The Ontario government has been pushing through Bill 184, legislation critics say will make it easier for landlords to evict tenants
Announced on March 12, the province’s proposed Protecting Tenants and Strengthening Communities Housing Act makes amendments to the 2006 Residential Tenancies Act (RTA). The major changes are increased fines for terminating tenancy in bad faith like renovictions or illegal personal-use evictions, how evidence is introduced at eviction hearings and how repayment agreements are handled.
“We’ve heard the concerns from tenants who have been forced to leave their homes due to renovations,” said Municipal Affairs and Housing minister Steve Clark, in a statement. “That’s why we are taking action to increase fines, raise tenant compensation and tighten the rules to encourage everyone to follow the law.”
If a landlord is found to have evicted a tenant in bad faith, the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) can require the landlord to compensate the former tenant in an amount equal to up to one year’s rent. So for example, if a tenant was evicted from a $2,000/month unit, they could be entitled to up to $24,000 from the landlord.
The Federation of Rental-Housing Providers of Ontario, an association that represents both small landlords and large property management firms, supports the bill. “We know there is an adversarial relationship, and that is unfortunate,” says FRPO CEO Tony Irwin. “One piece of legislation isn’t going to solve that, but you have to start somewhere and I think this bill is starting to do that. It’s going to come down harder on those who don’t follow the rules.”
Irwin also believes the bill will streamline processes, which will help clear up the long-standing backlog of hearings at the LTB. Rather than automatically going to the LTB for a hearing, some disputes can be resolved using outside mediation.
FRPO also supports the change that will allow illegal above-guideline rent increases if the tenant does not file an application with the LTB within one year. “It’s a decision that in our view should’ve been long overturned,” says Irwin. “There is an onus on the individual to bring forward errors or omissions, so if that’s not done, I think it’s reasonable to say that’s the amount. It’s after 12 months, not one month.”
The provincial NDP and affordable housing activists like ACORN, Keep Your Rent and the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario oppose the bill, arguing that it will make it easier for landlords to evict tenants. “The name is a little Orwellian. It doesn’t really seem the provisions will actually achieve tenant protections,” says housing lawyer, Caryma Sa’d.
Currently during non-payment of rent eviction hearings, tenants have the right to raise other issues, like major maintenance problems. With Bill 184, tenants would need to file a written notice prior to their hearing. Sa’d, who represents both tenants and landlords in her practice, worries that tenants may be wrongfully evicted with this new process. “I’ve had situations where substantial arrears have accumulated, but there were also serious breaches of the RTA,” she says. “The end result wasn’t eviction because the adjudicator was able to get this bird’s-eye view.”
Although tenants can still file their own notices to make their case at the LTB, Sa’d says the new process will disproportionately affect more vulnerable tenants. “The people living with the most serious repair or harassment issues are less likely to be aware of the processes that require you to file in advance. The possibility still exists, but fewer people will be available to avail themselves to it.”
Toronto Centre NDP MPP Suze Morrison says Bill 184 will also allow for a fast-tracking of eviction cases where a tenant has fallen behind on a repayment agreement. Currently, if a repayment plan is broken, a tenant is entitled to a hearing before they can be evicted. Bill 184 would allow the landlord to bypass the hearing and issue an eviction order. “If a tenant misses even a single payment, they won’t be able to go to the board and say, ‘Look, my situation has changed’ or ‘I was pressured into this agreement I knew I couldn’t meet,’” says Morrison. “Especially in the time of COVID-19, this is a dangerous measure.”
Despite the new increased fines to prevent illegal evictions, Sa’d says the bill does not go far enough.
“That is still an after-the-fact remedy and it means that the tenant will have already left. It does nothing to really change the underlying incentives,” says Sa’d. “Sure, it will be an additional cost for landlords, but because there’s vacancy decontrol in Ontario – meaning an empty unit can be rented at whatever rate – it effectively pushes people out of their neighbourhoods and communities.”
The bill has passed second reading and is currently at the standing committee for hearings. Next week, the bill will be reviewed clause by clause and then will immediately come back to the house for a third reading, likely next week.