Photo: Herongate Tenant Coalition (Twitter) @herongatetc
by Andy Crosby
Around 50 people rallied outside of the Landlord and Tenant Board office on Slater Street in Ottawa on July 6 to protest the Ontario government’s Bill 184.
Dubbed the “mass eviction bill” by opponents, the Protecting Tenants and Strengthening Community Housing Act was first introduced on March 12 and amended by the Standing Committee on Social Policy on July 6.
“Bill 184 will speed up evictions and force thousands of tenants across the province on the street during a pandemic,” Sam Hersh, local activist and organizer who attended the rally, told The Leveller.
Tenant rights advocates in Ottawa and Toronto argue that the Ford provincial government’s proposed changes to the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) will hasten eviction orders against tenants pressured into rent repayment agreements by their landlords.
For Josh Hawley, a local tenant rights activist, while Bill 184 was a long-time in the making to deal with the LTB’s backlog crisis, the recent amendment takes direct aim at those affected most by the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown.
Thousands in Ontario and beyond have struggled to pay rent due to further hardships faced during the pandemic, compounded by an affordable housing crisis with skyrocketing rents in many Canadian cities.
“This has to do with COVID-19, specifically to deal with rent arrears that have built up through the pandemic,” Hawley told the crowd assembled on Slater Street. “This is a direct target against working class people who have lost jobs, lost hours, and gotten sick.”
Jocelyn Wabano-Iahtail spoke of her experience when Ottawa Community Housing (OCH) served her with an eviction notice. She refused to move and armed herself with national and international legal instruments on the rights of Indigenous peoples, and OCH withdrew their eviction application. “I refuse to move! This is my home,” she stated to cheers from supporters.
While most can agree that Ontario’s Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) is backlogged, there is profound disagreement surrounding the functioning of the board as an arbiter of equal justice. Despite delays, landlords use the board effectively to evict tenants and apply for above-guideline-increases (AGI) to rent. In recent years, LTB data demonstrates that landlord applications for evictions and AGIs have increased, compared to applications filed by tenants, leading the Hamilton Tenants Solidarity Network to deem the LTB an “eviction factory.”
Opponents of Bill 184 argue that the legislation will serve to circumvent the LTB altogether, giving tenants little recourse in an already lopsided playing field.
Under the current legislation, disputes between landlords and tenants over rent arrears must be heard by the LTB. Bill 184 would allow landlords to bypass the LTB and offer tenants a rent repayment plan which, if the tenant refuses, or accepts and falls behind payments, would give grounds to evict. Tenants could then appeal to the LTB, which is fraught with problems and complexities that tenants without legal assistance are simply unable to navigate.
Moreover, the changes would apply retroactively to implicate those unable to pay rent during the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown.
Landlords and the rental industry are applauding Bill 184, claiming that it brings relief to both tenants and landlords. Tenants will be entitled to further compensation for terminations related to family use, renoviction, and demoviction under the legislation, noted apartment industry lawyer John Dickie, although “terminations will still be allowed (which is good for landlords).”
On the other hand, Bill 184 will benefit landlords by clearing the LTB backlog and reduce the number of hearings normally required to evict tenants. It will also allow landlords to apply to claim costs incurred by “tenant misbehaviour” and others that will “fix the unfairness” for landlords regarding former tenants bringing forward claims, according to Dickie.
To the same tune, the Ford government claims that Bill 184 will help not harm tenants. They are banking (either naively or disingenuously) on the premise that landlords and tenants will cooperate to collaboratively develop rent repayment plans, ignoring the asymmetrical relationship that exists between building owners and renters. This is why hundreds are taking to the streets to attempt to disrupt the process.
Hundreds rallied at Queen’s Park in Toronto on July 6 to protest Bill 184 before marching to mayor John Tory’s residence in a condo building on Bedford Road. The crowd gathered to deliver Tory a mock N7 eviction notice, citing negligence in protecting tenants from eviction during the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown.
The N7 notice cites a closed-door meeting Tory had with landlords on March 23 where Tory initially had promised to secure relief for tenants but left the meeting empty-handed, as well as a June 30 city council vote against an amendment that would have called on the Ontario government to ban evictions for rent unpaid during the pandemic.
At the entrance to Tory’s building the crowd faced off with police who deployed pepper spray and made arrests, although the protesters were successful in securing the release of those arrested without charge.
A Toronto Police Service spokesperson told the CBC News that pepper spray was not deployed, but photos later surfaced on Twitter revealing an officer spraying the crowd.
Torontonians pay some of the highest rents in the country and demonstrators fear that the facilitation of mass evictions under the new legislation will increase homelessness in the city, and that Tory and city council should take action.
Similarly, in Ottawa where rents are rising rapidly and the overall vacancy rate is decreasing, there is increased risk of homelessness and eviction. The Herongate neighbourhood is case-in-point, where hundreds of lower-income and racialized residents have been displaced under landlord Timbercreek Asset Management. Timbercreek has taken a wrecking ball to two large parcels of affordable townhomes in the neighbourhood, further depleting Ottawa’s affordable rental housing stock, with plans to knock down the hundreds of remaining townhomes in the coming years. Displaced tenants feel they are being replaced with a more affluent, white demographic.
Despite the precarious situation faced by many tenants across the province, the Ontario Superior Court amended its COVID-19 emergency court order on July 6 suspending the “eviction of residents from their homes… until the end of the calendar month in which the state of emergency declared.” Ontario’s state of emergency is set to expire on July 15, although the Ford government tabled a motion on July 8 to extend it until July 24. Unless the state of emergency is further extended, evictions could commence as early as August 1.