Landlords can still threaten tenants with evictions, says the province

Landlords can still threaten tenants with evictions, says the province
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Landlords can still threaten tenants with eviction during the COVID-19 crisis , which has caused unprecedented job losses, according to a newly posted direction from the Ontario government.

That directive could lead to tenants who don’t understand the process effectively being evicted, even as Premier Doug Ford promised no tenants would lose their homes during the coronavirus outbreak, advocates say.

According to the “ COVID-19 information for landlords ” page posted to the government’s website on Saturday, “Landlords can give tenants an eviction notice, but eviction hearings and orders are on hold except for urgent disputes such as those involving illegal acts or serious safety concerns.”

The Ford government halted Landlord and Tenant Board hearings — meaning no new evictions, which require the board’s approval, can be ordered and no existing orders can be enforced. But landlords can still move to evict the tenant who may not understand those additional steps needed for a legal eviction.

The situation has become more pressing is the first since the province mandated social distancing rules, closing businesses across the province, putting thousands out of work.

“By the province allowing for eviction notices to continue, it means that tenants are not only living through a public health crisis, they are also living month-to-month with an ongoing financial threat,” said Coun. Josh Matlow (Ward 12 Toronto-St. Paul’s).

Matlow, who has advocated for tenant rights in his tenant-heavy ward and across the city, said putting a temporary freeze on eviction orders was a good first step, but the province needs to bar landlords from issuing the notices during the emergency.

“The premier would be wise to immediately ban eviction notices so that tenants have the security they need to stay in their home — the very thing that we’re all asking them to do.”

Matlow was joined in the push to protect tenants by Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath who has been calling for the government to make it illegal for landlords to evict anyone during the emergency .

“The initial notice, some tenants — many, many tenants— are going to think that that is actually an eviction notice and that they’re going to have to start packing up to get out,” she said.

She said without any “legal force” behind them, Ford’s repeated statements that those who can’t afford to pay rent don’t have to are no comfort to tenants.

“These off-the-cuff remarks are not a way to reduce that anxiety and to make sure that tenants are able to pay their rent tomorrow.”

The NDP is asking the government to subsidize rents for tenants who qualify for the federal government’s unemployment benefit, as well as freezing all rent increases for the next six months.

“Nobody should be fearing that they could lose their housing . . . during this pandemic. It’s not acceptable,” Horwath said.

Matlow said the province needs to come up with a “clear strategy” to protect tenants, including rent forgiveness and subsidizing landlords like the up to $500 a month being promised by the B.C. government.

A statement from a spokesperson for the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark said they will “ensure renters can stay in their homes during this challenging time.”

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The statement reiterated that tenants cannot be forced to leave their homes if they can’t make rent on Wednesday. But it did not specifically respond to questions from the Star, about why landlords are still allowed to issue eviction notices and what happens when the temporary ban on enforcing evictions for non-payment of rent lifts and rent is owed.

“We are encouraging both landlords and tenants to work together to solve disputes, which could involve payment deferrals or payment plans,” said the ministry’s statement
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