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Plans to resolve landlord and tenant disputes online permanently sparks debate

Last Updated Apr 16, 2021 at 6:28 pm EDT

Like many services that were in-person before COVID-19, the resolution of landlord and tenant disputes went virtual during the pandemic to protect public health. But a plan by the province to switch to a permanent online-first system has sparked concern from some who say it’s unfair and will make it easier to evict residents.

In March, Tribunals Ontario applauded the province’s Justice Accelerated Strategy on its website, saying it would make the process of resolving disputes “more efficient.”

“The case management solution will make our operations more efficient and offer a vastly improved experience for our users. It will form the backbone of our digital-first strategy for years to come,” it said.

Tribunals Ontario said the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) “will be the first of our boards and tribunals to transition to this new platform” starting later this summer.

“Parties will be able to file their documents and view case file information online,” it stated. “In addition, the system will help with early resolution of disputes through a self-serve, Q&A-style information portal and a dispute resolution platform where parties can work together to resolve disputes on their own or with the help of a mediator.”

In a follow up, the Ministry told CityNews that “online tribunal hearings will not be part of the case management system.”

“The new case management system will, however, include case management, document management, features to facilitate mediation, online dispute resolution and a public-facing self-help tool,” it added.

Housing Lawyer, Caryma Sa’d, told CityNews she has “serious reservations” about the shift after seeing first-hand how the process has unfolded during the pandemic.

“My observation is that there is not an even playing field between tenants that don’t have access to devices, may not have steady internet connections and a whole host of other accessibility issues, compared to the parties on the other side.”

Despite noting some positives — like less travel and commuting time for in-person hearings — she says she can’t see it having “a net positive effect” for tenants.

Alejandro Gonzalez Rendon of advocacy group ACORN Canada, was even more blunt.

“I’m very angry. It seems the premier is in a rush to create more homelessness. I think the premier is the one who has to be evicted, not tenants,” he said. “The system is being set up to go totally against tenants. The Landlord and Tenant Board has become a factory for eviction.”

Tony Irwin, President and CEO Federation of Rental Housing Providers of Ontario, thinks a balance can be struck.

“We obviously have to ensure that everyone still has access to justice in a way that works for them,” he said. “Some people have challenges with technology and other matters and the (LTB) is certainly mindful of that. But overall anything the government can do, including this strategy, that results in speedier access to justice on both sides … I think benefits everyone.”

“Technology is here to stay,” he concluded. “And I think it’s something we need to embrace, but be mindful of some of those other concerns.”

Tribunals Ontario spokesperson Janet Deline assured Ontarians that they can still seek an in-person services if they feel disadvantaged by the digital format.

“Digital-first does not mean digital-only,” she stressed.

“A party can request a different format as an accommodation for an Ontario Human Rights Code-related need, or if they can establish that the specified hearing format will result in an unfair hearing.”

Delina says Tribunals Ontario “has implemented public access terminals to address requests for alternative hearing formats for LTB parties in Toronto who do not have access to a telephone, computer and/or the internet.”

Access terminals will be expanded to additional hearing centres across Ontario later this spring, she said.

“The LTB and Tribunals Ontario will continue to evaluate its service delivery to ensure that we are providing accessible, timely and effective dispute resolution services to the people of Ontario.”

While some online agreed that the transition would be helpful, many questioned the motives behind the move.

Here is some reaction: