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Ontario tenants evicted too easily: report

Tenants' advocacy agency rebukes provincial body's practices

Canadian Press - June 19, 2002

Ontario's rental-dispute agency has become an efficient eviction machine to the detriment of tenant rights and basic fairness, a report to be released Thursday concludes.

The 50-page report by a tenant-advocacy lawyer in Toronto calls on the provincial ombudsman to investigate how the Ontario Rental Housing Tribunal set up by the Tory government carries out its task with a view to revising current laws.

Between June 1998, when the tribunal set up shop, and Dec. 31, 2001, the agency issued 118,800 eviction orders, 58 per cent of the landlord applications, without hearing from tenants, data show.

"It is stark," said Kathy Laird, a lawyer with the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, who wrote the report.

"Granting eviction applications without a hearing may be efficient but it is costing tenants their homes unnecessarily."

Under the legislation, tenants are given an unusually quick five calendar days to respond in writing to an eviction application from the landlord or face an immediate default order to leave their homes.

While a tenant can apply to have the order set aside, they have just 10 days to do so, which is counted from the moment the order is issued, not when it's received.

Previous laws allowed a tenant to dispute an eviction in court but the current process "creates a barrier to justice" for tenants, the report states.

New immigrants, single parents, the elderly and the disabled are especially vulnerable, and "thousands (of tenants) lose their housing because they do not understand the process," the report says.

In most cases, eviction requests are for non-payment of rent, with the amount of arrears usually fairly small, says the report. Often, the landlord has the last month's rent or the tenant makes the back-payment but still ends up evicted, said Laird.

The report notes that it's impossible to track the number of times evictions actually result from tribunal decisions because the agency doesn't track or report such numbers.

"I find it completely shocking that this tribunal is almost operating under a cone of secrecy," said Laird.

However, one study of records from 2000 estimated the tribunal ordered evictions in three-quarters of applications. That did not include those tenants who left after going through mediation.

On the other hand, the tribunal grants default orders to tenants for matters such as recovering illegal rents in less than one per cent of cases.

"One group — landlords — is primarily the applicant before the tribunal and is successful in the overwhelming majority of applications," the report states.

Unlike other adjudicative bodies, it is up to the landlord to issue eviction applications, often by mail — "a very unusual provision" given that it is normally the agency itself that issues such notices.

Tenants may never receive the notice and "the legislation has left the process unnecessarily open to abuse," the report concludes.

It is also extremely difficult for a tenant who has been wrongfully evicted to get back into the unit.

"The government has traded fairness for expediency," said Laird.

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