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Tenants groups say new Ontario law could increase evictions amid pandemic

Wednesday, July 22, 2020 @ 3:46 PM | By John Schofield

Last Updated: Wednesday, July 22, 2020 @ 5:07 PM

Despite widespread criticism from Ontario tenants advocates, the government of Premier Doug Ford has passed new legislation on tenancy law it claims will better protect people facing eviction during the pandemic.

Bill 184, the Protecting Tenants and Strengthening Community Housing Act, will increase fines for unlawful eviction and will push landlords to establish repayment agreements with tenants before considering evictions, said a July 22 government news release.

The government contends the new law, which updates the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006 and Housing Services Act, 2011, will make it easier to resolve disputes by, among other things, requiring that tenants be compensated with one month’s rent for “no fault” evictions.

The law will also allow the Landlord and Tenant Board to order landlords to pay tenants up to 12 months of rent in compensation for eviction notices issued in bad faith or when the landlord does not allow the tenant to move back in after renovations or repairs. It will also double the maximum fines under the Act to $50,000 for an individual and $250,000 for a corporation.

“We know tenants and landlords have struggled during COVID-19, and some households may be facing eviction due to unpaid rent during this crisis,” Steve Clark, minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, said in the news release. “By making these changes, we are trying to keep people in their homes and, at the same time, helping landlords receive payment through a mutual repayment agreement. It’s a better approach, especially during these difficult times.”

But critics say the new law actually weakens tenants’ rights.

In a written statement, the Toronto-based Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations (FMTA) said the law deprives tenants of a “key safety net that protects them from eviction” and called it “a cruel attack on vulnerable tenants in a time of historic need.”

In its statement, the organization argued that the law places a heavier procedural burden on tenants by requiring them to provide advance notice if they intend to raise their own issues, such as poor maintenance, in a Landlord and Tenant Board eviction hearing prompted by rent arrears. “This will be especially difficult for marginalized tenants,” it said, “— folks who don’t speak English as a first language, folks with disabilities, folks with low literacy levels, and so forth.”

FMTA added that the law essentially transforms the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) into a “debt collection forum” by allowing landlords to pursue arrears through the LTB instead of small claims court, the current route. It also criticized the law for allowing landlords to make legally enforceable repayment agreements outside of the LTB hearing process, allowing them to obtain an eviction order without a hearing if the repayment agreement is breached.

On Twitter, Mississauga Community Legal Services advised tenants not to sign a rent repayment agreement with their landlord because, under the new law, it will give the landlord the right to evict them without notice.

Canadian lawyer Leilani Farha, global director of right-to-housing non-profit The Shift and former United Nations special rapporteur on housing, also took aim at the new law on Twitter. “Not only is it contrary to the province’s human rights obligations to pass legislation that expedites evictions, it’s illogical,” she wrote. “There’s a deadly pandemic circulating, and to contain it we need people to have safe homes to stay in.”

Before its passage, both the NDP Official Opposition and Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner urged the government in the legislature to withdraw Bill 184. “Right now the priority should be keeping people in their homes,” said Schreiner. “It is far less expensive to house people than it is to deal with people who are unhoused.”

The Ontario Landlords Association applauded the new law. “The Ontario government has passed Bill 184,” it said in a Twitter graphic. “It gives more power to landlords. These changes include new ways to get your tenants to pay and how to evict them fast if they don’t pay up.”

The changes made to the Housing Services Act, 2011, are designed to help maintain the existing community housing supply by allowing housing providers with expiring operating agreements and mortgages to sign a new service agreement with service managers, said the government news release. Service managers would also be required to have an “access system for housing assistance beyond just rent-geared-to-income housing,” it added.

The law builds on the Ford government’s Community Housing Renewal Strategy, according to the release. More information can also be found in a government-issued backgrounder.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated for clarity.

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