Landlord in Thunder Bay, Ont., who says he’s owed $11K in rent calls for LTB changes

Anshul Jain says he hasn’t received a single payment from two tenants at his rental property in Thunder Bay, Ont., but is most upset about the unpredictability he faces with the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB).Jain is a physiotherapist at a long-term care home in the northwestern Ontario city. He and his wife purchased a rental property at the end of July 2023 in hopes of earning additional income.They inherited the previous owner’s tenants and he said while there have been no issues with those in Unit A, the people living in Unit B have accumulated more than $11,000 in arrears.”I’m at my wits’ end and I’m losing a lot of money there because I still have to pay the bills, I still have to pay the mortgage and all my savings are gone,” Jain said.He filed an eviction application in the fall and his hearing was rescheduled from February to late June.CBC News received documentation of the tenancy, including when the N4 application (notice to end tenancy for non-payment of rent) was issued to the tenants and when Jain filed the L1 application (including to recover owed rent) with the LTB, as well as proof that the hearing was adjourned.Jain’s experience comes amid a national housing crisis. To that end, Ottawa is in the midst of a series of housing announcements — including plans to launch a $1.5-billion fund to protect affordable rentals — ahead of next week’s federal budget. Sharp rise in LTB applicationsIn Ontario, there has been a big rise in the number of complaints filed to the LTB.In an emailed statement to CBC News, Tribunals Ontario said the LTB received about 84,000 new applications for proceedings in 2023, a 31 per cent increase over the previous year.”This is the second highest number of applications that the LTB has received in a year since its creation. In addition, the LTB is seeing an increased proportion of more complex applications that require more time to hear,” said spokesperson Veronica Spada.However, she said, the LTB resolved about 83,000 cases in 2023 — a 45 per cent increase from 2022.Claire Littleton is a staff lawyer and co-ordinator of legal services at the Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic. She says the unpredictability of scheduling and orders issued by the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) has made it harder to resolve issues in a timely manner. (Sarah Law/CBC)Those who work closely with tenants in northwestern Ontario say systemic challenges with the LTB are negatively impacting landlords and renters alike.”When a case is heard, you might get the order from the [LTB] the next week and you might get it eight months later, and it’s absolutely unpredictable,” said Claire Littleton, a staff lawyer and co-ordinator of legal services at the Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic.”Landlords are losing out on being repaid the money that’s owed to them and tenants are losing their tenancies; everybody is suffering.”Arrears ‘higher than ever before’The Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic provides legal advice to low-income people in the District of Thunder Bay, with a focus on the needs of Indigenous people.Caycie Soke, a staff lawyer with the clinic, said problems at the LTB have been exacerbated since the province’s digital-first approach, introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic, became permanent.Many of those facing eviction hearings lack access to technology and often don’t understand how the process works over Zoom, which means they’re reprimanded for speaking out of turn, said Soke. Meanwhile, “the arrears are getting higher than they ever have before.”With in-person hearings, it was easier for legal workers to guide clients through the process, access their documents and build relationships with others involved in each case.Caycie Soke, a staff lawyer with the Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic in Thunder Bay, says the housing crisis has left tenants in arrears with few choices to find more affordable apartments elsewhere. (Sarah Law/CBC)”That is no longer possible because we’re all muted, and we’re in a big Zoom meeting and we don’t have any opportunity to have those kinds of informal discussions that resulted in so many cases being resolved,” said Littleton.While Ontario has installed access terminals in five locations, the closest one to Thunder Bay is in Sudbury, more than 1,000 kilometres away.Spada said Tribunals Ontario has introduced a new mobile terminal service to help those without phone or internet access attend their proceedings and offers a free phone and top-up minutes program.The LTB’s new online case management system “encourages greater resolution of disputes before the hearing, with new features that give parties the ability to connect directly with each other, as well as with mediation services,” Spada said.People can access the Navigate Tribunals Ontario tool online or the technical support line for assistance.Cutting through the backlogThunder Bay-Atikokan MPP Kevin Holland was unavailable for an interview, but his office provided an emailed statement to CBC News, pointing to recent improvements at the LTB, including more staff.As of April 1, the LTB had 75 full-time and 60 part-time adjudicators.”The LTB is projecting that, when all of the newly authorized and appointed full-time adjudicators are conducting hearings {expected in June), it will begin to make significant reductions in the backlog,” Spada said.Lise Vaugeois, MPP for Thunder Bay—Superior North, says the province needs to invest more resources in the LTB, including training for adjudicators, more mediators, and more accessible, plain language in documents issued by the board. (Sarah Law/CBC)But Lise Vaugeois, MPP for Thunder Bay-Superior North, said the problem has gone on too long “and it’s affecting people at both ends.””We need more training for adjudicators, more accessible language in the documents,” Vaugeois said. “Those materials need to be in plain language, probably shorter.”She said some people will never be able to adapt to online proceedings and having an in-person option would make things more accessible all around.Looking at the bigger picture, she said, the province must invest in more affordable housing, noting these kinds of units are disappearing in the city in favour of short-term rentals.The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing did not respond to an interview request by publication time.’We’re talking about people losing their homes’The average cost of a two-bedroom unit in Thunder Bay was $1,320 in October 2023, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s Rental Market Survey. About 720 units in the city were in arrears at that time, a rate of nearly 12 per cent.With affordable housing hard to come by, options for tenants in financial trouble are limited, said Soke.”A lot of the things we’re dealing with aren’t even legal matters anymore; they are social matters, right? There’s not housing for people to live in,” she said. “How do you help a client who is never going to be able to afford an apartment?”When asked about the recent online petition calling for “automatic evictions” for tenants who don’t pay rent in Ontario, Soke said that “would take procedural fairness out of the legal process completely.”WATCH | Ontario landlords call for quicker and simpler ways to evict non-paying tenants: Ontario landlords want the province to expedite evictions for non-paying tenantsA group of Ontario landlords is calling for changes to provincial rules to make it simpler and faster to evict tenants in cases of non-payment of rent. However, as CBC’s Sarah MacMillan reports, tenant advocates say this could make it easier for bad landlords to exploit the system and illegally evict tenants.Jain said he’d support automatic evictions if no other option is available, but if a landlord is caught cheating the system, there should be consequences.Still, when there are months-long delays at the LTB, it’s becoming harder to preserve tenancies, said Soke.”We’re talking about people losing their homes. I can’t think of something more impactful in someone’s life, other than losing their life or losing their children.”Calls for regional meetings, more resourcesIf the LTB can’t catch up on the backlog of cases, Jain said, the government should consider outsourcing or using new technology to expedite the process. He’d also like to see a local LTB office where matters can be dealt with in person.While Soke and Littleton said they doubt in-person LTB hearings will resume, scheduling hearings regionally would allow duty counsel to build relationships with landlords and help staff better understand the unique issues in different parts of the province, said Littleton.Other solutions they suggested include: Fewer matters scheduled in longer time blocks. More mediators and more administrative resources. Partnerships with local libraries to improve access to technology. In March, Jain said he offered to forgive the rent owed if his tenants moved out, but they never left. He plans to sell his rental property as soon as he can.”It’s not worth it,” he said. “I have a young family and I don’t want to take any more stress.”

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