Imagine that the Sheriff is coming to your home to forcibly remove you and your family, and change the locks.
Imagine that your unit has become infested with vermin and is uninhabitable.
Imagine that you arrive home to find that your landlord has illegally changed the locks and you will have to stay in a homeless shelter for the night.
The crisis and traumas experienced by tenants losing their home or dealing with disrepair is no joking matter.
Tenants Accessing TDC are Disproportionally Vulnerable
As a lawyer working for the Tenant Duty Counsel Program (TDCP), our job involves confronting these crises head-on on a daily basis. It is safe to say our services are in high demand. With historically low rental vacancy rates and increasing average rents, renting is becoming more and more expensive, let alone being able to afford legal services should you encounter a crisis.
A recent survey conducted by the Tenant Duty Counsel Program in 2016 found that tenants who accessed our services are disproportionately vulnerable. Two-thirds of those surveyed had experienced homelessness, half had faced discrimination in housing, and more than one third said they or someone in their household had a disability. These experiences intersected with other aspects of disadvantage: almost three quarters of tenants surveyed lived in poverty, half identified as racialized, and one fifth were single parents.
As providers of free summary legal services to tenants at the Landlord and Tenant Board, Tenant Duty Counsel are often the first point of legal contact for tenants in crisis. We are at the front line when meeting tenants who are often having the worst day of their lives. The environment can be intense and the stakes are high.
Accurate Legal Guidance Can Make a Huge Difference
It isn’t easy for tenants to navigate the legal world, and it is the job of the Tenant Duty Counsel to support them by providing effective legal advice. In this high-stakes climate, we do the best we can to ensure the best possible outcome for tenants through advice and limited services. Sometimes the best possible outcome means obtaining an emergency stay of eviction or an emergency order of reinstatement into the unit. Other times it means securing a commitment from the landlord to do the necessary repair work. In the worst case scenarios, where eviction cannot be prevented, it means fighting for as much time as possible to leave with dignity.
As regulars at the Landlord and Tenant Board, we see how even a little bit of accurate legal guidance can make a huge difference in the outcome of a crisis. Fortunately, Legal Aid Ontario funds this crucial program and we can provide our services for free.
Free Tenant Duty Counsel continues to be a necessity at the Landlord and Tenant Board. The “right to counsel” is meaningless if you can’t afford one. And when you’re in a crisis, the last thing you should need to think about is whether you can afford to pay for guidance.
If you are a tenant living in the Greater Toronto Area and have an eviction hearing that day, come to the LTB and speak to us. If you live outside of the GTA, contact your community legal clinic. The free consultation might help you keep your home and to hold your landlord accountable to their responsibility of keeping their property in adequate conditions.