Fear that the winter would bring a rash of renters being kicked out of their homes has abated with the provincial government’s decision to pause residential evictions.
The emergency order to temporarily stop the enforcement of evictions was announced Thursday at the start of a provincial stay-at-home-order. It is meant to ensure people are not forced to leave their homes during the current state of emergency related to the pandemic, unless there’s been illegal activity.
“We’ve been calling for an eviction moratorium beyond just the enforcement for the duration of the pandemic,” said Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario spokesperson Bahar Shadpour.
Housing is the primary defence against the spread of the virus, she said. “We’re definitely glad to see that there has been movement on this.”
A ban on evictions introduced early on during the pandemic was lifted in August and in the following months, Ontario’s Landlord and Tenant Board resumed its operations in a virtual capacity.
As it worked toward dealing with a backlog, there were concerns that many people would be forced out of their homes in the winter.
Thursday’s order is not an outright ban. The Landlord and Tenant Board will continue to hear eviction applications and issue orders, but those orders won’t be enforced while the emergency order remains in place. The exception is in urgent situations, such as illegal activity.
Enforcement can resume once the emergency order is lifted, and that could result in pressure on the local sheriff’s office to enforce the evictions.
“When the ‘pause’ in enforcement of eviction orders is lifted, landlords may well find a delay in their ability to effect enforcement of eviction orders that have been made,” said Michael Hefferon, executive director of the Community Legal Clinic—Simcoe, Haliburton, Kawartha Lakes, which helps tenants experiencing housing issues.
The resulting delays in evictions will also put pressure on landlords in the Barrie area and Simcoe County, where rental housing is predominantly provided in non-purpose-built housing, such as condos and homes converted into apartments.
That’s something Lisa Fox feared would happen. As a small landlord, she dispatched a letter to Premier Doug Ford on Wednesday urging him against stopping evictions. She had earlier protested in front of Simcoe North MPP Jill Dunlop’s Midland office.
Fox and her husband are small landlords who purchased a four-plex in Orillia to help with retirement in the absence of pensions. But one tenant stopped paying rent in August and another stopped in October. The accumulating rental arrears now exceeds $15,000, said Fox, adding that she’s had to rely on a line of credit to pay the bills.
Her applications to the Landlord Tenant Board have not been addressed, as the board deals with a pre-existing backlog compounded by its closure during the early part of the pandemic.
“While the LTB (Landlord and Tenant Board) is still hearing cases, this ‘perceived’ good-news, bad-news scenario does not help the small landlords who are going bankrupt as they continue to house the freeloading professional tenant who knows the loopholes in our broken LTB system,” said Fox.
“People are just not aware of how massive this issue actually is,” she added. “For every diligent irresponsible tenant out there squatting, there is another responsible tenant who can’t find a home to live in.”
Shadpour, from the tenants group, said there was a dramatic increase in the number of evictions ordered for the Central Ontario region, which includes Barrie, after board hearing resumed.
In November, there were 764 cases, double the 376 cases heard in November 2019. Although, the pace slowed in December with 416 cases heard, above the 358 cases in December 2019.
“Rents are so high that if they’re evicted, it is really difficult for them to find stable and secure housing,” Shadpour said. “Because of the current situation that we’re in, for both public health and safety of tenants and their family we’ve been calling for an eviction moratorium so that we can weather the storm and everyone has a place to shelter in.”
By Marg. Bruineman