Opinion

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rental housing- by Kenn Hale, Director of Legal and Advocacy at the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario (ACTO)

Landlord groups have made two very specific proposals to change the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) in the face of a deepening crisis of homelessness in Ontario. People need to be concerned because these old and tired ideas have found their way into an Ontario Government document which could form the basis for a change in the law.

One proposal is to shorten - from 11 days to 6 days - the usual time that tenants are allowed to bring their rent up-to-date after the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) has decided how much they owe. The other proposal would have the Attorney General's Sheriff's Officers replaced with "private bailiffs" when LTB eviction orders have to be enforced.

Landlords claim that these changes would boost the supply of rental housing in Ontario. There is no reason that the Government or anyone else should believe them.
When there is a case about rental arrears that goes to the LTB, both the tenant and the landlord have the opportunity to tell their story to an LTB Member. That person has the power to decide what is owed (if anything) and if the landlord's request for an eviction will be allowed. There may also be an opportunity to connect tenants (who are often living on low incomes) with services to help them pay any rent they owe and address other problems they may be facing. The LTB process is very effective at helping landlords get the rents they are owed. The landlord lobby group FRPO acknowledges that landlords collect 98.5% of all the rent that tenants across Ontario have agreed to pay. Changes that would speed up evictions – even by 5 days – would make it harder for tenants to keep their home.

Sheriff’s Officers are public servants with a good track record in carrying out a difficult job with serious social consequences. Private bailiffs are in business to make profits.

Landlords see privatizing the enforcement of eviction orders as another way to speed up evictions. And they believe it could be done at less cost than the long-established, publicly accountable system. We see a grave risk of aggression, violence and dehumanization of tenants in difficult straits. These businesses have no place in the complex work of evicting people from their homes.

The services that tenants need to get money to pay their rent arrears - social agencies, financial institutions, even friends and family – often take time. If that time was to be made tighter as landlords are proposing, it would only add to the biggest problem in the housing market – the increasing rate and severity of homelessness.

So, if the law is working for landlords, why do they want the government to change it?

Is the real objective to have more evictions so they can charge more rent for new tenants?

Is that a good thing for the people of Ontario?
Eroding tenant protections won't solve our housing supply shortage. Landlords are not builders. Nothing requires rent money to be re-invested in new rental homes that Ontario desperately needs. But the law allows big rent increases if a unit becomes vacant. This does not add to the housing supply and makes the existing supply unaffordable for low-income renters. The cost of lost tenant protection is borne by the people of Ontario through increased health, social service and justice system expenditures. As well as the damage to our social peace as inequality increases.

Other kinds of programs and incentives must be offered by governments if we are going to increase the supply of rental housing. Making that housing affordable presents even more challenges. We already have 185,000 people on our social housing waiting list. We don't need more people joining that line or more vulnerable people dying on our streets.

We don't need our government giving in to the demands of these landlord groups whose members are doing so well in the midst of this crisis.

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