Tenant evictions on the rise, MPP and lawyer say
They say low-income individuals are the ones most affected
Julie Campagna says she feels "devastated" and "stressed" because she doesn't know where she's going to live now that she's been evicted from her home.
She said she was called in for a virtual eviction hearing that took place in October, but due to poor Wi-Fi signal, the connection fell through and she was thought to have abandoned the call and lost her case.
"I've been stressed ever since, like living moment by moment, losing all my stuff here and there. Like this has been very, very stressful. Very," Campagna said, adding that the whole process happened so fast.
She is one of many Windsorites unfairly evicted during the pandemic, according to Windsor West MPP Lisa Gretzky and Anna Colombo, a staff lawyer at Legal Assistance of Windsor. They've noticed an increase in evictions taking place across the city.
They both find it concerning and are calling on the government to impose a moratorium on evictions.
Hearings moved online
Gretzky and Colombo said eviction hearings are now taking place virtually, adding that it poses as a barrier for many people.
"We're finding that there are mass evictions going on across the province because people have barriers to access when it comes to doing those hearings virtually," Gretzky said. "So we're finding that they're not getting the notice. [It] goes into their spam folder. They don't see it in their email. So by the time they find out about it, the hearing has already taken place and a ruling has been made against them or they find out at the last minute."
She also said people have difficulty unmuting themselves and are not able to voice their presence at the meeting.
Colombo said those who are most affected by evictions are low-income individuals, single parents, people who've stopped being able to work due to COVID-19 and people who face language barriers.
She said about 60 more hearings are scheduled in December compared to November.
"These are stressful situations in the best of times, and now you're asking individuals who may struggle with technology, who may not be familiar with it, who may not have access to a phone, and you're asking them to provide testimony and to cross-examine by phone and to do that by video on a computer," Colombo said.
"So, there are some some things that people just don't have access to that I think the board is expecting that they do have access to when they just don't."
Colombo also said evictions levels are "probably close to pre-pandemic levels" and "they're happening really quickly." She worries that people who end up homeless may not be able to protect themselves from the virus.
"Clients are feeling an extraordinary amount of stress. They're telling us that the safest place to be right now is at home. And so when you don't have a home, the level of risk, it just increases because your risk of COVID is now increasing. If you are being forced into situations, either in a shelter or having to live with family members or with friends, you're not able to distance the way that you can in your own home," she said.
Advocates want a ban on evictions during COVID-19
"We should not be seeing more people put out on the street, especially going into the winter," said Gretzky, who said she's called on the government to ban evictions.
Colombo agrees, "I think we need to stop evictions for the good of public health." She said she's concerned the number of people experiencing homelessness in the city will increase.
Advocates are also urging for a moratorium on evictions during the pandemic. A province-wide ban on evictions was lifted at the end of August.
Since then, the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) has scheduled thousands of evictions hearings between November and January, said Kenneth Hale, the legal director at the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario (ACTO), a centre which provides legal help to low-income tenants and resources to those facing eviction.
Hale said that once the eviction ban was lifted, the board began ramping up evictions and slotted in "dozens and dozens" of hearings per day, all done by video conference, adding that there was no support provided to those who don't have proper access to technology — a frequent issue for low-income tenants.
"We've heard of people having to conduct hearings from payphones, and sitting out in their car in the parking lot and wondering whether their minutes were going to run out before they get a chance to present their side of the story," said Hale.
Bahar Shadpour, spokesperson for ACTO, said the number of eviction hearings scheduled during this time is alarming and that most hearings lead to evictions.
"Especially as we move into winter, because we've heard from the largest landlord association in Ontario that over 100,000 households were unable to pay their rent. And so those people may be in the pipeline of being evicted," she said.
"And this is really worrisome as we're in the middle of a raging pandemic and people have lost their jobs and there's a huge recession that has also been caused by the pandemic crisis."
Landlord says he wants more adjudicators hired
William Blake, a member of Ontario Landlords Association, agrees that the online hearings are unfair. He said his organization is calling on the province to provide more support for tenants.
"We've written to the province, to the minister, and we believe that landlords need fairness and a true legal process, but tenants do too," he said. "I believe a lot of tenants who are being evicted are being evicted unfairly. And every landlord and every tenant deserves a real legal hearing with the proper procedures, with professionalism and respect for both sides."
He said he wants the government to hire more adjudicators and provide financial relief to tenants.
In addition to a moratorium, Colombo said she'd like to see a limited return to in-person hearings and have accommodations put in place for those who need it.
"I think additional questions need to be asked when tenants aren't appearing about why they're not there," she said.
Campagna, who has anxiety, said she's been trying to keep calm, but she's been struggling with finding a place to stay.
"I just hope nobody else ends up in the same situation," said Campagna.
"If I was face to face with somebody, if that was an option — to be in a courtroom with somebody to fight this case, I would have been golden and everything would have been fine, but because I had a poor Wi-Fi connection, because I'm low income, unfortunately, that's what they base everything off of."
CBC News reached out to Tribunals Ontario for comment, but did not hear back.