A Toronto landlord's battle to evict a tenant who appeared to be well-heeled then refused to pay rent highlights major problems with the Residential Tenancies Act, an expert says.
Landlord Robin Ennis, who rents an apartment in the upscale Yorkville area, told CBC News "it's been a living hell" to deal with the problematic tenant over the last two months. Ennis is trying to evict the man, 62-year-old James Regan, but it will be November before the Landlord and Tenant Board makes a ruling.
Regan, who has already been evicted from one Toronto apartment this year, said he's withholding rent because of a faulty air conditioner and lack of access to the unit's parking spot.
Harry Fine, a former adjudicator at Ontario's Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB), said once problem tenants get their hands on the keys, it's easy for them to exploit the system and drag out the eviction process.
"The legislation has to change," Fine, who now works as a paralegal, told CBC News.
Fine said it's not typical for tenants to intentionally scam their landlords, but he has seen several cases. One woman, he said, ripped off seven landlords before Toronto police charged her with fraud.
Fine says many landlords criticize the board, but the problem is Ontario's rental regulations.
"The biggest problem with it is the amount of time it takes to get an eviction and how easy it is to create delays," he said.
Regan previously evicted from west-end condo
Regan's previous case is a good example.
Regan agreed to rent a condo in Toronto's west end for $3,200 per month, according to court documents, but never paid rent.
The LTB ordered his eviction, but Regan appealed to the Ontario Superior Court — a step Fine says he was automatically entitled to take under the law and one that only cost him some $180.
By appealing, Regan was able to stay at the condo for another eight months before the court got around to rejecting his appeal. Fine said the Ontario government should create a test, or set some pre-conditions when it comes to filing an appeal.
Otherwise, he said, problem tenants like Regan know they'll get eight more months of free rent. Court documents obtained by CBC News show Regan owed the landlord more than $25,000 by the time he was evicted, but he never paid.
The next day, he wound up at Ennis's place.
Landlords need to learn rental rules
Fine says he believes the Residential Tenancies Act is "unbalanced," with tenants getting more protection than landlords, but said it's up to landlords to understand the system.
Fine said he isn't blaming the landlord in this case — according to Ennis, after a basic agreement was signed Regan "stole" the keys — but said anyone who operates a rental needs to be careful when choosing a tenant.
"Landlords need to understand they're in a business, and many landlords don't," he said.
That means every landlord should:
- Check the prospective tenant's credit.
- Speak with the tenant's previous landlords.
- Not jump at the first tenant who expresses interest.
- And not settle for one document, as even employment letters can be forged.
While those checks should prevent renting to bad tenants, some will still get through. Fine said he's hoping police will consider stepping in more often so problem tenants fear criminal charges.
"Unless police stop saying, 'This is a civil matter, this is a landlord-tenant matter,' this is going to continue," Fine said.
The government of Ontario, meanwhile, has launched a series of consultations surrounding potential changes to the Residential Tenancies Act. The results of those talks are set to be discussed at Queen's Park later this fall.
If you've had trouble evicting a problem tenant, share your story with us at email@example.com.