Toronto

Ontario's Landlord and Tenant Board prioritizing above guideline rent increase hearings for rest of year

The province's delay-ridden Landlord and Tenant Board is prioritizing applications from landlords asking for above guideline rent increases until the end of the year, according to a memo obtained by CBC Toronto.

Stakeholders on both sides criticize move they say puts corporate landlords first

Sharlene Henry, a tenant who has faced four above guideline rent increases in the last decade with two more pending, is frustrated by the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) decision to prioritize applications for the increases ahead of other matters, which she says puts corporations ahead of people. (John Sandeman/CBC)

Ontario's delay-ridden Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) is prioritizing applications from landlords asking for above guideline rent increases until the end of the year, according to a memo obtained by CBC Toronto. 

An LTB spokesperson confirmed the plan to focus on above guideline rent increases (AGIs) and previously adjourned matters because they make up a large proportion of the board's aging caseload. 

"Focusing on these applications will help ensure that the oldest applications get scheduled and heard as a priority, as the LTB continues to find solutions to address service delays," said Janet Deline, in a statement.

Stakeholders on both sides of the landlord-tenant relationship are criticizing the move. They told CBC Toronto prioritizing AGIs puts the interests of corporate landlords ahead of tenants already facing sky high rents, and small landlords in debt from unpaid rent because of months-long delays at the LTB.

'It makes corporations richer,' tenant says

"You're pushing through stuff for corporations, instead of pushing through stuff for people," said Sharlene Henry, a tenant in Toronto's Weston neighbourhood. 

"It makes corporations richer, while people — be it they're poor, they're working class, they live on fixed income — struggle more."

Over the last decade, Henry's building has had four AGIs approved by the LTB.

She says each one has tacked on an additional $60-$70 a month to her rent and two more AGI applications for 2019 and 2021 are still pending with the board.

Without approval from the LTB, landlords in the province are only allowed to increase rent for most existing tenants by Ontario's annual rent increase for inflation. This year that guideline is set at 1.2 per cent. 

Sharlene Henry's apartment building was one of five Toronto rental properties CBC Toronto reported on in March, where the owner had applied to the LTB for five or more above guideline increases (AGIs) within the last 10 years. (Sue Goodspeed/CBC)

But the Residential Tenancy Act allows landlords to tack on up to an additional three per cent per year through AGIs to help cover the cost of capital expenses like major repairs and renovations. 

Henry's building was one of five Toronto rental properties CBC Toronto reported on in March, where the owner had applied to the LTB for five or more AGIs within the last 10 years.

Expenses part of cost of doing business: tenant lawyer

The capital expenses AGIs are supposed to help cover should be part of the cost of doing business, according to a tenant lawyer with Parkdale Community Legal Services. 

"A lot of landlords will do things in the name of safety, but really they're doing it because they want to increase the rent that they can extract from the units," said Samuel Mason. 

"If the LTB is scheduling AGIs sooner, of course that is in the interest of large landlords."

The LTB says its plan to focus on above guideline rent applications and previously adjourned matters 'will help ensure that the oldest applications get scheduled and heard as a priority.' (Kimberly Ivany/CBC)

There are currently 1,733 AGI applications before the LTB, with the oldest case dating back to January 2018. 

The Federation of Metro Tenants' Associations previously told CBC Toronto that there has been an "explosion" of AGIs in the last decade.

In the last fiscal year there were 613 applications filed in Ontario, more than double the 252 submitted to the LTB back in 2011-2012.

Small landlords 'can't afford' longer delays

Paralegal Kathleen Lovett says small landlords can't afford any further delay at the LTB. (Submitted by Kathleen Lovett)

For small landlords, paralegal Kathleen Lovett says prioritizing AGIs will mean those waiting six to eight months for a hearing about unpaid rent will be bumped even further down the queue into the new year.

"They simply cannot afford to keep going," she said. 

"My client that I'm working for right now, she's selling her property and it's going to make the rental market shrink even further."

Zibute Janeliunas was "devastated" when she found out her hearing for unpaid rent could be delayed further because of the LTB focusing on AGIs.

She's been waiting for a hearing at the LTB since May and still doesn't have a date. 

"[The tenants] owe me $18,000," she said. "I'm in a terrible situation financially at this point."

Janeliunas bought her Etobicoke condo with the plan to rent it out for three or four years before moving in. But with a fixed income, she's now worried she'll have to sell the unit before that happens.

Despite focusing on AGI hearings and previously adjourned matters, the LTB says it will continue to schedule urgent matters on a priority basis.

But Lovett says she's never had a single file approved for a shorter timeline, even when a client was facing bankruptcy. 

Zibute Janeliunas is worried she'll have to sell the condo she was planning to move into because of delays getting an LTB hearing for unpaid rent from her tenants. (Angelina King/CBC)

"I really don't know what else you could put in a request to demonstrate to the board how urgent it is," she said.

"I don't know why corporations would be held to a higher level."


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nicole Brockbank

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Nicole Brockbank is a reporter for CBC Toronto's Enterprise Unit. Fuelled by coffee, she digs up, researches and writes original investigative and feature stories. nicole.brockbank@cbc.ca

With files from Angelina King

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