Growing delays at Ontario rental tribunal have tenants fearing what Ford government will do next
'Absolutely a disaster for my business,' says landlord out nearly $10,000 in unpaid rent as he awaits hearing
Tenants and landlords in Ontario are facing growing delays at the provincial tribunal that hears rental disputes.
The delays mean some landlords are out thousands of dollars in unpaid rent as they wait two months or more for hearings to take place. Meanwhile, some tenant advocates worry the delays are part of a deliberate strategy by the Ford government to pave the way for tribunal reforms that favour landlords.
Officials at the Landlord and Tenant Board say a shortage of adjudicators appointed to hear cases is contributing to the delays. Those appointments can only be made by cabinet order, so the Ford government is facing blame over its failure to fill some 20 vacant adjudicator posts.
"Currently, there is a lower than normal number of adjudicators, which has contributed to service delays in the time to a hearing and in issuing orders," said Sarah Copeland, communications coordinator for Tribunals Ontario, in an email to CBC News.
The Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) "continues to work with the government to address the need for appointments of additional adjudicators," said Copeland.
The resulting backlog is "absolutely a disaster for my business," said Terry Sullivan, owner of nine rental properties in Oshawa and Bowmanville, ranging from single-family homes to a six-unit apartment building.
One of Sullivan's tenants hasn't paid rent for the past four months. Although a hearing took place on Oct. 21, the adjudicator reserved decision and still has not issued a ruling. Sullivan says an insider at the board told him the adjudicator does not know when Sullivan's case will be concluded.
"You're talking multiple thousands of dollars lost for me," said Sullivan in an interview. "I can't sleep at night."
About 90 per cent of cases at the LTB are brought by landlords, primarily seeking to evict tenants for non-payment of rent.
"I blame the complete incompetence of the Doug Ford government," said Sullivan. "Can you imagine the backlog in the criminal court system if all of a sudden judges weren't rehired and the number of judges dwindled down to such a ridiculous amount that they can't handle the workload?"
The LTB's own standard is to schedule a first hearing for the most common rent disputes within 25 business days of an application. While the board met that standard in 54 per cent of cases in the 2017-18 fiscal year, that fell to just 35 per cent in 2018-19, according to the most recent annual report for Tribunals Ontario.
Then in the April to June 2019 quarter, the most recent date for which figures are available, the scheduling standard was met in just 24 per cent of cases.
Tenants' groups are concerned the government is not appointing adjudicators because longer delays at the tribunal would give it a rationale for streamlining the system, such as making it easier to evict tenants without a hearing.
"We worry that it's creating pressure to support the landlord argument that tenants' rights to dispute these applications should be restricted or taken away," said Kenn Hale, legal director of the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario.
"Landlords are always pushing to speed up the process," said Hale in an interview. "If it looks like the process is broken, it creates pressure to say, 'Why don't we just cut back on people's rights a bit? Why don't we make it a little easier for landlords to push their applications through?'"
Hale has observed the LTB actively recruiting adjudicators, but "cabinet has been slow or reluctant to make appointments," he said.
"These are really important positions, they make important decisions about people's lives," said Hale. "It's important that proposed appointees get proper scrutiny, but when the process slows down so much that we have a lot of vacancies on the tribunal, it does have consequences for both landlords and for tenants."
Hale argues the delays at the LTB are not out of proportion to delays in other parts of the justice system.
The most recent figures from Tribunals Ontario show it now takes on average seven weeks to schedule an eviction hearing for non-payment of rent, more than eight weeks for other applications by landlords and nearly nine weeks for applications by tenants.
Wait times vary across the province, with the longest waits in the Toronto area.
Tribunals Ontario officials say 39 adjudicators are currently appointed to the LTB, but only 28 of them are actively hearing cases. In April 2018, the LTB had 49 adjudicators. People familiar with the board's workings say a full complement would be 55 to 60.
"We understand how important it is to landlords and tenants to be able to access hearings to resolve disputes," said Attorney General Doug Downey's spokesperson Jenessa Crognali, in an email to CBC News.
She said cabinet appointed 14 adjudicators to the LTB in 2019 and is "processing" another 18 recommendations for new appointments.
"Tribunals Ontario is responsible for providing the Attorney General with recommendations for appointments in order to fill vacancies," said Crognali's email. "We look forward to receiving more recommendations so our government can continue appointing LTB adjudicators and filling vacancies."