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The Hamilton Spectator: Ontario landlords group lobby for easier evictions at upcoming Queen’s Park protest - ACORN Canada

The Hamilton Spectator: Ontario landlords group lobby for easier evictions at upcoming Queen’s Park protest

Posted June 4, 2024

Threats of violence, lost income and catastrophic property damage: These are among the pitfalls some landlords face when dealing with a backlogged provincial landlord and tenant system, according to an Ontario advocacy group.

Small Ownership Landlords of Ontario (SOLO) is taking its grievances to Queen’s Park on June 8, in an effort group members call a fight for justice. SOLO, a provincially registered lobby group and non-profit organization, argues Ontario’s rental tribunal makes it virtually impossible to evict problem tenants in a timely manner.

The group is pushing for evictions for nonpayment of rent after two months. They argue small-ownership landlords — many with just one or two rental properties — lack the resources of corporate landlords and face the prospect of financial ruin when a tenant refuses to pay.

SOLO member Kevin Costain documented a 16-month battle to evict a problem tenant in his 2023 book, “From Rent to Ruin: The True Story of My Tenant Nightmare.” The book chronicles his experiences with an Oshawa tenant, including allegations of assault, violent threats, withheld rent totalling $26,000 and thousands more in property damages.

While Costain applied to evict the tenant through an Ontario Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) hearing process, long delays allowed the tenant to remain in the unit until a January 2023 basement fire rendered the unit uninhabitable.

Costain said police charged the tenant with arson following a fire in the home’s basement. Despite the January fire that required the home to be demolished and rebuilt, Costain said he was still unable to gain legal access to it until Aug. 15, 2023.

Costain said the bill for damages and lost income totalled more than $450,000, including the rebuild. Looking back, he’s thankful he had renters insurance to cover the rebuild cost.

Costain is among several SOLO members calling for a simplified eviction process without a prolonged wait for an LTB hearing.

SOLO is advocating for changes to Ontario’s Residential Tenancy Act to simplify eviction cases in which nonpayment of rent is the sole issue.

“We want to call for evictions after a couple months. There’s no need for a hearing when there’s nonpayment of rent,” said Costain.

Under the current system, said Costain, a basic eviction for nonpayment of rent can take more than a year. The system is forcing some small landlords to sell their properties and exit the business, resulting in fewer properties on the rental market, Costain added.

“The goal of this protest is justice. Justice for landlords and justice for tenants in the end.”

Sherry Halsted, a Stoney Creek landlord, currently owns five single-family rental properties in Ontario, including four in the Hamilton area, but intends to sell all of them, citing ongoing issues with the LTB.

Back in 2022, Halstead accepted an offer to sell one of her rental properties in Stoney Creek, but the deal collapsed when the tenant refused to comply with an N12 notice, used to terminate a tenancy when the owner, a purchaser or a family member requires the rental unit. After a more than eight-month delay to remove the tenant, Halsted no longer wishes to remain a landlord.

Halsted said small ownership landlords need a system to settle landlord-tenant disputes within a two-month time frame.

“That would make landlords happier because right now landlords don’t trust the LTB,” said Halsted.

SOLO chair Boubah Bah, an Orangeville resident and small ownership landlord, said the group receives 15 to 20 calls daily from desperate landlords grappling with LTB hearing delays.

Bah has been raising awareness of “professional tenants” who exploit LTB hearing delays to remain in rental units without paying rent.

“Most tenants are really respectful to the landlord,” Bah said. “But those professional ones are the ones who are ruining it for everybody. Because the LTB allows them to do that.”

Bah anticipates between 500 and 1,000 attendees at the June 8 protest at Queen’s Park, starting at noon. A second protest is planned for the same time and place on June 12.

Tenant advocacy group ACORN Hamilton has led several awareness campaigns addressing so-called corporate landlords, like real estate investment trusts, that it says are contributing to rising housing costs.

But ACORN Hamilton member Stewart Klazinga said for-profit mom-and-pop landlords are also contributing to the commodification of housing and share part of the blame for the current crisis.

Klazinga said evictions for nonpayment of rent aren’t necessarily cut and dried.

He argued an expedited eviction system without an LTB hearing could be easily abused by landlords, including large corporate entities and mom-and-pop operations.

“We do need some checks and balances. We need someone who is going to look at the claims being made by both sides and weigh the evidence,” said Klazinga.

ACORN has found cases where landlords have claimed nonpayment of rent despite tenants producing bank statements proving they paid. In other cases, said Klazinga, landlords have refused to accept rent payments in order to evict a tenant and re-rent the unit at a higher cost, a practice known as renoviction.

In cases where tenants fall behind on rent, Klazinga said both parties should communicate to negotiate a solution that avoids eviction.

“People’s circumstances need to be considered and missing even a couple months of rent shouldn’t be a sentence that means someone has to end up living on the street, potentially,” said Klazinga.

Klazinga said the LTB already favours landlords when scheduling hearings. Citing the latest available information from ACORN Hamilton, Klazinga said the average time to schedule an LTB hearing as of March 2023 was nine months for landlords, but up to two years for tenants.

In an email, Tribunals Ontario spokesperson Veronica Spada said the province has implemented strategies to reduce hearing backlogs, including new technology and by hiring additional staff and adjudicators.

The LTB resolved approximately 83,000 cases last year, a 45 per cent increase in resolved cases from 2022, she said. But the LTB also saw a 31 per cent rise in the number of applications in 2023, the second-highest number of applications the board has received in a single year since its creation.

“In addition, the LTB is seeing an increased proportion of more complex applications that require more time to hear,” Spada noted.

Processing times for L1 and L9 applications, which relate to nonpayment of rent, were taking eight to 10 months to reach a hearing in early 2023. But those hearings are now being scheduled in under four months, said Spada.

Spada noted that while the LTB’s active caseload figures will be revealed in an annual report set for release this summer, the board’s case count has declined every month in 2024 and the total case count has dropped approximately 10 per cent since December.

Article by Mike Pearson for The Hamilton Spectator