Double Crossing Tenants in Ontario

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Pearl River     Helping with the ACORN Canada board zoom call was inspirational as always, but an eyeopener as well.

The good news included a win in the British Columbia after an extensive ACORN “internet for all” campaign with the telecommunications company Telus who finally agreed to extend the $10 per month basic internet access plan to all disabled users and many others.  Shaw is the next tele-giant in our sites.  They should throw in the towel now.  In Toronto, the report on the collapse of Google’s Sidewalk Labs fiasco, seems to have set the table for all of ACORN’s demands for senior and transitional housing to be built in the footprint, although it might take a year to navigate the bureaucracy to get there.

The bad news was pretty horrific, and, not surprisingly, it centered around the continued horror of Premier Ford’s Ontario government.  Early in the pandemic, Ford was clear, he had tenants’ backs.  He flatly stated that if the choice was food versus rent, eat, and he would make sure that tenants continued to be protected.   That was then, but what followed, to the horror of ACORN Canada’s leaders, was Bill 184.

When ACORN Canada’s president, Marva Burnett, said she was losing sleep worrying about Bill 184, I found myself shutting off the zoom camera so that I could Google Bill 184 and understand the problem.  The bill has one of those slippery names that sounds good, but too often portend evil:  Protecting Tenants and Strengthening Community Housing.  How bad could this be?  Turns out, it was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and quickly was becoming known as the “landlord eviction” bill instead.

Currently, tenants appealing an eviction and landlords seeking one have to go to the Ontario Landlord Tenant Board (LTB).  Sure, there’s a backlog, but that’s the government’s job to fix, not blow up by tilting the scales towards the landlords.  Bill 184 seems to do just that.  According to a report in The Leveller, “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.”

The Ford team claims this is win-win for everyone, but tenants are clear with pandemic evictions relief ending soon that Bill 184 is greenlighting landlords for mass evictions.  It’s also a classic case of not fixing what is broken, since landlords already had the whip hand under the LTB according to an analysis of the data.  As The Leveller reports, “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.”

ACORN Canada’s Tenant Union and many others will be standing in the way, but thousands of tenants are facing evictions and Ontario is greasing the way for landlords to put them on the street.  Marva Burnett will not be the only one losing sleep in coming months.