Response to Long-term Affordable Housing Strategy Update
“I want to hear your views on how we can make Ontario’s housing system work better for you, your family, and your community. Every Ontarian deserves to have a stable, affordable home.” These were the words of Ted McMeekin from last spring. At that time, he was the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing and he was looking for input on Ontario’s Long-term Affordable Housing Strategy. Although the strategy had been in place for almost five years, it had not produced any housing yet.
ACTO [the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario] responded with four clear recommendations, focussing on changes to laws and policies that would prevent homelessness and improve the housing of low-income tenants.
- Fair rent regulation
- Improve standards of repair and maintenance
- Preserve and expand the supply of non-market housing
- Restore funding that was cut from social assistance to prevent evictions.
Many other groups responded including landlords
Based on what they heard, the Ministry made a number of announcements. One of them was about another consultation, this time on “Proposals to Encourage Small Landlords to Provide Rental Housing”. Here is a summary of those proposals and ACTO’s response to them.
- Allow landlords to make more claims against tenants at the Landlord and Tenant Board.
Almost 90% of the cases at the Landlord and Tenant Board are brought by landlords to evict tenants. The Ministry thinks that claims for utilities and claims after a tenant leaves should be added to the Board’s caseload. They also think a new landlord application to the Board is needed that does not include eviction to deal with hoarding or disturbing neighbours. This would allow the landlord and the Board “to work with the tenant” to resolve the issue.
The Board is already dominated by landlord applications and landlords can also apply to Small Claims Court to claim money against tenants. Tenants can only bring cases to the Board about things that happened in the last year while landlords have up to six years to being claims against tenants. This unfairness should be fixed first.
- Give landlords new ways to block tenant claims about harassment and repair problems.
Ten years ago, the law was changed to allow tenants who were facing eviction for non-payment to have their claims about harassment and non-repair dealt with at the same time. Tenants rarely make these claims, but the government thinks this law is unfair to landlords. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of tenants live in unsafe and unhealthy conditions due to landlord harassment and neglect.
We say that tenants need new legal tools to ensure that their homes are safe and healthy and that they are free from harassment. The few tools that they now have should not be taken away.
- Allow landlords to evict tenants while the tenants are waiting for an appeal to be heard from an unfair eviction decision by the Landlord and Tenant Board.
A few fraudsters, posing as legitimate tenants, have used delays at the Board and in the appeal system to get free rent. The government is suggesting that this could be fixed by allowing landlords to evict any tenant making an appeal before that appeal is heard. This would, in reality, take away the right of all tenants to appeal bad Board decisions.
Only one case in every thousand is appealed, and many of the cases appealed by tenants are about important legal issues. The government should be supporting proper supervision of decision-making at the Board, not undermining it.
- Allow landlords to evict more tenants based on keeping pets or smoking in their homes.
Pets and smoking are two issues that can cause conflict between people living close to each other. The law now permits eviction of people who cause or threaten harm to their neighbours, including harm from pets and smoking. But to get an eviction order, the landlord must prove that there is real or threatened harm to someone. Landlords want to be able to evict without proof of harm, just because their rules were violated.
Having an animal companion is now considered by many to be a basic human right. Smoking is a complicated issue that involves health, personal freedom and addiction. Neither of these questions should be reduced to a simple eviction for failure to follow the landlord’s rules.
- Explore protecting tenants from radon
Radon is a dangerous gas that is sometimes found in basement apartments and other rental units. The law already requires landlords to supply rental units that are “fit for habitation”, but tenants find this obligation difficult to enforce. The government does not suggest any new tools to protect tenants from radon or other dangerous substances, but only asks what approaches could be considered.
- Make the application process at the Landlord and Tenant Board easier by allowing notices to be emailed, allowing the Board to overlook mistakes in forms and notices and by replacing sworn statements with simple signatures.
As 9 out of 10 applications to the Board are by landlords seeking to evict tenants, this is a proposal to make evictions easier and cheaper. But this means that there will be more wrongful evictions because personal contact, correctness and truth will be sacrificed to speed up the process. This is no way to make the housing system work better.
The government should not proceed with any new laws based on these proposals. Mr. McMeekin is gone from the Cabinet and the new Minister should have a chance to develop some positive plans to provide a stable, affordable home for everyone.