Tenants fighting Ontario `eviction factory'
Concerns grow over legislation
Thousands ousted without a hearing
Toronto Star - February 15, 2004
by Patricia Orwen and Laurie Monsebratten
Karen and Wilfred Paris are fighting their eviction from an
apartment they have called home for nearly 40 years. The
couple fell behind in the rent, but soon paid up. "I thought
it was all a misunderstanding. I thought we could work this
out," said Wilfred Paris.
After 38 years in the three-bedroom apartment where they raised four boys,
Wilfred and Karen Paris were suddenly facing eviction.
The retired Scarborough couple had fallen behind on their $725.64 monthly
rent. Shocked by a sheriff's order to leave, they immediately paid up and
assumed all was taken care of.
But it was too late.
Their landlord had the right to change the lock on their door.
The eviction order stood, even after the couple appealed to the Ontario
Rental Housing Tribunal, a quasi-judicial agency created by the former
Tory government in 1998 to speed up resolution of landlord and tenant
The couple's fate was sealed by a procedural requirement that forces
tenants to notify the tribunal in writing or in person within five days,
if they plan to dispute an eviction order.
"I thought it was all a misunderstanding. I thought we could work this
out," said Wilfred Paris, who can't afford to live anywhere else.
It also left them asking how two seniors on pensions, with a 32-year-old
disabled son who stayed with them on weekends, could be treated so
shoddily. Didn't the government promise its 1998 Tenant Protection Act
would deal with things like this?
Unlike thousands of tenants in similar situations, the Parises are appealing
their case in court this spring.
And now Ontario's ombudsman — who says he has received "numerous"
complaints from tenants and their advocates — is stepping into the fray.
In a letter to Liberal Housing Minister John Gerretsen, Ombudsman Clare
Lewis says he is concerned about the large number of tenants being evicted
without mediation or a hearing.
Lewis said he's particularly worried about the "disproportionate and
oppressive consequences" for seniors, single parents with small children,
the disabled and people for whom English is a second language.
"While the Act may have effected greater administrative efficiencies than
the (previous) Landlord and Tenant Act, I am concerned that this may have
been at the expense of fair process," he said in the letter dated Nov. 19,
2003 and obtained by the Star last week. "I would urge you to consider
redressing the balance," Lewis concluded.
What happened to Wilfred and Karen Paris is typical of what is happening
all over the province since the act came into force, said Kathy Laird,
legal director for the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario.
"Landlords are using it like an eviction factory," she said.
She and other advocates accuse the previous Progressive Conservative
government of sacrificing fairness for expediency by making it easier for
landlords to evict tenants.
Last year, more than 62,000 tenant households in Ontario faced eviction,
80 per cent because of non-payment of rent, according to the tribunal's
figures. About 60 per cent of those were ordered evicted by the tribunal
without a hearing. Those figures are 25 per cent higher than in 1997, the
year before the Tories' legislation was enacted.
In total, 267,018 tenant households have faced eviction for rent arrears
from June 1998, when the tribunal was set up, until the end of 2003.
Nearly 60 per cent, or 158,565 households, were ordered evicted by
"default" — like the Parises, meaning they did not reply in writing to
the tribunal within five days.
Tenant groups say they can't keep up with the demand to handle default
cases because so many families don't understand the eviction notice.
"It's not that these people are stupid or that they don't care, it's
happening because the tribunal's forms are virtually impossible for anyone
to understand," said Theresa Thornton of the Centre for Equality Rights in
"I've had university professors look at them and wonder what they're all about."
The Fair Rental Policy Organization, an advocacy coalition for landlords,
agrees with tenant groups on this point.
They "would happily support any changes to the form that would help
improve tenants' understanding of their rights and obligations," the
organization said in a report to the Ombudsman last February.
Other changes the two opposing groups agree are needed include: creating
public databases of tribunal decisions; lowering tribunal application
fees; and providing materials to help tenants once they are "locked out."
But the landlords' group hotly disputes tenants' claim that the tribunal
The landlords note that for most businesses, customers must pay for what
they buy. They argue they shouldn't have to provide free accommodation to
delinquent tenants during lengthy eviction procedures. "It is grossly
unfair to force society's obligations to the poor on one small sector of
society," the landlords said in their report.
Utilia Amaral, of the landlord group, says the legislation provides more
than just the five-day dispute period.
There's a verbal warning first, then delinquent tenants are issued a form
telling them they have 14 days to pay, she said. If rent is still not
received, landlords may apply to the tribunal for a notice of eviction
hearing. This is the notice that includes a dispute form, which tenants
are required to complete and return to the tribunal within five days or
risk being evicted by default.
After the tribunal issues the default order, there's still another 11 days
to pay the rent — plus the landlord's tribunal cost of $150 — and nullify
In the Paris case, Wilfred Paris acknowledges that he and his wife were
behind in their rent, but he said that was because of the timing of his
pension cheque. He said he phoned the landlord to explain and was told if
he paid the arrears and the $150 tribunal costs, the matter would be closed.
But the eviction process was already well under way by the time the couple
had paid up. When they asked for a hearing to stop the eviction, the
tribunal said it would not consider the fact that all rent and costs had
been paid. Instead, it ruled that since the Parises did not explain
adequately why they didn't file the dispute form within the five days, the
order would stand.
for the Parises' landlord — 10 Trudelle Apartments Ltd. — said
that since the case is before the courts, he could not comment.
The Parises remain in their apartment while their case is under appeal,
but hundreds of other tenants have found themselves desperately searching
for a place to live, or bunking in with relatives or friends once evicted.
Ramona Nepaul, a 23-year-old retail clerk, remembers being reduced to
tears when she came home from work one day to find the locks changed on
her Parkdale apartment door.
For three months, she had been fighting an eviction notice that came last
February, saying she was behind in the rent. She admits she sometimes paid
her monthly rent of $781 a week or so late, but she said it was an
arrangement agreed to by the landlord to coincide with when she got paid.
When Nepaul received the eviction notice, she immediately paid the rent,
but figured she would go to the housing tribunal anyway and explain her
situation. When she got there, Nepaul was told she and her husband had
already been ordered evicted because she failed to respond to the notice,
in writing, within five days.
Nepaul contacted Parkdale Community Legal Services,
which examined her
case and found the landlord actually owed her money. Not only had she paid
the landlord's tribunal fees, she had also paid an extra month's rent.
The agency took her case back to the tribunal to have the eviction order
overturned, but the motion was denied. The locks were changed on May 30.
"I thought the law would be on my side because I didn't owe the landlord
any money," said Nepaul, who had to move to her in-laws' apartment. "I
feel the system has let me down."
Nepaul's case is also being appealed by the tenant advocacy centre this
spring. A spokesperson for her landlord, Metcap Living Management Inc.,
would not comment on the case because it is before the courts.
Since coming to power last fall, the provincial Liberals have vowed to
repeal the Tories'
Tenant Protection Act and create a provincial rent bank
to help tenants with "short-term arrears."
"The government needs to consult widely before doing this to get it right
and to make sure that the legislation balances the interests of landlords
and tenants," said ministry spokesperson Sonya Rolfe.
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