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EDITORIAL: Ford turns on tenants (July 2020)

August 7th, 2020 · No Comments

One of the strangest things to happen over the course of this very strange spring was the apparent transformation of Premier Doug Ford into to a caring, compassionate leader. This illusion is fading quickly, as his government rams Bill 184 through the Ontario legislature. The new law will almost surely result in mass residential evictions of tenants who were unable to pay full rent during the COVID-19 lockdown.

In March, Premier Ford promised Ontario tenants that he had their backs and they would be protected from evictions during the pandemic. It turns out his actions don’t match that promise. Across Canada, provincial governments have provided rent support for struggling tenants, in Ontario not one cent. 

For Torontonians who pay some of the highest rents in the country, the problem is particularly acute. The lack of rent relief from the province hurts tenants and landlords alike.

Governments of every political stripe do this at least once during their time in office: create a law that helps one side but harms another and name the new law in such a way to make it sound like the opposite is true. What Doug Ford is trying to do with Bill 184 is a perfect example of this as the, “Protecting Tenants and Strengthening Community Housing Act,” will do nothing of the sort. This is right out of former Premier Mike Harris’s playbook. 

Harris, in 1997 crafted legislation which stripped away tenant rights in the “Landlord and Tenant Act,” but not before clearly re-naming it the “Tenant Protection Act”.  The parallels are eerie.

Essentially, this new law, which is expected to be enacted soon, will allow landlords to bypass the Landlord Tenant Board (LTB) who currently must be involved in a quasi-judicial capacity when a renter falls behind. At the LTB a repayment plan must be crafted or an eviction may be granted. 

Other issues can be discussed there too: utility disruptions, broken elevators, and soon.  Bill 184 allows the landlord to craft his or her own arrangements with the tenant. On the face of it, this may seem reasonable enough but tenants may feel pressured into agreements they can’t afford. Tenants whose first language is not English (highly likely here in the most diverse city in the world) will be at a distinct disadvantage. 

Under the proposed rules if the tenant agrees to the rent re-payment terms, and for whatever reason falls behind on the repayment – even a single payment – the landlord can then ask the sheriff to evict the tenant. 

Most shockingly, Bill 184 is back-dated to March 17 – the very day Ontario declared a state of emergency. It’s a perfect storm for tenants: unemployment, illness and an overall sense of economic uncertainty. Rent arrears may have accumulated and now the province has come up with tools for landlords to quickly remedy that problem. 

Vulnerable tenants, who used to  have the LTB as the regulatory referee in the middle, will no longer enjoy that protection. In many cases, the landlords will be thrilled to have their tenants evicted so they can take advantage of the rental market and raise the rents. It almost seems that was Ford’s plan all along: hook the tenants in on debt they could not repay and give the landlord lobby the tools to get rid of below market rent payers. 

This all sets the stage for evictions to take place as early as August 1. After all, what better way to stay afloat during a pandemic than to add to the homeless population? Doug Ford, in all his meanness and bluster, is back.

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