The clients of Ontario’s community legal clinics face daily struggles to pay the rent and life’s other expenses. Ontario is home to over one-third of all renters in Canada with nearly half of them living on an annual income below $40,000. Out of the 10 most unaffordable cities to rent a home in Canada, eight are in Ontario. Rents in this province have been on a constant rise without significant improvements in the quality of the housing stock. Many renters living on low to moderate incomes will point out the state of disrepair in their homes while they pay exorbitant monthly rents. This is the result of laws that put landlords’ interests first, including the right of landlords to rent gouge on tenant turnover.
The COVID-19 pandemic crisis has laid bare these unfair policies. The pandemic crisis has shown the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots. Public officials point to sheltering in place as the number one defence against the virus. It is time for Ontario to introduce changes to the law that support people’s access to safe, secure and affordable homes. Instead, the Ontario government has decided to quickly push through Bill 184, Protecting Tenants and Strengthening Communities Housing Act – the wrong Bill at the wrong time.
Aside from the landlords, speculators and developers, no one is protected by the provisions of Bill 184. The changes proposed to the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) are a collection of pro-landlord amendments that will impoverish and displace tenants.
We are greatly concerned by many of the provisions in Bill 184. For instance, the amendments will add post-tenancy debt collection to the Landlord and Tenant Board’s (LTB) workload – a tribunal that is already experiencing significant delays in deciding cases. The Bill proposes an “Alternative Dispute Resolution” that will put tenants at the risk of eviction after being pressured to agree to terms they cannot meet. The Bill restricts tenants’ rights to bring forward repair and maintenance issues in rent arrears cases, encouraging landlords to keep their units in a state of disrepair. And despite the claim that this Bill will protect tenants from no-fault evictions, the provisions fail to provide a meaningful deterrent to the abuse of no-fault eviction provisions by landlords.
What Bill 184 does is to provide landlords with additional avenues to evict tenants. This Bill is out of touch with the challenges faced by tenants, especially as the pandemic crisis has deepened the vulnerabilities of low-income Ontarians. The Ontario government must take bold steps to protect those who are struggling. Without effective leadership, people will fall further into poverty as we move into the post-pandemic recovery phase.
The Ontario government must relieve the pressures that will push tenants to the brink of economic eviction. They must address the short- and medium-term consequences of the pandemic crisis on tenants and the rental housing market. We urge the government to scrap Bill 184 and instead take the following actions:
1. Update the purpose of the RTA to include improving public health in Ontario and recognizing the progressive realization of the human right to housing as enshrined in the federal legislation.
2. Extend the current eviction moratorium until the pandemic and the post-pandemic recovery period are over to ensure enough time for employment rates and other economic indicators to return to pre-COVID-19 levels. While urgent matters with serious health and safety implications continue to be heard, Ontario must commit to keeping people housed.
3. Amend the RTA to provide direction to the LTB for mediated repayment agreements that are feasible and will not push tenants into homelessness or continued poverty.
4. Provide the LTB with direction on providing relief from eviction due to circumstances caused by the pandemic crisis. Tenants that lost their employment, faced illness or had to take care of their children out of school should not be punished because they faced financial hardship during this pandemic.
5. Re-institute effective rent control and alleviate the greatest source of anxiety for tenants even before this pandemic crisis – the unaffordable rents that skyrocket every year, displacing people from their homes and communities.
Tenants in Ontario need laws that will address their pressing needs today. Curbing rent increases is even more critical at this time of great uncertainty and economic hardship – tenants’ finances remain volatile and many have come to depend on government supports. If the government truly wants to protect tenants, Ontario must focus on preventing the displacement of tenant households, including the elimination of rent gouging that leads to poverty and economic eviction.
This open letter is signed by:
Advocacy Centre for the Elderly
Alliance to End Homelessness Ottawa
Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness
Canadian Environmental Law Association
Cathy Crowe, RN, C.M.
Centre des services communautaires Vanier
Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation
Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic
Clinique juridique communautaire de l’Université d’Ottawa / University of Ottawa Community Legal Clinic
Community Legal Aid and Legal Assistance of Windsor
Community Legal Assistance Sarnia
Community Legal Clinic – Brant, Haldimand, Norfolk
Community Legal Clinic of York Region
Community Legal Services of Ottawa / Services juridiques communautaires d’Ottawa
Downsview Community Legal Services
Downtown Legal Services
Durham Community Legal Clinic
Emily Paradis, Housing and Homelessness Researcher
Federation of Metro Tenants’ Association
Hamilton Community Legal Clinic/Clinique juridique communautaire de Hamilton
Health Providers Against Poverty
HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario
Huron Perth Community Legal Clinic
Kensington-Bellwoods Community Legal Services
Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic
Lake Country Community Legal Clinic
Legal Clinic of Guelph and Wellington County
Mississauga Community Legal Services
Neighbourhood Legal Services
Neighbourhood Legal Services (London & Middlesex) Inc.
The Niagara Community Legal Clinic
Northwest Community Legal Clinic
North Peel & Dufferin Community Legal Services
Parkdale Community Legal Services
Renfrew County Legal Clinic
Rexdale Community Legal Clinic
Shelter and Housing Justice Network
South Etobicoke Community Legal Services
Sudbury Community Legal Clinic
Waterloo Region Community Legal Services
West Scarborough Community Legal Services
West Toronto Community Legal Services
Willowdale Community Legal Services