Toronto has seen a “disturbing” rise in the number of renters being evicted through no fault of their own by landlords looking to capitalize on the province’s housing shortage, a new report says.
Since the 2015-2016 fiscal year, there has been an 84 per cent increase in private landlord’s seeking evictions to reclaim a property for their own personal use, and a 294 per cent jump in applications for so-called “renovictions.”
These figures are among the central findings of the report, entitled We Can’t Wait: Preserving Our Affordable Rental Housing in Ontario. It was released on Friday by the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario (ACTO).
ACTO is a specialty community legal clinic funded by Legal Aid Ontario.
Data included in the report was generated by tracking interactions between lawyers and tenants at all four of the Toronto locations of the Landlord and Tenant Board.
Among ACTO’s recommendations is a call for the province to introduce legislation to prevent rent gouging by landlords and limit the circumstances under which existing rental housing can be demolished, converted or renovated.
The province, the report says, has not taken action to address a steep decline in the availability of affordable rental units — especially in urban centres like Toronto. It’s also failed to enforce regulations intended to protect tenants from unwarranted evictions, it says.
“Since 2016, we are seeing disturbing trends in the rise of evictions across the city,” the report reads.
Own-use claims by landlords way up
While the number of evictions prompted by tenants not paying rent fluctuated over that same period, there has been a notable increase in what are known as no-fault evictions, the report found.
These are broken into two categories.
The first are evictions for an “own-use” claim by a landlord, such as a landlord saying that they or an immediate family member are moving into the property. There were 323 of these applications at the LTB in 2015, and the number has steadily risen each year since, with 595 in the 2018-2019 fiscal year.
The second type of no-fault eviction is for for renovations, repairs or conversions that require the tenant to move out. These are often called renovictions by housing advocates. There were 18 of these applications in Toronto in 2015. The number has increased each year since, with 71 in the 2018-2019 fiscal year.
Kenneth Hale, ACTO legal director, says that renovictions often offer landlords a chance to charge much higher monthly rates to high-income tenants.
“It’s difficult for the city to differentiate between somebody who is doing needed repairs to apartments and someone creating a renovation strictly for the purpose of getting the tenant out and raising the rent,” Hale told CBC Toronto.
The latter is called rent gouging.
“Rent gouging happens in between tenants, when tenants are pushed out — for whatever reason — and the landlord is able to set a new rent based on nothing more than the fact that there is a shortage,” Hale says.
“The law is supposed to protect tenants in allowing them to reoccupy at the same rent after the renovations are done. But that doesn’t seem to be happening,” he continues, adding that it’s very difficult to enforce.
Overall, there has been a 50 per cent increase in the number of no-fault eviction applications in Toronto over the last four years, at 2,084 up from 1,387.
Little representation, long waits at LTB
Many renters are unaware of their rights, and half of tenants don’t attend hearings at the LTB to fight an eviction case, the report says.
Those that do show up often have no representation to help them, whether it is a lawyer, paralegal or property manager.
The ACTO found that in 2018, only 2.6 per cent of tenants had representation at hearings, compared to 79.5 per cent of landlords.
Further, in north Toronto, tenants waited an average of 38.7 days before their eviction case was heard by the LTB. In south Toronto, that period averages 80 days. The report attributes these delays to the “province’s failure to appoint adjudicators at the LTB.”
In an email, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing said the government has taken steps to address backlogs at the board.
“Between January 2019 and October 2019, the government appointed 12 new full-time and one new part-time adjudicator to the LTB. Recruitment is ongoing for additional LTB adjudicators,” the statement says.
It notes that the government has also held consultation on how to “enhance the rental experience for both tenants and landlords” with potential changes to the Residential Tenancies Act.
“With any proposed changes brought forward, we will ensure the continued protection of tenants, including from unlawful evictions and keeping buildings well maintained,” the statement continues.
Hale offered some advice to renters.
“The important thing for tenants is if you get a notice from your landlord, sit down and read that notice from beginning to end. Try to understand it, but if you don’t understand and you think it’s unfair, get some advice.”