Who Does the Landlord and Tenant Board Serve?
Hamilton Tenant: Volume 01, Issue 02
Landlords often say that “the Landlord and Tenant Board is the only place to resolve disputes between landlords and tenants.” Why do landlords insist on this? Many tenants who try to find “justice” at the LTB, one of several courts within the so-called Social Justice Tribunals of Ontario system, find anything but justice.
Say you get a notice from your landlord saying that you need to leave because a member of the landlord’s family wants to move in (Form N12: ‘Notice to End your Tenancy Because the Land- lord, a Purchaser or a Family Member Requires the Rental Unit’). “Sorry, but my son needs the place.” Or maybe you get a notice saying you need to leave because the landlord plans to do major renovations to the unit (Form N13: ‘Notice to End your Tenancy Because the Landlord Wants to Demolish the Rental Unit, Repair it or Convert it to Another Use’). The Landlord and Tenant Board grants the eviction application, without requiring much proof of the landlord’s intentions. You move out. A couple months later you notice that your old apartment is being advertised on Kijiji or Bunz for hundreds of dollars more per month. Or maybe you notice it listed on AirBnB, no longer being offered as a long-term rental for anyone. So much for a relative needing to move in or renovations being done!
Say you desperately want something fixed in your apartment. You ask property management to fix it. You call repeatedly, submit work orders, talk to the property manager. If you’re lucky, they come by and take a look and say, “We’ll deal with it soon.” But they never do. You file an application for maintenance to the LTB. It takes several months before your hearing is scheduled. It’s on a weekday and you are forced to take off work and forego a day’s wages to attend. You don’t have a lawyer or paralegal because you can’t afford it, but your landlord sure does. You are able to speak to tenant duty council at your hearing, but you only have a few minutes with them to get advice. You get the sense that the adjudicator (called a Board member) doesn’t even care about your case and wants to speed things along. The adjudicator encourages you to seek mediation with an LTB mediator rather than having a proper hearing with the adjudicator. You wait in a line and are shuffled into a small room with the mediator and your landlord’s lawyer. The mediator quickly writes up an agreement and reads it out. “Do you agree? Okay? Sign. Next!” Finally, you can get the landlord to fix a few things (assuming they follow through on the order), after living with disrepairs for months.
Above Guideline Increases
Say you get notice that your landlord has applied for an Above Guideline Increase in rent. You know that your landlord is only supposed to increase rent in accordance with the Province of Ontario’s annual guideline, usually 1-2%. But your landlord wants to increase your rent another 3% on top of that, for the next three years. The total rent increase will be close to 15%! You do the math and realize that’s going to be an extra $50 a month the first year, and even more in the second and third year. So much for rent control. You figure out that you can request a CD with a PDF of the landlord’s application. You go to the effort of making an application to the LTB to get the CD. The application is hundreds of pages long, lots of invoices and legal jargon. What’s clear is that the landlord wants to pass on the cost of millions of dollars worth of building ‘upgrades’ to the tenants. Funny, they haven’t done a thing in your apartment. Why spend money on painting the outside of the building, planting new flowers, and renovating the lobby? Surely the pressing issues are in tenants’ units: lack of heat, faulty stoves and fridges, pest infestations, leaks and mould, etc. The landlord ignores these issues and now they want tenants to foot the bill for cosmetic upgrades? Outrageous. And even so, why should tenants pay extra when the landlord spends money on keeping the building in a good state of repair? Surely this is what your current rent money should go towards, not some extra cash for your landlord to pocket.
You take a day off work to go to the AGI hearing. Even though hundreds of tenants in your building are affected by the rent increase, only a handful of people show up. Maybe people couldn’t get the day off work. Maybe people didn’t understand the notice if English isn’t their first language (many people), or legal jargon isn’t their first language (everyone!). Maybe they simply didn’t see the point. Landlords always win, right? You tell the adjudicator: “This isn’t right. Why should tenants pay for these cosmetic changes when the landlord isn’t even doing regular maintenance in our units? I can’t afford this increase. If my rent goes up this much, I’ll be priced out. Where can I find another apartment in the city for the same rent?—“ The adjudicator interrupts you: “Requests for repairs in individual tenants’ units are beyond the scope of this hearing. You will need to submit a separate application. Also, the LTB has no power to take a tenant’s personal financial circumstances into account when considering an AGI application.” In other words, ‘Be quiet. I don’t care.’ Your landlord, supported by a team of lawyers, paralegals, and consultants, somehow finds a way to justify all of the cosmetic upgrades as ‘necessary’ and the LTB approves the above guideline rent increase. Within a year, most of your long-time neighbours have moved out, unable to afford the increase. Once they leave, your landlord does a quick surface renovation of their units and charges double the rent for the incoming tenant.
