Some landlords in Ontario are becoming homeless – a situation legal experts say they have never seen happen before the COVID-19 pandemic, and they blame a ‘broken’ court system with significant delays in obtaining restraining orders. expulsion.
Franchesca Ranger, a small business owner in Ottawa, found herself homeless during the pandemic after selling her marital home due to divorce. She decided to move into her rental unit, a townhouse in Barrhaven, and gave her tenant 75 days notice to terminate with a moving date of August 31, 2020.
She says her tenant of four years refused to move out, stopped paying rent and she’s had to pay thousands of dollars a month in mortgages, property taxes, bills and storage for her possessions – while managing a small restaurant that has been hit hard by pandemic closures and restrictions.
“All I could think about was everything I worked for and everything I saved up for, my future was just snatched away,” said Ranger, who “lived in a suitcase” from September 2020 to this year.
“I felt so disappointed and so violated.”
She was finally able to move back into her home in February, after alternating stays with friends and family every few days.
“My life was not mine,” she said.
Small landlords – those who typically only own one or two rental units – can become homeless when a tenant refuses to leave space the landlord needs for their own accommodation.
CBC spoke to two other landlords in Ontario who were homeless or at risk of becoming homeless due to delays in getting a hearing and an eviction order from the Ontario Landlord and Tenant Board ( LTB) – the body that makes decisions in case of disputes between landlords and tenants.
Experts and organizations that work with landlords say they have seen dozens of homeless people during the pandemic, often accessing homeless shelters, living in vehicles, couch surfing and even confiscating their properties from banks in due to bankruptcy – all while waiting for the LTB to hear their case and make a final decision.
During the pandemic, the province suspended evictions and hearings for months, leaving some landlords with nowhere to go until they were legally able to evict their tenant.
“We’re trying to guide our clients through a system that has become so flawed,” says paralegal Kathleen Lovett.
WATCH | The owner describes how she became homeless:
From start to finish, the entire process, from filing an application to getting a decision, is expected to take one to three months, according to LTB’s own pre-pandemic service standards.
After serving their tenant with Notice N12 – a form required under the Ontario Housing and Tenancy Act if a landlord, immediate family member or purchaser intends to move into rental housing – Ranger had to wait eight months for a hearing.
Three days before the hearing, the tenant requested that the hearing be held in French, so she had to wait four more months for a second hearing. It took three months for an eviction order to be issued, and about another three months for the sheriff’s office to come and enforce the eviction.
“I find it inconceivable that taxpayers’ money would pay for a government agency that has no accountability, that thinks it’s okay for someone to own a home and be homeless,” Ranger said. She wrote letters to several MPPs, Ontario Premier Doug Ford, and the Attorney General, with no response offering help.
“How is it possible that someone can rent a place, stop paying the rent and live there for 18 months? … It doesn’t make any sense.”
Ranger’s former tenant still owes him more than $24,000 in back rent and compensation, according to the LTB.
This tenant did not respond to CBC’s request for an interview or comment. However, in the eviction document, he testified that he had been refusing to pay rent since June 2020 because “he took the N12 to mean he was no longer required to pay”.
The tenant said his wife is disabled and receiving ODSP benefits, and that she would have medical issues if evicted because her medical professionals “were all near the rental unit.” He said the family would be homeless if evicted, and he asked Ranger to pay him to leave early and find alternative rental accommodation.
Ranger says the tenant left her house in shambles, with peanut butter jars stacked in her tub and trash strewn all over her house and lawn.
“My house was literally held hostage,” Ranger said. “I guarantee you I will never rent again.”
“During the wait, the landlord goes crazy,” said Boubacar Bah, president of Small Ownership Landlords of Ontario (SOLO), a nonprofit that provides resources and advocates for working-class landlords.
Bah says he knows at least 50 landlords involved in his group who have become homeless. He says the toll on their mental health has been “enormous”.
This nightmare [keeps] gonna… I don’t know when it’s gonna end.– Pearl Karimalis, Paralegal
“The big owner doesn’t have that problem,” he said. “A business owner has about 1,000 apartments, if one or two people don’t pay, then they [don’t] care. But a small landlord, if he wants his house back and the tenant doesn’t pay, he can go bankrupt.”
He says the Residential Tenancies Act and the deferred court system are failing small landlords.
“The way the system is designed invites abuse.”
WATCH | A small landlord advocacy group describes the harm done to homeowners:
‘Inappropriate’ delays, says paralegal
Lovett, a paralegal since 2009 and owner of KLP Paralegal Services, has worked with more than 20 landlord clients who have faced homelessness — something she has never seen before COVID.
In some cases, its clients are waiting up to 14 months for an eviction decision, while the CLI promises clients “fair, efficient and prompt dispute resolution”.
“It’s against their own rules,” Lovett said. “We wait months and months…which is totally unnecessary and inappropriate.”
No one should be homeless, including a landlord.– Franchesca Ranger, former homeless owner
Pearl Karimalis, paralegal and volunteer at SOLO, questions the current state of the CLI office, including whether it is understaffed and everyone knows how to do their jobs properly.
She says staff were unable to answer basic questions about her clients’ cases and even accidentally sent her judgments and witness requests for matters unrelated to hers.
Despite working with more tenants, Karimalis said LTB’s “bias towards tenants is systemic.”
Karimalis says the CLI should temporarily extend working hours, hire more arbitrators and the province should give police more power to get involved in landlord-tenant disputes, especially for fraud, extortion and damages materials.
“This nightmare [keeps] gonna… I don’t know when it’s gonna end,” Karimalis said.
CLI recognizes gaps, province promises funding
The former Ranger owner says she wants the CLI to be “completely overhauled” so the laws are fair for small landlords and tenants.
She wants the provincial government to provide temporary housing for homeless landlords while the CLI resolves their dispute. The government should also reimburse landlords if they pay for non-paying tenants to continue living on their properties, she added.
“No one should be homeless, including a landlord,” Ranger said.
The Landlord Tenant Board declined an interview with CBC and did not directly answer several questions about homeless landlords.
Instead, his statement says provincial moratoriums suspending eviction hearings in 2020 have had a “significant impact” on his caseload.
As of March, the CLI had 39 full-time and 49 part-time arbitrators, its “highest number of arbitrators ever appointed”, spokeswoman Janet Deline said.
“We know we’re not there yet and there’s still work to be done, but we’re confident that service improvements will be made in 2022,” Deline said.
The Attorney General of Ontario, the department responsible for the CLI, declined an interview and did not answer specific questions about homeless landlords.
The ministry said it was not allowed to “interfere in or comment on the tribunal’s processes or decisions” because it is an independent decision-making body.
Department spokesperson Brian Gray said in an email that the province will invest $4.5 million over three years to hire more adjudicators and staff to reduce the backlog at the CLI.
The CLI and the province have highlighted a new online digital portal – where people can access information about their disputes and resources for mediation and self-help tools – as a way to deal with backlogs. CLI.