REASONS FOR RENTAL ARREARS SURVEY REPORT
Metro Tenants Legal Services, June 1994
(Metro Tenants Legal Services ceased to exist in 1995, by decision of its Board of Directors)
NOTE: This report was done under the old Rent Control Act that was repealed, effective June 17, 1998. Therefore some of the commentary is no longer valid. You must pay your full rent even if the landlord does not do repairs. You must use other means to solve such problems, either legal or political (ie. contacting your local representative). Furthermore, cases are no longer taken to court to be heard before a judge, they are taken to the Ontario Rental Housing Tribunal to be heard before an adjudicator. This report is being posted here specifically for the survey information on why tenants do not pay their rent.
This survey was conducted in order to compile statistics to identify the reasons that tenants default on their rent payments and are taken to court by their landlords for arrears of rent.
The tenants who were surveyed were those who accessed the Metro Tenants Legal Services (MTLS) summary information service and services of MTLS Tenants' Duty Counsel at the 361 University Avenue courthouse between March 1, 1994 and May 30, 1994. Survey questionnaires were completed on behalf of those tenants who indicated that they had received an Application for Termination of ther Tenancy (Form 7) from their landlord.
Metro Tenants Legal Services was established in 1976. The tenants who come to MTLS for legal information about their rights learn about the clinic from a variety of sources. As a specialty clinic that was specifically created to help tenants, MTLS uses many methods of outreach to ensure that the tenant community is aware of its services. For example, each month the clinic prints more than 5000 copies of its newsletter "Tenants Issues" in six languages - English, Chinese, Spanish, Somali, Tamil and Portuguese. The newsletters are distributed to more than two hundred community based organizations in and around Metro. Many of these organizations refer their clients to MTLS. In addition, MTLS takes referrals from community based legal clinics in Metro Toronto. The clinic distributes pamphlets describing its services and produces and widely distributes a myriad of public legal educational materials designed to educate tenants about their rights. As well, clinic staff conduct at least six public legal educational sessions per month on tenants' rights. These education sessions are presented to both tenant associations and to diverse community based groups such as English as a Second Language classes, women's shelters, training programs for New Canadians, drop-in centres, etc.. The sessions are often translated into languages other than English through the services of cultural interpreters. All of these activities result in substantial advertisement of the clinic and its services.
MTLS also offers legal information and assistance to tenants through the Tenants' Duty Counsel program. A lawyer from MTLS works full-time at the courthouse at 361 University Avenue, helping tenants when they are required to appear in court on landlord-tenant matters. The court clerks are aware of this service and refer tenants to Duty Counsel for legal assistance.
A questionnaire was developed with the assistance of Michael Ornstein, of the York University Institute for Social Research. A copy of this questionnaire can be found at the end of this document.
The questionnaires were completed on behalf of tenants by MTLS Summary Information Workers and Tenants' Duty Counsel. Summary Information workers are individuals (both lawyers and non-lawyers,) that have been specially trained to give legal information to tenants about their rights. Tenants' Duty Counsel is a lawyer who works out of an office at the courthouse at 361 University Avenue.
The Summary Information Workers and Duty Counsel, (The Interviewers,) were responsible for identifying tenants who qualified for the survey and for completing the survey on behalf of those tenants. That is, whenever a tenant seeking legal information indicated that they had received an Applicaton for Termination from their landlord, the interviewer inquired if in fact the tenant was in arrears and if so, why. The interviewer would then proceed, based on that information.
Whenever a tenant indicated that he or she was intentionally withholding the rent because of a dispute with the landlord, the Interviewer marked "Dispute with landlord (amount of rent, repairs)" under question #1 of the questionnaire. If this category was marked, the Interviewer did not proceed any further with the questionnaire.
If the tenant indicated that he or she was in fact not able to pay the rent for any reason, the category "Unable to pay" was maked under queston #1. When this was the case, the Interviewer proceeded through the rest of the questionnaire with the tenant.
As a result of this survey, 280 questionnaires were completed. From those 280 questionnaires, a total of 153 tenants indicated that they were in arrears because they had a "dispute" with their landlord. A total of 127 tenants indicated that they were in arrears because they were "unable to pay" their rent.
A "dispute" with the landlord may mean several things. For example, if a landlord does not fulfill his statutory duty to keep the rented premises "in a good state of repair and fit for habitation" then a tenant may do the repairs and deduct the costs from the next month's rent. (This is no longer valid under the Tenant Protection Act; You must not withhold any rent due to repairs or maintenance issues or you can be legally evicted.) Or the tenant may withold some or all of the rent in order to pressure the landlord to do the necessary repairs. In such cases, while the tenant may technically be in arrears in rent, they have a legitimate reaon for witholding rent and therefore "dispute the landlord's claim" in order for a judge to decide the outcome. Alternatively, the tenant may have decided to withhold a portion of the rent because he or she had learned that the landlord was charging a rent that exceeded the maximum legal rent for the unit. Again, if the landlord applies to court to evict the tenant based on arrears the tenant may "dispute" the landlord's claim.
