The new Ontario tenancy legislation is a mixed bag, ending default evictions but retaining vacancy decontrol.
By Tom Cooper
Published February 09, 2007
George Orwell's book Nineteen Eighty-Four described four ministries responsible for overseeing the fictional state of Oceania. They were: the Ministry of Peace (responsible for keeping citizens in a perpetual state of war), the Ministry of Truth (the propaganda arm of government), the Ministry of Plenty (in charge of the economy and the rationing of food supplies), and the Ministry of Love (enforcing loyalty through fear, torture and brainwashing).
Orwell could have easily included the "Tenant Protection Act" as part of his narrative. Instead, that so-named legislation to oversee tenant and landlord disputes fell to the non-fictional Ontario Government of Mike Harris to implement in 1998.
Far from protecting tenants, Harris' legislation resulted in the elimination of rent controls when an apartment became vacant and the eviction of tenants by the hundreds of thousands. Rents skyrocketed for vulnerable tenants in Hamilton - rising by three times the cost of living.
Affordable housing went un-built across the province. Landlords were often able to get away with maintaining rental units in atrocious states of disrepair.
When ascending to power nearly four years ago, the Dalton McGuinty Liberals promised to replace the mis-named Tenant Protection Act with effective tenant legislation within their first year in office.
While they delayed, 90,000 tenants were evicted without a hearing in Ontario. But last week, 'better late than never', the Tenant Protection Act was replaced with the Residential Tenancies Act.
The new legislation ends default evictions by removing a requirement that tenants must file a written dispute within five days of receiving a landlord's application in order to attend an eviction hearing at a tribunal.
This 'default' eviction provision was by far the most odious section of the old TPA. Landlords could get an eviction order without a hearing if a tenant didn't file a written dispute within the short window of opportunity (which included weekends and holidays). As Craig Foye, McQuesten Legal & Community Services' staff lawyer, is fond of noting, "no other statute requires a response so quickly".
Tenants were in large measure denied access to justice simply because they didn't understand the process. Prejudiced were new Canadians and others who may not have a thorough understanding of written English or French.
As of last week, all tenants facing eviction will be afforded the right to a hearing at the new Landlord Tenant Board - a significant improvement. Community agencies have long argued that preventing unnecessary evictions is key to solving the growing homelessness problem that has resulted in a 300 percent increase in stays at homeless shelters in Hamilton.
The new act will also allow tenants to raise issues at an eviction hearing not previously allowed. Tenants can bring up the landlord's failure to maintain or repair the unit which can be at the heart of many eviction applications. This provision may result in landlords taking greater responsibility for the maintenance of units.
With the positive changes in the legislation came some disappointing news. Vacancy decontrol remains a reality. Landlords can charge whatever rent they choose for a vacant unit - a practice that has led to increasing rental housing costs across Ontario.
This is a major concern in Hamilton, where 21.9 percent of all renter households are spending more than half of their income on rent.
The new legislation also allows landlords to install energy smart-meters in multi-residential buildings without tenants' consent. Tenants who used to have heat and hydro covered through rent may have to pay costs separately. Landlords are largely responsible for installing energy efficient appliances, windows or furnaces.
Under the new rules, there is nothing to compel landlords to become more energy efficient - and their energy inefficiency could have an extremely negative financial impact on tenants.
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Tenants wishing to find out more about their rights and obligations can call the Hamilton Tenant Helpline at 905-526-9119.
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