Ottawa ACORN wins first steps in the campaign for a Tenant Defense Fund
Posted November 13, 2023
On October 24th, Ottawa ACORN leader, Sharon Katz, and Accora Village ACORN Tenant Union member, Tuong Nguyen, spoke at the City’s Community Service Committee meeting about the need for a Tenant Defense Fund to protect affordable housing and prevent tenant displacement.
What is a Tenant Defense Fund?
Tenant Defense Funds exist in other cities, such as Hamilton and Toronto, to provide free legal assistance for tenant groups when going before the Landlord Tenant Board (LTB). This includes support for challenging renovictions/demovictions, tenant applications to stop chronic disrepair or harassment, tenant education/outreach and disputing Above the Guideline Increases in rent (AGIs).
Why does Ottawa need a Tenant Defense Fund?
Existing legal supports for tenants are grossly underfunded (especially after provincial budget cuts imposed by Doug Ford) and many programs are forced to limit their services. For example, there are currently no services in Ottawa offering free legal representation for tenants to challenge AGIs, meaning most tenants go to the LTB unrepresented. Major barriers that tenants have identified include the high cost of legal representation, as well as people not understanding their rights or how the legal system works, and feeling overwhelmed by complicated legal forms. Meanwhile, landlords are always represented by highly paid, expert lawyers.
According to the City of Hamilton, as a result of their Tenant Defense Fund there has been a 100% success rate for tenants who were issued AGIs in bad faith, as well as an 80% success rate for tenants who were issued with N13s.
A Tenant Defense Fund is one of the essential tools the City can use to improve tenants’ access to justice, protect affordable housing and keep families in their homes.
Ottawa ACORN’s demands for a Tenant Defense Fund:
• Creation of a tenant hotline similar to Toronto
• Proactive tenant outreach to educate tenants on their rights and provide them with community & legal resources.
• A Tenant Defense Fund should be run by an existing non-profit legal organization with expertise in tenant rights. This will remove unnecessary hurdles for vulnerable tenants. It should provide assistance related to:
1. Disputing AGIs (above-guideline rent increases)
2. Challenging various forms of eviction notices including but not limited to:
a. N13s, N12s, N5s, N4s and N11s
3. Neglected maintenance when tenants file T6 applications at the LTB
4. Filing T2s over landlords’ harassment of tenants
• ACORN believes that eligibility to access services from the Tenant Defense Fund should be based on the amount of rent the tenant is paying rather than income – similar to the Toronto program. This will allow more tenants to access resources and more affordable housing is protected.
Results of the Vote
As a result of ACORN members’ campaign, a motion was passed to explore an Ottawa-based Tenant Defense Fund as part of the 2024-2025 10 Year Housing and Homeless Plan!
Nonetheless, without the hard work of our members, this motion would have never seen the light of day as city staff’s memo on Hamilton & Toronto’s Tenant Defense Funds weren’t originally scheduled for discussion at committee. Instead, the memo had to be lifted for discussion and pass a ⅔ vote by committee. Thank you to Councillor Ariel Troster and her staff for putting forward the motion and all the councillors who carried it.
However, we don’t need more delays in the form of additional studies. We have seen the success of a Tenant Defense Fund in Toronto and Hamilton! We have seen the crises that delays worsen. Every day we wait, more tenants will continue to lose their homes, and the amount of affordable housing dwindles. So, while we are pleased that first steps have been taken, we will not rest until council introduces a Tenant Defense Fund in Ottawa as soon as possible!
Councillors who carried the motion: Ariel Troster, Stephanie Plante, Theresa Kavanagh, Jessica Bradley, Marty Carr, Laura Dudas, Sean Devine, Wilson Lo, Rawlson King, David Hill, and Laine Johnson.
Councillors who voted no: Steve Desroches and David Brown.
Stay tuned for future news, meetings and actions as ACORN members keep up the fight!