Posted on August 4, 2020
New statistics show landlords applied to evict at least 323 Hamilton tenants over unpaid rent even before a pandemic ban on evictions expired this month.
Those applications, filed to the Landlord and Tenant Board between March 17 and July 28, were on hold during a COVID-inspired provincial moratorium.
But now the pandemic ban on evictions is over — and Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government has also passed contentious new legislation that critics argue will make it easier to give tenants the boot over rent arrears.
That’s why activists spent Tuesday trying to “shut down” local eviction proceedings primed to restart at the Landlord and Tenant Board site downtown, said ACORN Hamilton organizer Mike Wood, who protested outside the building on King Street East alongside about a dozen people with placards and a bullhorn.
“If you think the homeless situations is bad here in Hamilton now, believe me, it is about to get a lot worse,” said Wood, pointing to growing tent encampments that have spurred legal disputes with the city. “When these evictions start going through in the middle of COVID, what do you think is going to happen?”
The Landlord and Tenant Board told The Spectator last week it had received 6,559 applications to evict a tenant over nonpayment of rent provincewide since March 17, the date Premier Doug Ford declared a COVID-19 state of emergency.
Hamilton addresses are linked to 323 of those applications.
Those applications are “just the beginning,” said Wood, who noted an ACORN survey showed one in three Hamilton tenants said they would be unable to cover rent in May. Nearly one in six said they had been threatened with eviction if rent goes unpaid.
Stephanie Cox, a lawyer with the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic, said she expects “an influx” of new eviction applications from landlords looking to recoup unpaid rent now that the provincial ban has ended.
“If you do the math, it suggests a significant number of people will be unable to pay their full rent,” she said, pointing to widespread uptake on Canada Emergency Response Benefit cash as well as Hamilton’s high average rent — about $1,533 for a one-bedroom last November.
Wood said ACORN is calling for an extension of the provincial eviction ban, “rent forgiveness” for tenants who have lost jobs or income to COVID-19 and the “outright repeal” of the contentious Bill 184 that was recently made law.
Critics say the new law can allow for fast-tracked evictions without a hearing in cases where a tenant in arrears independently reached a rent repayment plan with a landlord, but fell behind.
The Opposition NDP has criticized the government for prematurely ending the ban on pandemic evictions and labelled Bill 184 as the “easy-evictions law.”
A provincial housing ministry spokesperson disputed some criticisms of the new law as “misinformation” in an earlier email to The Spectator, arguing the changes actually benefit tenants and “encourages repayment agreements so that evictions can be avoided.”
But Toronto’s city council still voted last week to launch a legal challenge of the law based on concerns about the impact on precariously housed renters battered by pandemic loss of income.
Wood said ACORN is also appealing to Hamilton’s council for support. The next council meeting is Aug. 21.
Matthew Van Dongen for the Spectator