Landlords, tenants calling for protection — but when will it happen?

Imagine being stuck in a situation where you don't feel safe, and needing to pass a 15-step flowchart to get out of it.

Still no timeline for review of legislation last changed 17 years ago

Matthew and Nicole Cross were left to fix up their entire house, after both apartments were trashed by tenants. (John Pike/CBC)

There are syringes on your floor. Blood on your ceiling. Holes kicked in every surface.

Boxed inside your four walls, the people you rented to have lost control of their lives and are in total control of your house.

So what is standing between their destructive behaviour and your peace of mind?

A flowchart at Service NL shows the process once a dispute is made official. (Ryan Cooke/CBC)

A continuous flowchart taped to the wall in a government building in Mount Pearl, with every black line leading to the word "appeal."

But this flowchart has come to torment more than just landlords in Newfoundland and Labrador.

It is the same process used to recoup rent for tenants who have been ripped off by their landlords, some of whom house hundreds of people in slum conditions across the province.

CBC News has been covering landlord-tenant stories for years, and two things have become abundantly clear — honest people on both sides are unhappy with the Residential Tenancies Act, and changes are not coming fast enough.

'At what point does it become criminal?'

Six months ago, we heard from Matt Doyle.

His rental unit in Paradise was vandalized when his long-term tenant fell into the depths of addiction with a new partner.

Doyle came to know the Residential Tenancies Act inside and out as he searched for a clause to save his property before it was destroyed. He also sought out ways to help his tenants before they destroyed themselves, or harmed their infant daughter.

He called the police. He called social workers. He got nowhere.

Matt Doyle was stuck with a hazardous mess to clean up after his tenants were evicted and left behind their belongings, including needles. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

"If you break into my house and destroy my property, that's a crime," Doyle told me. "But if you rent my home and destroy my property, that's civil."

On Thursday, we brought you the story of a couple in St. John's going through the same ordeal.

Matthew and Nicole Cross knew their tenants were wreaking havoc on their home, but couldn't get the police involved to stop them. They were told it was not a criminal matter, but a civil matter.

Matthew Cross figures he is out around $15,000 after his upstairs and downstairs apartments were trashed. (John Pike/CBC)

They entered the tangled flowchart at Service NL and were able to evict the tenants with the help of sheriff's officers — after five months of procedure.

"At what point does it become criminal?" Nicole Cross asked during an interview with CBC News.

Well, according to the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, it becomes their business when damages are "willfully/intentionally caused by the tenant or another known party and must be more than negligible."

The Cross family expects to be out $15,000. Matt Doyle lost $10,000 in rent and damages.

So at what point does it become more than negligible?

Turnover in the minister's chair

Since the Liberal government was elected in 2015, there have been three ministers of Service NL, the department in charge of the Residential Tenancies Act.

All three ministers — Eddie Joyce, Perry Trimper and Sherry Gambin-Walsh — have promised a review of the legislation, last changed in 2000. None, however, have been able to state a timeline.

The last three ministers of Service NL have talked about reviewing the Residential Tenancies Act. So far, public consultations have not begun. (CBC)

Trimper stated he was unwilling to work with a review by the Progressive Conservative government — a review shelved in 2014 and never published.

Trimper told CBC News in April that the Liberal government would do its own review instead of piggybacking on work started five years ago with public consultations across the province.

"Over the past five years there have been changes in the marketplace, and our intention is to update this information in a way that includes additional opportunity for input from the public," Trimper said.

Gambin-Walsh took over Service NL on July 31. Since then, her office has declined three requests for an interview on the Residential Tenancies Act.

On Thursday, a statement said work within their office had started, but gave no timeline for public consultations or changes.

The 2014 review took the PC government two years to reach its final stage of incompletion. The recommendations were never finalized and taxpayer money fell by the wayside.

It remains to be seen how much more will be spent on reviewing legislation, or how long landlords and tenants will be waiting for what they want — stronger protection from greed, dishonesty and malice.

About the Author

Ryan Cooke

Ryan Cooke works for CBC out of its bureau in St. John's.