Landlord says halting tenant board hearings has left him with $4,000 in unpaid rent
Hearings have now resumed, but a long backlog could mean months more of unpaid rent
A London landlord says he stands to lose thousands over the province's move to halt all evictions, a policy enacted in March to protect people from being tossed out of their homes during the COVID-19 outbreak.
"It's a nightmare for me and my wife honestly," Ali Khajavi told CBC News. "I get emotional, I don't know what to do. It's a serious problem for us. Financially, we have other obligations and no one can help us. This is not fair."
For more than four years, Khajavi has rented out a three-bedroom unit he owns in a southwest London condo building.
Khajavi, 65, is a retired teacher and engineer, and father of two grown boys. His wife works as a driver for the London Transit Commission. They bought the rental unit as way to supplement their income.
Two and a half years ago, a couple moved into to the unit and occasionally had trouble paying their rent on time, said Khajavi. In January the couple separated and he says the woman who remained in the suite was unable to pay the $1,325 monthly rent.
He served his tenant with N4 notices and started a file with the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) on March 18. The N4 is a legal notice of a landlord's intention to end a tenancy for non-payment. If the landlord and tenant can't come to a repayment agreement, the N4 is the first step of a process that can result in a hearing and eventually, a legal eviction of the tenant by a sheriff.
By the time Khajavi filed his N4, the province had stopped issuing most eviction orders as a way to prevent tenants from being tossed out in the midst of a deadly pandemic that had also brought the economy to a halt.
Landlords in Khajavi's situation got what appeared to be a break on July 31, when the LTB announced it would resume hearings for most eviction applications.
Large backlog of cases
The problem now is that the LTB is dealing with a large case backlog, according to people who regularly deal with tenant-landlord disputes and who spoke to CBC News. Even before eviction hearings were stopped this spring, delays at the LTB were bad enough to trigger an investigation by Ontario's ombudsman.
The Ontario government brought in Bill 184 this year, which includes a process to resolve rent disputes outside of the what can be a cumbersome LTB process. Now law, it's sparked protests from tenant groups who say it can be used to speed evictions. Landlords have complained it exposes them to extra costs.
Khajavi said he's tried to work with the tenant to establish a repayment plan, something Tribunals Ontario encourages, but says those efforts have failed. He says communication with the tenant has now completely broken down.
While all this plays out Khajavi says he faces more than $4,000 in unpaid rent and filing costs, with no clear way to get that money back. He also says his other expenses, everything from mortgage payments to condo fees, continue to mount while he waits for an LTB hearing date. Earlier this year the condo board sent him a $102 bill for removing garbage the tenant put at the curb a week before pickup day.
Khajavi says if the eviction takes too long to happen, he'll be pushed to the brink of financial ruin.
"No one can help me right now," he said. "The laws are failing to help people like me."
A statement from the Ministry of the Attorney General, which oversees the LTB, says tenants who can pay their rent "must continue to do so."
It also says tenants and landlords need to be flexible and work to resolve disputes.
"We encourage landlords and tenants to work together to come to an agreement on other payment arrangements if needed," the statement says.
Being a landlord comes with risks, paralegal says
Harry Fine is a paralegal who often deals with landlord-tenant disputes. He's also a former LTB adjudicator. He says the case backlog is a huge problem for both tenants and landlords.
"You've got to figure that if someone filed today, they would not see a hearing until the new year," he said.
Fine said he has a client who's out $100,000 in unpaid rent, and believes that some tenants took the province's move to halt evictions as a sign they didn't need to pay their rent.
"You have landlords that are going months without rent and they are desperate," said Fine.
He says it would have been better if the province had found a way to keep LTB hearings running during these past five months, even if it meant conducting them by phone.
Fine says it's wrong for people to assume that becoming a landlord is a risk-free, hands-off investment.
He says people need to look renting a home or an apartment like running a business, one that sometimes requires skills in negotiation, the willingness to compromise and the ability to withstand occasional losses.
"[Landlords] often think it's all about collecting rent," said Fine. "But it's a business that comes with risks."