himself and his daughter. In screenshots of text messages Taneja shared with Ricochet, Park mentioned plans to renovate the unit. Park also described “a court date to show the unit,” telling his tenant the unit needed to be cleaned and inspected.

“If I don’t have a clean home I’m screwed,” Park said.

Landlords are permitted under Ontario law to reclaim a unit for their own personal use from their tenants if they require it for at least a year. Taneja says Park also paid the tenants one months’ rent, a requirement under the law.

But lawyers told Ricochet that a landlord found not living in a unit that they recently claimed for personal use could defend a challenge at the Landlord Tenant Board by claiming their circumstances have changed.

For instance, a landlord may reclaim a unit on behalf of his mother only to then move her into a long-term care facility when her health deteriorates. Such a defence would likely stand up at the Landlord and Tenant Board, said Kevin Laforest, a housing lawyer at Scarborough Community Legal Services.

“That’s a changed circumstance,” Laforest said. “The board is unlikely to say, ‘And you should be punished for it.’”

And tenant lawyer Daniel Tucker-Simmons said profits to be made by landlords who evict tenants to increase rent dwarf penalties typically handed down by the LTB.

“It’s kind of a spineless institution,” he said.

An ‘insane’ transformation

Ricochet sent messages to the hosts of the St. Clair Avenue and some Queen Street units last year and received three identical responses from a user named Dagoberto, whose name is listed as a co-host of several units. The user declined to comment. The St. Clair Avenue listing disappeared from Airbnb the same day Ricochet contacted the user again earlier this month and shared details found in this story.

The URL monyxcs.com, listed on Dagoberto’s profile, goes nowhere, but the similarly-named monyxbnb.com features listings for the Queen Street and St. Clair Avenue units under the banner, “Queen Street Lofts.”

The director of Monyx Group Inc. is Dagoberto Arriaza Martinez, according to federal records.

A YouTube channel for Monyx also promotes Reno My Unit. The businesses share an address.

Taneja lived precariously for weeks after the eviction, hopping from place to place before settling in downtown Toronto.

“When you don’t have your own space, you just lose your mind,” he said.

It appears the renovation of his former home was likely underway around the same time.

A website for Reno My Unit and Paint My Unit includes a Tiktok video from August — roughly three months after Taneja’s eviction — promoting an “insane remodel” of Taneja’s former apartment.