The LTB: An Eviction Factory
Across Ontario, 90% of LTB applications are filed by landlords while 10% are filed by tenants (SJTO Annual Report, 2017-18). In 2017-18, the LTB received 72,511 applications from landlords and 7,738 applications from tenants. The majority of landlord applications received by the LTB is for evictions, including applications to: terminate the tenancy and evict for non-payment of rent (65.6%), terminate the tenancy “for other reasons” and evict (15.7%), and terminate the tenancy due to a failed settlement (7.7%) (SJTO Annual Report, 2017-18). “For other reasons” is often an ‘own use’ eviction or renoviction. These have been on the rise in recent years. What’s clear is that the LTB spends most of its time evicting tenants. The LTB is an eviction factory, helping landlords make profits rather than helping tenants maintain shelter.
A recent report from the Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton found there was a 95% increase in landlord applications to evict tenants at the LTB’s Hamilton office from 2010 to 2016. At the same time, many Hamilton neighbourhoods rapidly gentrified with new people moving in. The vacancy rate dropped and rents increased quickly. Landlords know they can jack up rent however much they want when an old tenant leaves and a new tenant moves in. Landlords have a big financial incentive to evict longstanding tenants. No wonder landlords are filing so many eviction applications.
There’s a reason why landlords insist on “resolving disputes” at the LTB, rather than through direct negotiations or other means. Landlords know that the LTB is their court. This is where they hold the balance of power, supported by the pro-landlord language of the Residential Tenancies Act (watered down through ‘reforms’ made by Conservative governments). Landlords can count on the fact that tenants don’t know how to navigate the LTB system, won’t be able to hire legal representation, and will feel intimidated by the process. Many tenants face additional barriers if they don’t speak English well, if they have illnesses or disabilities that make it difficult to attend, or if they simply can’t afford to take a day off work to go and the adjudicator automatically decides against the tenant in their absence.
Landlords and Politicians Working Together
We can expect more attacks on renters from Ontario Premier Doug Ford and his friends in the real estate, development, and landlord sectors. In May 2018, when Ford was running for election, he said: “The people of Ontario have told me they are struggling. I have listened to the people, and I won’t take rent control away from anyone. Period. When it comes to rent control, we’re going to maintain the status quo.” In November, Ford broke his promise and announced major changes to rent control laws. Rent control will be eliminated for tenants living in units constructed after November 15, 2018, and units newly converted to a rental use after this date. No doubt, Ford will make more changes to the Residential Tenancies Act in the near future, making it easier for landlords to evict tenants. He will probably appoint his friends to the vacant adjudicator positions at the LTB. 11 full-time adjudicators and four part-time adjudicators will finish their terms on December 31, 2018.
The Federation of Rental Housing Providers of Ontario (FRPO), Ontario’s landlord association, has hired a lobbyist, John Matheson of Strategy Corp Inc., to push for rollbacks on a wide range of issues: “Property tax assessment policy relating to multi-residential buildings; municipal licensing of multi-residential buildings; annual rent control guidelines and policy; models for promoting the construction of new rental housing. Policies relevant of purpose-built multi-residential construction, such as, inclusionary zoning, development charges, and the Landlord-Tenant Tribunal.” These rollbacks will help landlords and hurt tenants.
Tenants Must Organize Together
In July 2018, rent striking tenants from the Stoney Creek Towers were dragged to the LTB by their landlord, InterRent REIT. The adjudicator refused to acknowledge the collective nature of the strike, insisting on hearing tenants’ cases one by one. The adjudicator refused to listen to the reasons why tenants decided to strike in the first place: longstanding disrepairs and unaffordable rent increases. Instead, the adjudicator and the landlord pretended that non-payments of rent were individual cases of negligence. In defiance, tenants and their supporters occupied the court room, chanting and banging drums, ultimately forcing the adjudicator from the room. The majority of cases were not processed and only a handful of tenants were given court orders to pay their rent. This is just one example of how tenants can come together to disrupt business as usual.
Now more than ever, it is important for tenants to work together to put direct pressure on our landlords. We don’t put our faith in the ‘sympathy’ of landlords, or the ‘justice’ of the LTB courts, or the empty promises of politicians. We put our faith in each other.