Posted February 19, 2021
As Ontario's provincewide shutdown lifted in another 27 regions on Feb. 16, the temporary ban on the enforcement of residential evictions in those regions lifted, too.
Fair housing advocates say the lifting of the ban would spell trouble for tenants if it helped them in the first place. But it never provided much relief, says Mavis Finnamore, who serves as co-chair of ACORN Canada's Ottawa south chapter.
While the freeze that began on Jan. 14 prevented court-enforcement sheriffs from physically carrying out evictions, landlords could still serve eviction notices and virtual eviction hearings went ahead as scheduled. Anyone evicted during this time knew enforcement would come once the provincewide shutdown had lifted in their region.
“Maybe you have rent arrears and you're trying to get caught up but you can’t quite do it," Finnamore said. "At the same time, you have these hearings right over your head, which kind of just speeds up the process. So as soon as the moratorium is over, you’re evicted. I don’t see how this helps anybody."
Finnamore and ACORN — whose members advocate for social and economic justice across Canada — want any remaining or future eviction freezes in Ontario to include a moratorium on eviction hearings. They want all levels of government to commit to solutions, including rent relief for struggling tenants, and a mechanism to control housing inflation.
"ACORN is looking for things like a rent break, in other words, help some of these people and pay something to get them out of the queue of evictions,” Finnamore said, "We can do better than just going through the legal process to get someone out.”
According to the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation's 2020 Rental Market Report, one in 10 Ontario tenants is in rental arrears; double the national average.
Patricia, a single mother in Ottawa who receives Ontario Works benefits, joined that league in 2020.
Patricia is a survivor of domestic assault and the mother of three young daughters. In order to protect her identity, we agreed to refrain from publishing her last name. Before the pandemic, Patricia was employed full-time as a personal support worker. She took a leave of absence after she suffered several miscarriages, while trying to conceive again, and was afraid to return to work amid the pandemic. Her housemate also lost employment during the pandemic.
Their landlord issued an eviction notice in August 2020, citing nonpayment of rent. Patricia maintains that the two tenants were occasionally short a full month's rent but didn't miss entire payments.
“We lost employment during the pandemic, so we were catching up on bills," Patricia said. "But we don’t owe anywhere near what they say we owe.”
Patricia successfully defended herself in an eviction hearing before the Landlord and Tenant Board this month. For now, she and her family have a roof over their heads. But she says the ban on eviction enforcement had nothing to do with it. If anything, the virtual hearing platform posed unique barriers to access for both Patricia and her landlord.
With 10 days' notice of her hearing date and no legal counsel, Patricia said she had no choice but to gather her defence documents remotely and learn to use Microsoft Teams. She also needed to acquire a tablet and microphone.
"If I didn’t have access to those things, [the hearing] would have proceeded without me and I would have been evicted," she said. "My own landlord could not work the program. It wasn’t just prejudicial to me."
Patricia said it was because of support from friends and her local ACORN chapter that she was able to effectively argue her case. Others aren't so lucky.
"If I wasn’t able to mount the defence that I did, I would have been evicted and on the streets," she said. "I feel for people that can’t pay their rent and can’t mount their defence.”
Article by Megan DeLaire for Inside Ottawa Valley