North

Rental act changes leave N.W.T. landlord frustrated, forced to take dispute to Yellowknife

A landlord in Enterprise, N.W.T. is questioning why he needs to drive five hours to Yellowknife to file court papers on a rental dispute when he used to be able to file the papers in Hay River territorial court, just 30 minutes down the road.

'Who did the research to think this was a good idea?' asks landlord in Enterprise, N.W.T.

John Leskiw is seeking $7,000 dollars in back-rent and damages from a renter staying at this house in Enterprise, N.W.T. He says having to travel to Yellowknife to file a court order is unreasonable. (John Leskiw)

A landlord in Enterprise, N.W.T. is questioning why he needs to drive five hours to Yellowknife to file court papers on a rental dispute when he used to be able file the papers in Hay River territorial court, just 30 minutes down the road.

As part of Bill 42, An Act to Amend the Residential Tenancies Act, the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories took over enforcement of orders and decisions from the territorial Rental Office on August 31, 2015. That court only exists in Yellowknife.

The orders were previously handled by territorial courts in Yellowknife, Hay River, and Inuvik.

John Leskiw, 60, is upset about that change. He looks after two properties in Enterprise for his elderly mother, and said one of her renters skipped town owing about $7,000 in back-rent and damages. Leskiw now has to travel to Yellowknife to try to get that money back, or hire someone to appear in his place.

"Being an elder, a trip like that is not easy," Leskiw said. "I don't know anybody in Yellowknife, and to hire a lawyer… they don't come cheap."

Leskiw wants the territorial government to move the process back to territorial courts, or allow for paperwork regarding Rental Office orders to be filed online.

"I don't think anybody thought this out," Leskiw said.

Leskiw also wants to know why the territorial government made the change in the first place. He wrote a complaint to his MLA and the department of justice.

"The only reason I have been given for so far as to why they have changed it to Supreme Court from Territorial Court is because it holds more weight," Leskiw said. "It doesn't say much for the power and respect that the territorial courts are getting."

Leskiw provided CBC News with an email response from Mark Aitken, assistant deputy minister with the territory's justice department.

"We can see that these options are problematic in the case of the filing of Rental Officer orders. The concern underlying the existing procedure is that self-represented litigants often need guidance as to the proper format and composition of court documents, but that is not the case where a landlord (or tenant) is merely filing an order that has already been determined by the Rental Officer," Aitken wrote in the email.

Aitken said the department of justice will look into amending the procedure.

"Until your email was forwarded to us we were unaware of this issue, and it is definitely a problem that we would like to address," Aitken concluded in the email.

No need for a lawyer, says GNWT spokesperson

Aitken has since responded to a CBC News interview request by email. He said the change to the Residential Tenancies Act was also made to allow enforcement of Rental Officer orders that direct a party to perform a specific task, like move an abandoned vehicle from a parking lot, or a fridge from a hallway. 

"A Territorial Court order could not be used to require that these activities be undertaken," Aitken wrote in the email.

Aitken also said people from across the N.W.T. routinely have friends or colleagues file documents for them at the Supreme Court registry, and there is no need to hire a lawyer. He said the department of justice held public consultations regarding Bill 42 in 2015.

"The ultimate solution is to generally provide that documents can be filed in either the Supreme Court or Territorial Court registries electronically, but that step is some years away," Aitken said.

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