March 2, 2003, FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tenants at 1595 Bathurst came home to a shock last week, when they found a written decision by the Ontario Rental Housing Tribunal awarding their landlord a 14.6% rent increase above the annual guideline.
On January 22, the tenants were told by the Tribunal Adjudicator, Elizabeth Beckett, that she was dismissing the landlord's application, without prejudice. The landlord Donovan McKenzie had failed to properly submit the application or the supporting documents. She referred to the file as a "dog's breakfast" and noted that Tribunal staff could not make sense of the application.
The basis for her "behind closed doors" reverse decision was incomplete information found in the file that indicated that the landlord had paid a dramatic increase in property tax. As she had indicated that the application was being dismissed, the tenants had no need to make submissions or present evidence on this issue. The landlord had indicated on the form that taxes had increased from $9,000 to $22,000 in a one year period.
The building contains eight units and is therefore subject to a 5% cap on tax increases. In other words, such a claim by the landlord would not pass scrutiny.
On Friday, February 28, tenant Martyn Smith went to the Tribunal to ask for a review of the Order and a hearing. He paid the $75 fee required by the Tribunal. He was asked to wait while another adjudicator, Harry Fine, reviewed his request. About two hours later, Mr. Fine sent a staff member to tell Mr. Smith that the request had been denied!
Smith said "I am shocked and outraged that such a decision can be made in Ontario. First they say that there will be no rent increase....they send us home happy...and then out of the blue they change their minds and refuse to give us a hearing".
Dan McIntyre of the Federation of Metro Tenants Associations has been helping the tenants throughout. "The file was the worst I ever saw, but the Tribunal reversal and subsequent circling of the wagons is the most outrageous thing I have seen in over 20 years...the Tribunal has acted like a Star Chamber and denied the tenants their most basic rights based on very specious reasoning".
Carol Smith (no relation to Martyn) is a single mother living in the building for several years. "The Tribunal took pity on the landlord ....but what about people like me who will have to find another $145 a month to pay for this pity?".
The tenants will now seek legal help to appeal to a higher court. They will seek a grant from the City of Toronto Tenant Defence Fund to offset their costs.
The Ontario Rental Housing Tribunal was formed to deal with the "Tenant Protection Act". McIntyre charges that their institutional bias against the people they are supposed to protect is unconscionable. Ms. Beckett and Mr. Fine should resign or be fired.
Justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done.