Why Windsor renters think the dispute system is broken
One rat infestation was so bad the rodents chewed up a child's toys
Low-income renters in Windsor say the provincial system designed to protect their rights is broken.
In at least one case, tenants have been living without working heat in all rooms while waiting for a hearing before the Landlord and Tenant Board.
"This is winter in Canada. [Fix it] tomorrow," said adjudicator Lorraine Mathers, who ordered the landlord to fix the heating issue within 24 hours.
That dispute was one of 31 cases Mathers dealt with during a recent day of hearings in Windsor — CBC News observed the proceedings for the entire day to get a better understanding of the system and the struggles faced by those who rely on it.
'Unacceptable' wait times
But even getting a hearing before an adjudicator takes time and many tenants are upset about the lengthy waits. Numbers obtained by CBC News show wait times have nearly doubled since 2013, when it was 19.8 days. Last year, that wait ballooned to 37.9 days, far higher than the provincial standard of 25 days.
Jadynne Ceney is one of the tenants who had to wait two months for a hearing. She spent that time living without heat in several rooms. To make matters worse, she's 21 weeks pregnant and has a three-year-old son living with her in the Windsor Avenue unit.
"Basically the whole house is freezing," said Ceney. "You can see your own breath in the kitchen."
You can see your own breath in the kitchen.- Jaydynne Ceney , renter
She appeared before the adjudicator in Windsor last month after receiving an eviction notice. She stopped paying rent in December because of the issues she claims were unresolved.
However, under the Residential Tenancies Act it's illegal to simply stop paying rent, even if there are problems with the unit. (There are a few other options available through the Landlord and Tenant Board, including asking for a rent rebate and having the landlord pay for any repairs the tenant completes.)
Family forced to use space heaters, blankets
Ceney said she wasn't aware of those options when the heat stopped working and her family was forced to use space heaters and blankets to keep warm.
The property management company told the adjucator it believed Ceney's boyfriend, Travis Ives, cut the wire in the heater and asked the couple to fix it. Ives said he popped off the heater's cover to take a look, but didn't snip the wiring. It was already sliced in half, he testified.
Those heating issues weren't fixed because the landlord said his technician had "pneumonia." But after being pressed by the adjudicator, the landlord said it could "easily" be fixed in 24 hours.
"It's the landlords responsibility to fix the heat," adjudicator Mathers said during the hearing.
That property management company had several hearings last month. Another involved a tenant at the same Windsor Avenue building, with similar heating issues.
Heat issues in same apartment complex
Nicholas Casey-Adam also lived in a cold apartment, along with his girlfriend and infant son.
My son ... was wrapped in multiple blankets and he was still freezing cold all the time.- Nicholas Casey-Adam, tenant
The issues stemmed from a ceiling leak that was first reported in April and wasn't fixed until last month, according to the tenant.
"My son is only seven months old. He was wrapped in multiple blankets and he was still freezing cold all the time," said Casey-Adam. "It took way too long to solve a problem they could have solved right away."
Watch how Nicholas Casey-Adam describes living in a frigid unit with a hole in the roof:
Management does 'patch' job
Building management claims they did a "patch" job in the spring that "eventually let go" six weeks later. They did another temporary fix afterwards. The delay in finding a permanent solution was due to the contractor taking on another project, which forced them to hire a different company from Toronto.
These issues are all part of a system the Community Legal Aid office in Windsor says is broken.
We're talking about bed bugs, mould, ceilings collapsing from flooding and vital services being cut off.- Lilian Bahgat , Community Legal Aid
The most unacceptable situation, according to the legal aid office, is when tenants wait anywhere from two to five months for a hearing. In the meantime, they live in some undesirable conditions.
"Absolutely it's unacceptable," said Lilian Bahgat, review counsel for organization.
Watch Lilian Bahgat with Community Legal Aid recount some of the most 'horrific' cases:
In the last year, Bahgat has noticed more tenants willing to tolerate substandard living conditions. Windsor's lack of rental stock means more people stay out of necessity because they know it will be very difficult or costly to simply move out and find a new place.
"We're talking about bed bugs, mould, ceilings collapsing from flooding and vital services being cut off," Bahgat said.
Tenants live in 'horrific' conditions
One of the most disturbing landlord-tenant dispute cases that's ever come through Community Legal Aid involves a rat infestation that became so bad the rodents chewed-up the children's toys.
"It was a rat infestation that they had told the landlord about on numerous occasions and I don't know how that's acceptable for anyone," Bahgat said. "To see the actual photo of the doll that's been chewed up by the rats, it's egregious."
Another gap in the system involves a lack of education for both landlords and tenants, she said. Some landlords aren't fully aware of their responsibilities under the law, while tenants may not fully realize their rights.
It all becomes more complicated when the landlord is out of town, and the only means of contact is an email address.
City officials estimate roughly 15 to 20 per cent of rental owners don't live in the same area as the property they're renting out.