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Don’t Be Fooled by Bill 184 | Op-Ed

As most of Ontario enters Stage 2 of the province’s re-opening plan, life begins to look somewhat as it did before COVID. However, for those struggling financially before the pandemic hit, returning to normalcy will take a long time as they have been disproportionately hurt by the pandemic.

The Takeaway: In this time of insecurity, there appears to be another act in the Ontario Progressive-Conservative’s (PCs) homage to sadism as Bill 184 strikes a blow to tenant’s rights across the province by making it easier for them to be evicted.

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The already financially precarious are the most impacted by COVID.

  • They are more likely to work jobs that cannot be done remotely.
  • These jobs are primarily based in the service sector, which stopped due to distancing measures.
  • 800,000 restaurant workers lost their jobs across the country in March alone.

Poverty in Canada is not indiscriminate.

  • Unemployment rates among racialized groups in Canada are higher than non-racialized.
  • As well, racialized people have noticeably less investment-income than non-racialized Canadians.

Owning property is intimately linked to wealth and investment income.

  • Property ownership is the primary reason for wealth disparities in the country.
  • Over 61 percent of increases in household’s net assets since 2005 comes from real estate.
  • Among the top 20 percent of households in Canada, 96 percent owns their home.
  • Within this top 20 percent, 43 percent of the members also own more than one property, including cottages and rental units.
  • Those who rent from the richest 20 percent most often belong to the poorest 20 percent, as 98 percent of them do not own a home.

This is a less than ideal time to be renting, although having a roof over your head is obviously better than not having one.

  • This is complicated because, despite average wages across Canada increasing by 3.8 percent last year, these gains are overshadowed by rent increases in cities and towns like Toronto, Ottawa, Kingston, Kitchener, London, Windsor, Hamilton, St. Catharines, Oshawa, and Barrie.
  • Across the province, people’s wages aren’t keeping up with the cost of renting.

Given this nation-wide trend of unaffordable housing, the PC government has given us Bill 184, the “Protecting Tenants and Strengthening Community Housing Act.”

But don’t be fooled.

Bill 184: While the Progressive-Conservatives have made a measly attempt at stopping “renovictions,” which presumably allowed them to feel entitled enough to name this the “Protecting Tenants” act, Bill 184 is a blatant attack against tenants.

Bill 184 makes it more difficult for tenants to defend themselves at eviction hearings and makes it easier for landlords to evict their tenants, especially in the circumstances of a global pandemic.

First, renovictions.

  • A “renoviction” is when a landlord evicts tenants to improve the unit.
  • After ‘improvements’ (the standard for what constitutes an improvement is quite low) are made, the landlord then re-lists the property at a markedly higher rate than before.

The PC’s response to renovictions has been to change laws around N12 evictions.

N12s are a “Notice to End your Tenancy Because the Landlord, a Purchaser or a Family Member Requires the Rental Unit.” The fact that the provincial government wanted to address one thing but did another is, unfortunately, the sort of brazen disregard for tenants that underwrites the entire bill.

  • After the previous Liberal government expanded rent control, the number of N12 evictions doubled.
  • The reason for the increase in N12s is because they’re a handy tool to bypass rent controls.
  • Landlords can serve an N12 in bad faith, meaning that once the current tenant is out, the landlord can immediately put the unit back on the market for a higher price.

Without a rent registry in Ontario, which allows tenants to see how much landlords were charging previous occupants, these evictions are hard to detect.

So, Bill 184 increases fines for landlords caught improperly serving N12s by monitoring whether they have served more than one in the past two years. Individual landlords can be fined up to $50,000, while corporations can be fined up to $100,000. Boom. Housing crisis solved.

Except for an N12 to be binding, the landlord must serve it to the tenant and inform the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB).

A landlord can, however, still print an N12 notice, serve it to their tenant without informing the LTB, and have the tenant believe its legit and move out.

Because N12s have become a loophole served in bad faith to bypass rent control, its wishful thinking that enforcement measures around N12 notices will somehow make a difference.

Where Bill 184 gets messy, and where I also imagine Doug Ford begins to froth at the mouth, is how it undermines tenant’s rights. Bill 184 makes it harder for tenants to defend themselves in court.

  • Currently, section 82(1) of the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) allows someone being evicted under section 59 (non-payment of rent) to raise any issue that the landlord could be penalized for at the eviction hearing.
  • Bringing forward such a complaint might help a tenant win their case because their reason for not paying rent is valid.
  • Under Bill 184, section 82 is being re-written to include 82(2), which states that tenants must give advance notice of the issues they plan to bring up at the hearing.

While on the surface, these changes to section 82 may seem reasonable, such changes ignore the reality that most tenants don’t have legal representation during their hearings.

In 2018, only 2.6 percent of tenants had a lawyer during an eviction hearing. Whereas 79.5 percent of landlords did.

Unless someone is familiar with each specific subsection of the RTA or has mastered the art of reading provincial legislation, without a lawyer, tenants won’t be aware of the changes made to section 82.

Getting a lawyer isn’t easy, either. Many people being evicted might find themselves too rich for legal aid, which provides free representation, but too poor to hire a lawyer.

  • To qualify for legal aid, as an individual you must make less than $12,330 a year; as a family of 2, less than $32,131; as a family of 3, less than $39,352; as a family of 4, less than $45,289; or as a family greater than 5, less than $50,803.
  • Whereas hiring a lawyer can cost hundreds of dollars.

Adding section 82(2) to the RTA and removing the ability to raise issues at a hearing will make it more difficult for tenants to defend themselves at an eviction hearing.

Changes to 206(3) make it a lot easier for tenants to be evicted, which we can expect a lot of because of this pandemic.  

  • Under 206(3) of the RTA, if a tenant falls behind on rent, the landlord and tenant can go to the LTB and strike up a deal for a repayment.
  • This is called an “arrear.” Under 206(3), if the tenant falls behind on the repayment plan, the two must go back to the LTB before the tenant can be evicted.
  • This ensures that anyone in Ontario being evicted has the chance to plead their case.

However, Bill 184 adds 206 (3.1), which allows a landlord to evict a tenant after falling behind on a repayment plan without going to the LTB. In effect, without any chance whatsoever to plead their case.

The Bottom Line: If someone in a state of financial precarity fell behind on rent before this pandemic, and then was unable to make rent because of COVID and distancing measures, too bad, so sad.

In the PC’s true “For the People” fashion, the government is not only aware of the changes to 206 that make it easier to speed up evictions, but they’re a part of the plan. Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Steve Clark, has explained how once the courts open up again after COVID, there will be a backlog of cases at the LTB. The purpose of this amendment then is to allow evictions without adding to the delay of court cases.

So, 206(3.1) makes it easier to evict tenants who were already struggling and have been impacted the most by COVID in the name of efficiencies. Seems legit.

Altogether, Bill 184 does nothing to stop N12 evictions, makes it harder for tenants to defend themselves in court, and makes it easier to evict people after COVID. Bill 184 is an attack against tenants and the poor.