May 6, 2009
Dr. Lillian Ma
Landlord Tenant Board
777 Bay Street, 12th Floor
Toronto, Ontario M5G 2E5
Dear Dr. Ma,
Thank you for meeting with us on April 30. We believe that it is very important that we dialogue from time to time. In this meeting, we raised two main issues:
1. Tenant access to the Landlord Tenant Board, and the difficulties to tenants have in making and executing applications; and
2. The economic crisis and the need for Board to consider a more liberal interpretation of section 83 of the Act.
1. Tenant Access to the Landlord Tenant Board
In 2008, the Landlord Tenant Board received 69,000 landlord applications for eviction, and just 1,300 tenant applications for maintenance. From these statistics one could conclude either that tenants do not face serious tenant or maintenance issues, or that the Landlord Tenant Board is not accessible to tenants seeking relief when their landlords are not complying with the law.
Based on our experience, we believe that maintenance and repair issues are serious and that the Board is not accessible to tenants.
Our Hotline receives three times the number of calls for maintenance as we do for eviction. Our Outreach Team sees rents going up while maintenance concerns go unaddressed.
We can also point to the experience of the City of Toronto's Multi-Residential Apartment Building Audit Program. In order to address persistent problems with maintenance and repair in multi-residential apartment buildings, the City of Toronto began auditing buildings in late 2008. In just four months in 73 buildings, the building audit team has identified over 3000 deficiencies and made 369 work orders against landlords. These buildings were not selected for the audit program because they were "the worst" buildings in the city; they are representative of lower-income housing. Clearly repair and maintenance issues are deep and widespread.
We are concerned that tenants of these buildings, like so many others, will be faced with above-the-guideline rent increases as landlords do the necessary repairs to bring their homes up to a basic standard. However, we have no confidence that these same tenants will ever be compensated for the poor conditions they have been living in, because of problems with access to the Landlord Tenant Board.
To begin with, the Board's forms are confusing. Last year, we presented you with a one form system as a first step in making the process simpler. Without consulting us, you met with others and rejected the idea. The idea of a simplified form is not just supported by us, but was approved at a meeting of the Tenant Advocacy Group held in July of last year. This group includes the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario.
At the hearings themselves, tenants are pitted against experienced paralegals hired by professional landlords. We have seen too many hearings "run" by these paralegals with tenants unable to make themselves heard. While adjudicators must be impartial, it is important that they address this structural imbalance by doing everything they can to allow tenants to make their points in an informal manner.
We continue to note that the Board is set up to serve the business of landlords between 9 and 5. We call on you to investigate and implement an after hours service for people who can not take time off during the day to protect their rights.
Tenants are not in the business of being tenants. The intent of the legislation is remedial to correct imbalances. Any tenant who is not receiving adequate maintenance or is a victim of any other violation of the Act, should find it easy to come to your Board. They do not.
2. Impact of the Economic Crisis
This year, we are in the midst of the worst economic crisis in over 70 years. We were disappointed with your responses to this fact, as it can be reasonably foreseen that many good tenants will be losing their jobs and falling behind in the rent. Will victims of this crisis also lose their homes? We will do everything we can to help these tenants, and we simply call on the Board to use its authority under section 83 of the Act to help and protect these good people. There will be people who have never missed a payment in their lives who will not be able to afford their rent.
We believe that corporate landlords should be able to absorb some revenue loss in order to keep people housed. You can use your authority as a Board to take into account the circumstances that exist. In a fair and just society, we all must do our part. The Board must do its part. We feel that you should be discussing this issue with your staff on a regular basis.
In conclusion, in heralding the new legislation in 2006, the Government said it would protect good tenants. They said they would establish a fair and accessible system to enforce the intent of the legislation, which is protecting security of tenure and reasonable standards of rental accommodation.
We find that the Board has not met our reasonable expectations in its first two years. We are prepared to work constructively to help that to happen, before more tenants lose their homes, and more tenants do not get the justice they deserve when landlords do not comply with the law.