Landlord cheers 'expedited eject button' for drug dealers as province touts tools for evicting problem tenants

The Manitoba government touted its anti-drug tools on Friday, reminding the public about resources available to them to help “eradicate” the illicit drug problem in the province.

Accelerated hearings through Manitoba's Residential Tenancies Branch for dealing with tenants who deal drugs

Justice Minister Cliff Cullen, left, and Point Douglas community activist Sel Burrows talk to reporters on Friday about the fight against drug houses. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

The Manitoba government says it's opened the way for landlords and community members to remove tenants who deal drugs or engage in other criminal activities — not by introducing new measures, but by encouraging people to use those already in place.

"The tools are there. We just want to make sure the public knows," Justice Minister Cliff Cullen said Friday.

The Manitoba government touted its anti-drug tools at a news conference in Winnipeg's Point Douglas neighbourhood Friday, reminding the public about resources available to them to help "eradicate" the illicit drug problem in the province.

"We're facing some challenges with the illicit drugs here in Winnipeg and certainly across our province. This is everyone's concern," Cullen said.

"Landlords, community, you should feel empowered by today's announcement. You have just been given an expedited eject button for criminal behaviour," said Point Douglas landlord Gord Sims.

Point Douglas landlord Gord Sims says it used to take months to get a hearing in front of Residential Tenancies Branch. Now it's a matter of days. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

He said in years past, it took months to get a hearing in front of the Residential Tenancies Branch to evict bad tenants.

"Those days are over," Sims said at Friday's news conference, along with Cullen and community activist Sel Burrows. He said evicting a problem tenant can now be done in a matter of days.

"The province has a number of options available to help tenants, landlords and other concerned citizens identify, report and respond to unlawful activities. By working together, we will make our communities safer for all and help to reduce crime," Cullen said.

435 problem properties complaints since 2016

Since 2016, Manitoba Justice's Public Safety Investigations (PSI) unit has responded to 435 complaints about properties with chronic, problematic behaviour. Of these, 425 were confirmed to have drug-related activity and following PSI investigations 375 properties were closed, according to Cullen.

Burrows, chair of the Point Douglas Residents Committee, singled out changes made by senior management at the Residential Tenancies Branch for a shift in attitude and accelerating the hearing process.

"It's really important to recognize competent civil servants in leadership roles," Burrows said.

"The change that is coming about is massive … to be received by the RTB and say, 'Hey, I've got a meth dealer in my place — I want to move on that,' and to be received positively by the staff at RTB," Burrows told reporters.

'Police cannot deal with crime on their own,' says community activist Sel Burrows. 'Landlords need to be part of the solution.' (Justin Fraser/CBC)

Burrows, who is a long-time NDP organizer, praised the changes the Progressive Conservative government has made at the RTB, and Cullen was equally complimentary of the work Burrows has done in Point Douglas.

"This is a neighbourhood that has been cleaned up and we appreciate the good work the community has done," Cullen said.

Province highlights tools for landlords, community

To make more people aware of the resources at their disposal, the province has put together a fact sheet through the Residential Tenancies Branch. It outlines how a landlord can force someone out for criminal behaviour.

"We want to empower them with the tools to make sure they can evict people," Cullen said.

For instance, if a tenant is engaged in unlawful activity that poses an immediate risk to others, a landlord can evict them with just five days' notice.

"Police cannot deal with crime on their own and landlords need to be part of the solution," said Burrows.

The crime was so bad around here we would get the police to park a police car at the corner on weekends. It was just chaos.- Sel Burrows

Sometimes it's the landlord who is the problem and the province's toolkit works to oust them, too, Burrows said. He pointed to a handful of now well-kept houses he said were "some of the worst slums in Winnipeg" just six or seven years ago.

"The crime was so bad around here we would get the police to park a police car at the corner on weekends. It was just chaos," Burrows said.

"The key to having a healthy community is having the ability to disrupt the bad guys, disrupt the meth dealers. And we learned early on that the ability to evict hard drug dealers and serious criminals has been a key part of what we've done."

Anyone can file a confidential report with the PSI unit about properties where threatening or disturbing activities regularly take place, such as unlawful drug use, prostitution, unlawful use or sale of intoxicating substances, child exploitation, or participation in a criminal organization, Cullen said.

Following an investigation, the province can issue a warning letter to the property owner, resolve the problem out of court, or apply for an order to close the property or remove the tenants involved.

"We want to be tough on criminal activity," Cullen said. "We want to be tough on criminals. They are not welcome in our neighbourhoods."

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