Posted July 23, 2020
Hamilton tenant advocates are calling on the Ontario government to scrap legislation they warn will lead to more homelessness through expedited evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Protecting Tenants and Strengthening Community Act — Bill 184 — will do quite the opposite, argues Mike Wood, downtown chair of Hamilton ACORN.
The legislation will speed up evictions for arrears without the regular checks-and-balances of the Landlord and Tenant Board, Wood said during a rally at Gore Park on Wednesday.
“Hamilton was in a crisis before the pandemic. Now we have Bill 184, which will allow tenants ... to be fast-tracked through evictions.”
The shift — retroactive to March 17, when Ontario declared a state of emergency — is an about-face for Premier Doug Ford, who told tenants not to worry about paying rent during the pandemic if they couldn’t, Wood said.
The crux of the issue relates to landlords and tenants inking private agreements for rent repayment plans.
Advocates are concerned tenants who don’t know their rights will be stuck with unfavourable deals that might not withstand scrutiny during a Landlord and Tenant Board hearing.
These agreements were permitted before, they note, but now landlords can claim to the board that tenants have breached terms, leading to eviction orders without hearings.
“This bill is a complete attack on tenants,” Stephanie Cox, a lawyer with the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic, told the rally.
The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, however, disputes the advocates’ take, citing a “significant amount of misinformation” about Bill 184.
If a tenant doesn’t meet the terms of a private repayment agreement, the landlord still must apply to the tribunal for an “eviction hearing,” spokesperson Conrad Spezowka wrote in an email Wednesday.
Cox disputed the ministry’s response, saying “there is no hearing.”
Spezowka added the legislation also “encourages repayment agreements so that evictions can be avoided.”
This means adjudicators “must consider whether a landlord attempted to negotiate a repayment agreement with their tenant,” he wrote. “This reinforces to landlords the necessity of exploring repayment agreements and maintaining tenancies — rather than resorting to evictions.”
But Cox told the rally the legislation “does not recognize the power dynamics between landlords and tenants,” who “will do anything within their power to keep their housing.”
Another drawback, ACORN says, is a clause that stipulates rent increases that would be void without 90 days’ notice can stand if the tenant has paid the hiked rate for at least 12 months in a row.
In addition to scrapping the bill, the organization wants the province to extend its eviction moratorium and institute a rent forgiveness program to help tenants who face losing homes in coming months.
Spezowka said the province has provided $148 million through its Social Services Relief Fund in response to the pandemic and recently announced another $150 million.
Article by Teviah Moro for the Hamilton Spectator