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.