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Watchdog to review rent tribunals

Unfair rent increases based on temporary utility price fluctuations, group says

Canadian Press - September 25, 2002
by Colin Perkel

Ontario's ombudsman has launched an investigation into how the province's rental-disputes agency deals with rent hikes based on one-time increases to utility rates.

Clare Lewis also said today he is still deciding whether to examine how the Ontario Rental Housing Tribunal handles evictions. Tenant advocates have denounced the process as heavily weighted in favour of landlords.

The advocacy group that requested the investigation says it is happy with Lewis's decision, especially since he launches so few investigations on his own initiative.

"It's a good first piece to bite off," said Kathy Laird, a lawyer for the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario.

"We're delighted that the ombudsman is taking this opportunity to put its fairness principles into operation."

Rent increases are allowed under the Tenant Protection Act to cover extraordinary rises in the price of natural gas or other utilities.

The advocates say it is unfair that the increases stay in place after the cost of the utilities returns to lower levels.

"Tenants across Ontario are paying large rent increases (some in the double digits) based on 2000-2001 gas costs which are no longer being paid by landlords," said Laird.

"It's had a huge impact on rents and it's manifestly unfair."

In a recent court ruling, a divisional court panel upheld the Tenant Protection Act, but suggested the province re-examine the legislation.

In a letter to Laird, Lewis said the issue was one he had been ``monitoring for some time."

"After reviewing the decision of the court . . . I believe it is an appropriate time for my office to investigate."

In its June submission to Lewis, the tenant advocacy group provided a study that showed the rental tribunal had become an efficient eviction machine to the detriment of tenant rights and basic fairness.

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

"My office continues to review these matters and make informal inquiries," Lewis wrote.

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