Ontario unveils plan to combat ‘renovictions.’ Critics say the rules will make it easier to evict
|Toronto Star 12 Mar 2020 at 19:36|
The provincial government is bringing forward proposed new rules it says will protect tenants from “renovictions” — but critics say if the changes go through it will become easier for landlords to get rid of their renters.
The government says the proposed changes to the Residential Tenancies Act would prevent unlawful evictions, provide that landlords compensate tenants for “no-fault” evictions and increase compensation for tenants for bad faith evictions.
The proposed legislation — the Protecting Tenants and Strengthening Community Housing Act — will also make it easier to be a landlord and help both tenants and landlords resolve disputes, the province says.
In a bid to discourage unlawful evictions, the government’s proposed changes would also double the maximum fines for offences under the Residential Tenancies Act to $50,000 for an individual and hike penalties from $100,000 to $250,00 for a corporation.
“We’ve heard the concerns from tenants who’ve been forced to leave their homes due to renovations. That’s why we are taking action to increase fines, raise tenant compensation and tighten the rules to encourage everyone to follow the law,” Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing said in a statement Thursday.
In an interview, Clark said the bill aims to stamp out the problem of “renovictions.”
That’s when landlords remove tenants during renovations in order to replace the evicted tenants with those who’ll pay higher rents after the work is complete.
A number of tenants and tenants-rights groups have complained that landlords are increasingly and unfairly booting out tenants in no-fault evictions.
Under the province’s new proposals, if a landlord wants to evict a tenant to use a unit themselves, they have to tell the Landlord and Tenant Board if they have done so before. That’s to help adjudicators look for patterns and identify landlords who may be breaking the law, the province says.
In addition, when tenants are evicted for reasons beyond their control, most landlords must offer compensation, a rule that would extend to landlords overseeing buildings that have one to four units in which a tenant is evicted for a renovation or repair. The rules would extend to landlords who evict a renter on behalf of a homebuyer who wants the unit for themselves. In these instances, the landlord would have to pay the renter a month’s rent.
Landlords who evict tenants for repairs or renovations must allow the tenants an opportunity to move back in at the same rent before offering the unit to others, according to the proposed changes. If not, landlords can be ordered to compensate tenants.
Under current rules, the landlord can be ordered to pay the difference between the former and new rent for up to one year, but under the proposed new rules tenants could file a claim to increase the compensation an additional full year’s rent up to a maximum of $35,000.
Among the other proposals is the ability for landlords and tenants to access alternative dispute resolution services such as mediation to negotiate a settlement, instead of going through a formal Landlord and Tenant Board hearing, a change aimed at making it “easier” to be a landlord, the province says.
Also, landlords looking for compensation for unpaid utilities, rent or damage from current or past tenants would have these disputes dealt with by the Landlord and Tenant Board rather than small claims court.
Cole Webber, a legal worker with Parkdale Community Legal Services in downtown Toronto, argues the province’s proposed rules make it easier for landlords to get rid of tenants.
“The legislation aims to speed up eviction in two ways — the first is by limiting the ability of tenants to defend against eviction by raising (repair) and maintenance issues at an eviction hearing at the Landlord and Tenant Board,” Webber said in an interview.
‘Renovictions’ loophole keeps tenants on edge
“And the second is that it empowers hearing officers, who are not adjudicators or (Landlord and Tenant Board) members, to issue eviction orders against tenants who they deem have violated the terms of the previous agreement with the landlord,” Webber adds.
“No. I think that today is about making easier for landlords to evict tenants — displacing working-class renters in the interests of landlords increasing their profits,” he added.