‘Excruciating delays’ at Ontario’s Landlord and Tenant Board: Ombudsman

By The Canadian Press and News Staff

A backlog of cases at Ontario’s Landlord and Tenant Board has grown to 38,000 and it is taking an average of seven or eight months – sometimes up to two years – for a hearing to be scheduled, the province’s ombudsman said Thursday.

The findings are part of a large report from Ombudsman Paul Dube, who received more than 4,000 complaints – largely from landlords – as part of his investigation. Dube has issued 61 recommendations aimed at improving the functioning of the board and its “excruciating delays.”

When the pandemic hit, the backlog was already at 20,000 applications, and the subsequent move to virtual hearings and a moratorium on evictions impeded the board’s efforts to chip away at the backlog, he said.

“The result was not just a litany of bureaucratic failures, like adjudicator shortages, scheduling nightmares and dysfunctional technology,” Dube said at a news conference presenting his report.

“What was most disturbing was how these delays affected real people on both sides of the landlord and tenant relationships.”

Tenants were stuck waiting while they endured harassment, unsafe living conditions and improper attempts to force them from their homes, and some landlords had to cope with tenants’ abuse and face financial ruin, Dube said.

There was one case where a tenant filed an application in December 2020 because her landlord had been harassing her and her apartment had black mold, inadequate heat, leaks in the windows and sink, and a malfunctioning stove. She said her poor living conditions were causing her health problems, and she had been waiting more than a year for a hearing. With no solution in sight, she was forced to leave her home of eight years in May 2021. Her hearing has been rescheduled three times since January 2022.

Another tenant complained about a delay in resolving her landlord’s application to terminate the tenancy of another resident, who was violent. She said the resident had assaulted her on September 20, 2020, by attempting to cut her throat and drag her into his unit. The Board heard the landlord’s application on an urgent basis on October 30, 2020. However, it took another two months before the order was issued.

Dube also noted that a significant percentage of the landlords who reached out to them were individuals who owned only one rental property or leased space in their homes. They described great personal and financial hardships resulting from Board delays.

In one example, a 74-year-old landlord, a pensioner, applied in December 2019 to end a woman’s tenancy because of serious safety concerns. According to his representative, the tenant had assaulted the landlord – once threatening him with a knife, and on other occasions throwing stool and urine at him – and another resident. She had also intentionally flooded the rental unit with excrement and toilet water, altered the electrical panel and added an extra stove without authorization. The tenant was also allegedly operating a “grow op” and selling drugs from the unit.

“Despite the egregious situation, the Board did not hear the case for a full year,” Dube says in the report.

There was also the man whose tenant had made only two payments since August 2019. In December 2019, he applied to terminate the tenancy for non-payment and obtained an eviction order in February 2020. The tenant requested a review and the Board granted this request but as a result of the pandemic and the fact the file went missing, the matter was not rescheduled until April 2021. In the two years after the landlord originally filed the application, the tenant’s rental arrears had surpassed $36,000. An eviction order was finally issued in March 2022, wrote Dube.

In another case, a woman expressed concerns about her elderly parents, aged 78 and 90, who depended on income from a rental unit to pay for a personal support worker. Their tenant was persistently behind in paying rent and was so abusive they had had to call the police. The woman said an application had been filed with the Board in March 2020, but her mother was becoming depressed and suicidal as the delay in having the matter resolved dragged on for months.

“The board’s excruciatingly long delays have had immense negative impacts on the thousands of landlords and tenants who depend on it to resolve their tenancy issues,” Dube wrote in his report.

NDP housing critic Jessica Bell pointed to a finding from the ombudsman that as of February this year, landlord applications were being scheduled for a hearing within six to nine months, while tenant applications could take up to two years.

“This is discrimination and we urge the (Progressive) Conservatives to immediately step in and fix this injustice,” she said.

“Ontarians deserve to have a Landlord and Tenant Board that provides a fast and fair hearing to everyone within 30 days. That is the Landlord and Tenant Board’s own standard.”

Part of the problem is a shortage of adjudicators, compounded by a cumbersome appointment and training process, Dube said. The ombudsman noted that the government has pledged to appoint 40 more adjudicators and he urged it to act quickly.

The executive chair and executive director of Tribunals Ontario – which oversees the Landlord and Tenant Board – issued a joint statement saying the board had already taken some actions to address delays, such as implementing an online application system and streamlining processes, but there is more work to do.

“With the new resources we’ve been allocated by the government of Ontario and plans we have underway, many of the report’s recommendations are being addressed,” Sean Weir and Harry Gousopoulos wrote.

“We are confident that significant inroads into the backlog will be made this fiscal year.”

The board, which receives about 80,000 applications a year, initially attributed delays to a reduction in new adjudicators due to the 2018 change in government that saw appointments slow down, Dube said. But the board continued to struggle even after appointment numbers had stabilized, then the pandemic further complicated matters, the ombudsman said.

A statement from a spokesperson for the attorney general noted $6.5 million to hire more adjudicators and $28.5 million for a new case management system for Tribunals Ontario, but suggested the ombudsman’s report did not tell the full story.

“We are currently reviewing the report, which examined the Landlord Tenant Board (LTB) at a previous moment in time that does not reflect the ongoing work that the Ministry and at Tribunals Ontario is doing to address delays,” Andrew Kennedy wrote.

Dube said both the board and the government have accepted his recommendations and have pledged to report back to his office on their progress in implementing them.

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