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A Toronto tenant says he was locked out of his home during Ontario’s eviction moratorium. He has to wait two months to try and get back into his apartment

A Toronto tenant says he was locked out of his home during Ontario’s eviction moratorium. He has to wait two months to try and get back into his apartment
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Toronto tenant Alexi Chatzilias says he came home to his rental apartment last month — a single unit in a midtown home — to find the locks changed, with all his possessions moved to storage.

“I couldn’t even get onto the property,” he said.

Chatzilias says he first called police, who told him they were unable to help, despite a provincewide eviction moratorium in place at the time. With help from a local politicians’ office, he appealed to Ontario’s Rental Housing Enforcement Unit to step in. But that avenue, too, has so far proved fruitless — with a provincial spokesperson telling the Star the unit couldn’t reach a voluntary resolution with his landlord, and referred the matter for investigation.

That left just one avenue: a Landlord and Tenant Board hearing. And for that, Chatzilias says he’s been left waiting for more than two months. He counts himself lucky to be able to crash with his parents until then.

It’s a case local MPP Jessica Bell believes underscores a large issue in Ontario: a lack of immediate recourse in cases where tenants allege they’ve been illegally evicted from their homes. That shortfall took on extra weight during COVID-19, Bell believes, as Ontario has implemented multiple months-long halts on most eviction enforcement.

“We called the police. The police said, ‘No, there’s nothing we can do,’” Bell said of Chatzilias’ case at Queen’s Park recently, while calling for more immediate options for tenants who allege illegal lockouts by their landlords. “We called the Rental Housing Enforcement Unit, whose job is to investigate issues like this, and they said they’d look into it, but it would take a few weeks.”

“What is Alexi supposed to do in that situation?”

The dispute between Chatzilias and his landlord is multifaceted. Among the issues, Chatzilias believes he paid too much for a security deposit, and put a stop payment on his rent cheques earlier this spring. Around the same time, landlord Bianca Pollak says she informed Chatzilias that she expected him to move out of the home within 60 days, to free up the unit for her son. But Chatzilias alleges the notice was a hand-written note, not a formal application.

Chatzilias says he didn’t want to leave because of the difficulty of finding an adequately sized rental in the area, as a father with shared custody of two children. Another factor in his desire to stay in the unit, he says, was the feeling that the process hadn’t been fair.

Pollak says she initially believed Chatzilias had accepted her request for him to leave. She says the process was legal and fair, noting she gave Chatzilias time to find alternative housing.

“He should leave, and he didn’t want to leave, and he’s just trying to make (a) big noise … he was legally asked to leave in 60 days because a member of the family, my son, is coming back to his apartment,” Pollak said. “He was not illegally evicted.”

In Ontario, property owners require an order issued by the LTB to evict a tenant, which is then enforced by the sheriff’s office. If a landlord changes the locks themselves without an LTB order, the board says , it’s considered an “illegal lockout.”

Evictions in Toronto were first halted by the province from March to the end of July last year, then again from January to March, with a third moratorium from April to early June — affecting all evictions except for rare cases like illegal activity. The halts have drawn ire from landlords, some of whom say they’re unable to bear the weight of long-term arrears.

Should a landlord take matters into their own hands and kick out tenants instead of waiting for evictions to resume, renters may be left in the lurch, Bell says. Some mechanisms exist to solve disputes on a more immediate basis, such as the enforcement unit — whose mandate is to help tenants assess if their problem is an offence under tenancy law, and can “take action” directly if it is. But if that route fails, it means waiting for a hearing at the LTB.

It’s tough to say precisely how many similar cases have arisen during COVID-19, as Ontario’s housing ministry — which oversees the enforcement unit — would not disclose how many complaints they received.

The LTB doesn’t specifically track filings that allege illegal lockouts, though it does track T2 applications — which can claim illegal evictions, but can also deal with other issues such as interference with a tenant’s “reasonable enjoyment” of a unit, withholding services or illegal entry to a rental.

But public records show Chatzilias isn’t the only tenant during the pandemic to allege their landlord had illegally kicked them out.

In one LTB decision last year, for a case heard in Toronto, the board found a tenant was illegally kicked out during the first eviction halt. They’d waited nearly two months for a hearing, in which their landlord was ordered to return possession of the unit and pay a fine. In that case, too, the landlord said they needed the unit for their own purposes.

“The landlord ignored the statutory scheme for resolving landlord-tenant disputes and the legal framework for evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the decision read.
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