COVID-19, housing, Legal, News

Changes to Tenant’s Rights Continue During the Pandemic

Re-posted from ON THE RADAR, a publication of Community Legal Education Ontario (CLEO)

The fast pace of change to housing laws and processes at the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) continues into 2021. This month’s On the Radar looks at 3 noteworthy changes:

  • the end of the second eviction freeze
  • a different video conferencing tool for the LTB’s online hearings
  • a new rule that forces people to accept the first rent-geared-to-income (RGI) unit they’re offered

The eviction freeze ends (again)

On January 13, 2021, the Ontario government made an order stopping the Sheriff’s office from evicting most tenants during the second COVID-19 state of emergency.

This “eviction freeze” was lifted gradually across the province, beginning with 3 eastern public health units on February 10, 2021. The last of the eviction freezes ended on March 8, 2021, in Toronto, Peel, and the North Bay-Parry Sound area.

This means that the regular eviction process is back in place. For most tenants, the eviction process follows these 5 steps:

  1. The landlord gives the tenant an eviction notice.
  2. The landlord then files an eviction application to the LTB.
  3. The LTB has a hearing.
  4. The LTB makes an eviction order.
  5. The landlord takes the eviction order to the Sheriff’s office. The Sheriff is the only one who can evict the tenant.

Steps to Justice has more information about the eviction process.

LTB tries Zoom for video hearings

In mid-March, the LTB started using Zoom for some online hearings, instead of Microsoft Teams. The LTB had been using Microsoft Teams since August 2020, when it first introduced video hearings.

People had many criticisms of Microsoft Teams. For example, Microsoft Teams does not allow people to speak to each other privately in “breakout rooms”. This was especially hard on tenants who wanted to speak to Tenant Duty Counsel. It also made it difficult for landlords, tenants, and their legal representatives to negotiate with each other.

Now that the LTB is testing out Zoom, they’re trying to address some of these concerns. There are breakout rooms for negotiating and for tenants to talk to Duty Counsel.

As well, the LTB had stopped providing mediation services for rent arrears hearings. But during this Zoom test, they’ll slowly start using mediators again.

Mediation can be helpful as landlords and tenants meet with a mediator, who’s neutral and trained to help them work out a solution. It’s also private and confidential, unlike eviction hearings, which are public. And at a hearing, the adjudicator has all of the power to decide what happens.

Getting help

It’s important for tenants to get legal help as soon as possible before their LTB hearings. Tenants can also ask for help if they have concerns about accessing a virtual hearing.

To get help, tenants have several options, including:

During the pandemic, community legal clinics and the Tenant Duty Counsel Program are helping most people over the phone.

One strike, you’re out: Changes to RGI offers

In 2019, the government changed how many offers of rent-geared-to-income (RGI) housing someone can turn down before their household is taken off the waiting list.

The old rule said that households could get 3 offers. So, they could turn down the first 2 and stay on the waiting list.

With the new rule, households are given only one offer. If they turn it down, the household is removed from the waiting list, unless there are exceptional circumstances. For example, most regions allow people to remain on the waiting list if:

  • they’re very sick in hospital when they get the offer, or
  • the home they’re offered is in the same building as someone who’s abused them.

This new rule has been slowly rolled out across the province. The first regions applied the rule in January 2020, with more introducing it on January 1, 2021. The last of the regions will adopt the rule by July 1, 2021. This includes the City of Toronto. Tenants can check if the rule is being applied in their region.

Getting legal help

For help related to your residential tenancy, please contact Kingston Community Legal Clinic.

COVID-19, Legal, News

Getting a Fair Tribunal Hearing During COVID-19

Re-posted from ON THE RADAR, a publication of Community Legal Education Ontario (CLEO)

At the beginning of COVID-19, tribunals across Ontario were forced to close. Many have now re-opened using remote or virtual hearings by video or telephone. This includes the Landlord and Tenant Board, the Ontario Labour Relations Board, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Board, and the Social Benefits Tribunal.

This month’s On the Radar looks at what a fair hearing means and what people can do to protect their rights.

Remote Hearings During COVID-19

Most tribunal hearings in Ontario are now done by phone or video. These hearings can be unfair to people who don’t have access to the internet and the technology they need.

The Right to a fair Hearing

Tribunals must hold fair hearings.

If someone thinks that they’re not getting a fair hearing, they should ask the tribunal to stop the hearing until the problem can be fixed.

If the hearing continues anyway, they can ask the tribunal or a court to “review” the decision. If the hearing was unfair, the tribunal might have to hold a new hearing.

There are many ways that a hearing can be unfair. Here are some of the most common problems.

Getting Notice of the Hearing

The right to notice means that people must be told in advance about their hearing. This gives them time to prepare and gather evidence. Normally, people get their notice of a hearing by mail.

