A cascade of events may make it impossible for tenants in Hamilton to keep a roof over their heads after Ontario ended its moratorium on residential evictions in late July.
That’s what some of the city’s agencies that represent low-income residents are saying about the province’s landlord and tenant board (LTB) restarting the process of reviewing eviction applications as of Tuesday.
“If people are a dollar short even on their agreement that they made with their landlord, the landlord can then proceed with evictions without going through the LTB,” Mike Wood of Hamilton Acorn told Global News on Thursday while at a demonstration on Kings Street West to repeal Bill 184, known as the Protecting Tenants and Strengthening Community Housing Act.
Wood and other poverty advocates say Bill 184’s amendments of the province’s Residential Tenancies Act essentially allows property owners, who had evictions on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, to proceed.
“Before if a landlord wanted to evict a tenant, the tenant could go to the LTB and give a reason why they were short on rent,” Woods said.
“They could come up with agreements with the LTB.”
Tom Cooper, director of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction, suggests this is the ‘worst time’ to change the process creating a ‘cascade’ of issues for renters when considering the city has endured the highest rent increases in country since November and Ottawa is moving the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) to the Employment Insurance (EI) program.
“CERB is going to be ending in the next month or two, and who knows what their incomes will look like at that point,” Cooper told Global News.
In March, Ontario halted hearings tied to residential evictions until further notice in an effort to help those financially strapped by amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the province now in Stage 3 of its reopening plan, and that moratorium now being lifted, Cooper says the changes give landlords more power to act in a dispute to establish a repayment plan for tenants who had to deferred rent payments amid the pandemic.
“They don’t even have to go back to the LTB, which is the legal proceeding where a tribunal decides whether a landlord can evict a tenant,” said Cooper.
Lawyer & Notary Public Caryma Sa’d, who specializes in landlord and tenant issues, says new sections of the bill do create somewhat of ‘power imbalance’ between landlords and tenants.
With the changes, Caryma says she expects an increase in the number of tenants using the concept of ‘frustration’ — which means a contract is impossible to perform due to extenuating external circumstances.
“So it’s not so easy as just walking away and being free from any consequences or repercussions,” said Caryma.
“I think it behooves everyone to do their best to resolve the matter without relying on adjudication.”
The province’s Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) told Global News they received 6,559 eviction applications for non-payment of rent between mid-March when the pandemic began and the province’s lifting of a moratorium on evictions.
They also revealed 518 applications to collect rent a tenant owes between March 17 and July 28.
The LTB says 323 non-payment applications are for addresses in Hamilton, while 26 collect rent applications were processed.
In most cases, the application was received and assigned a file number but no hearing has taken place.
Caryma says recent changes to the Residential Tenancies Act also expand the jurisdiction of the LTB and give it more powers to settle disputes without going through small claims courts which may delay more cases.
“Matters that otherwise would have been dealt with in small claims can now go through the board,” Caryma said.
“So at a time when the infrastructure is already struggling to keep up with the workload, its responsibilities just increased.”
Caryma’s advice for tenants is to be direct and put everything in writing when entering into conversations about a potential compromise with a landlord regarding rent and the termination of a lease.
“If it does eventually go to the board and the question becomes about whether a contract is frustrated, the tenant needs to explain why it’s impossible for them to fulfill that contract, put the landlord on notice to try and find someone else, and maybe a compromise can be reached.”