Further questons were then asked to determine why the tenants were unable to pay their rent.
"UNABLE TO PAY"
Out of the 127 tenants who were in arrears becasue they indicated they were unable to pay their rent only 10 indicated theat their "income wasn't high enough in the first place" and could not afford the rent over the long term. 113 tenants out of the 127 indicated that they were able to pay the rent when they first moved in, but for various reasons (itemized below) their situation had changed so that they could no longer afford to pay the rent. Finally, 4 tenants out of the 127 did not indicate why they were unable to pay.
Of the 113 tenants who indicated they could not pay their rent because of a change in circumstances, 30 stated that the change in circumstances amounted to reduced hours of work. 28 stated that they had lost their employment since they first rented their apartment. 13 indicated that their roommate was not paying his or her share of the rent. 9 tenants said they had new family responsibilities and 2 indicated a marriage break-up. 2 tenants gave no reason for the change in their circumstances. Finally, 29 tenants of the 113 indicated "other" as a reason for the change in circumstances.
Out of the 29 tenants who indicated "other" as a reason for the change in their circumstances, 11 said that the change was health related. Of the 11, 5 of these tenants indicated that the change experienced was personal illness and 3 of the tenants had to cope with the illness of a family member. Finally, 3 tenants had a family member pass away and incurred funeral expenses to either pay for the funeral or transportation costs to attend the funeral.
Various other financial difficulties were experienced by the remaining 18 tenants. 4 stated that the rent money had to be spent on other things. 2 indicated that the money intended for the rent had been lost. 2 did not provide any explanation. The remaining 10 tenants each gave a different reason: money was stolen, joint bank account was garnished, the roommate with the money was out of the country, the rental increase was above the guideline, General Welfare Assistance was insufficient, the rent money was used to pay taxes, Student Loan (OSAP) was insufficient, loss of welfare, the tenant's financial assistance was reduced, and the tenant was out of the country and the individual responsible for paying the rent had not done so.
The data gathered in this survey reveals that 55% (153 out of 280) of all tenants that had received an Application for Termination from their landlord were in arrears because they had decided to withhold their rent due to a dispute with the landlord. 45% (127 out of 280) of tenants that had received an Application for Termination indicated they were unable to pay their rent.
Of this 45% only 8% (10 out of 127) indicated that their income was not high enough when they entered into the tenancy to pay the rent. Of the remaining 92% (117 out of 127) who indicated they were unable to pay their rent 3% (4 out of 127) had incomplete questionnaires and the other 89% (113 out of 127) indicated that there had been a change in cirumstances after the commencement of their tenancy.
Of the 89% who experienced a change in circumstances 27% (30 out of 113) had their work hours reduced and 25% (28 out of 113) lost their employment. 12% (13 out of 113) stated that their roommates were not paying their share of the rent. 8% (9 out of 113) said they had new family responsibilities that had resulted in further financial obligations. 2% (2 out of 113) had experience a mariage break-up. 26% (29 out of 113) marked "other" as a change in circumstances which is broken down in detail in the preceding chart. Finally, 2% (2 out of 113) did not provide a reason for the change in circumstances that they had indicated.
Of those that indicated "other" as a change in circumstances 38% (11 out of 29) explained that the change was personal illnes or the illness of a family member.
From the preceding figures it can be concluded that tenants who fall into arrears do so either intentionally because of the failure of landlords to fulfill their statutory obligations or because of a change in circumstances beyond their control.
FOR TENANTS WHO HAVE BEEN SERVED WITH AN APPLICATION FOR TERMINATION FOR ARREARS OR PERSISTENT LATE PAYMENT
1. Why have you not paid your rent?
__ Dispute with the landlord (amount of rent, repairs)
__ Unable to pay
* If the answer is "dispute with landlord", go no further
2. Which of the following best describes why you were unable to pay the rent
__ "I was able to pay the rent when I first moved in but my situation changed so I couldn't afford it anymore."
__ "My income wasn't high enough in the first place and I could not afford the rent over the long term."
3. Please indicate the reason or reasons for not paying the rent.
__ person I shared apartment with not paying their share
__ break up of mariage or partnership
__ lost job
__ reduced hours of work or lower income
__ new responsibilities to care for child or other family member/friend
__other, please specify: ________________________