Many tribunals are now scheduling as many hearings as possible to catch up with their backlog. This rush means that many people are not even being told that they have a hearing. Others are being told about their hearing after it’s too late to send in their evidence. This goes against their right to get notice of a hearing.

The Right to be Heard

The right to be heard means that people must be allowed to tell the tribunal’s decision-maker what they think happened. This is also referred to as “making their case”. They also need to review and respond to any evidence used at their hearing.

Many people have found it hard to take part fully in their video hearings for reasons like:

  • not having a computer or stable internet connection
  • not being able to understand the interpreter if there is one
  • having problems using or downloading video-conference software
  • not being able to join the hearing because the tribunal is having technical problems

Technical problems like these can interfere with a person’s right to be heard.

Not Showing Bias

A decision-maker cannot be biased or appear to be biased. If the decision-maker favours one side, it’s important that the other person tell the decision-maker during the hearing that they believe this is happening.

Sometimes a court will refuse to consider a claim of bias if it was not raised at the hearing in front of the original decision-maker.

Dealing with Unfair Hearings

If someone’s hearing was not fair, they have several options.

First, they should tell the decision-maker about it. It’s best to do this before the hearing if possible. This could happen, for example, if the person received notice of their hearing but didn’t have enough time to send in their evidence. And it’s important to tell the decision-maker in writing and save a copy of the letter or email.

If the person cannot complain before the hearing, for example, if the problem happens after the hearing has started, they must complain during the hearing. This might happen if the person cannot hear the decision-maker or the decision-maker cannot hear the person.

They should ask the decision-maker to stop the hearing until the fairness problem can be fixed. This puts their concerns “on the record”. It forces the decision-maker to either fix the problem or officially ignore the person’s concerns by continuing with the hearing. The person can then use the fact that they told the decision-maker as evidence in a review of the decision.

If the decision-maker does not fix the problem, the person who was treated unfairly can ask for a “review” or “reconsideration” of the decision. This means that the tribunal will look at the decision and decide if it was done fairly. If it was not fair, the tribunal may order another hearing.

Asking for a decision to be reviewed does not always stop the order from being enforced.

For example, a tenant might ask the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) to review an eviction order. It’s possible that the eviction could happen before the LTB even decides whether to review the decision. Sometimes the tenant can solve this by going to court for an emergency order.

Getting Help

The process for asking for a review is different for each tribunal. In some cases, people may have to go to the Divisional Court for review instead of the tribunal. A lawyer can help people know where they should go.

Asking for a review can be a complicated process and it must be done quickly. People who want to apply for a review need to get help from:

News

Notice of Annual General Meeting

The Board & Staff of Kingston Community Legal Clinic invite you to our Annual General Meeting. This year’s AGM will be held virtually through Zoom and by phone on Thursday, November 10, 2020 at 2:00 p.m. For instructions on how to connect and to receive a copy of our annual report prior to the meeting, please contact Rachel Evans at evansr@lao.on.ca or 613-541-0777 x.28 to REGISTER by Wednesday, December 9, 2020.

We hope to see you there!

housing, News

UPDATE ON LANDLORD AND TENANT LAW: EVICTION SUSPENSION LIFTED AND CHANGES TO EVICTION PROCESS

Repost from HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario. 

The COVID-19 pandemic eviction ban is being lifted in Ontario on August 4, 2020. This means that evictions can once again take place in Ontario. There remains a process for evictions, but for most evictions that process is now different due to recent changes to the Residential Tenancies Act. Some of the changes related to evictions and other things are as follows:

Evictions can now be fast tracked at the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) if a tenant agrees to a repayment plan with their landlord but then misses a payment. It is very important for tenants to get legal advice before agreeing to repayment plans because not following the terms of a plan could lead the landlord to get an eviction order without a hearing at the LTB. If a tenant receives an eviction order in these circumstances, they have only 10 days to request a hearing.

  • Tenants facing eviction for rent owing must now provide written notice to their landlord if they want to raise various issues at the eviction hearing including issues related to repair problems in their units. Before the changes were made to the law, tenants could automatically raise these issues.
  • If a tenant does not challenge an illegal rent increase within 12 months, the new rent now becomes legal and cannot be disputed.
  • Landlords now have 12 months to bring former tenants to the LTB for issues such as rent owing. Before the changes were made to the law, landlords had to take former tenants to Small Claims Court. As Small Claims Court has much stricter rules than the LTB to ensure that tenants are made aware of hearings, there is concern that former tenants will not learn of the hearings at the LTB.

For more details about the changes to the Residential Tenancies Act, see this article produced by the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario.

While the changes to the law are being challenged in court, the changes are currently in effect. We will provide an update when we have more information about the court challenge.

This information is not intended as, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you live in the City of Kingston, Township of South Frontenac, or Township of Frontenac Islands, please call us at 613-541-0777 or complete the online intake form at https://kclc.ca/contact/ for advice about your specific situation.