Landlords may be surprised and even angry to learn that the Ontario government operates an agency that primarily targets landlords who allegedly breach the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA), generally responding within 24 hours of a tenant filing a complaint. This is in stark contrast to the three to 12 months that the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) generally takes through its onerous processes and forms to resolve landlord complaints.
The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing’s (MMAH) website states, “There are 40 core offences listed in the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006 that apply to residential tenancies.” The agency’s website lists 43.
A review of the listed rights of the landlord and the tenant show that the act contains 34 provisions that specifically benefit tenants (against landlords) and eight that balance the rights of the landlord and tenant (such as changing locks). How many uniquely benefit landlords? Zero.
Particularly offensive is that politicians included in that act a provision that allows canvassing politicians or their agents to solicit votes on a landlord’s property.
What was a jaw-dropping shock to learn was that the act doesn’t even provide the landlord with the fundamental right of entitlement to collect rent.
With the news regularly reporting critical rental housing shortages in Ontario, one would think that government wisdom (is that an oxymoron?) would prevail and seek ways to encourage the private sector to build more purpose-built rental housing. If not that, then what? More condos? Rental condos are too expensive for many tenants and that still requires landlords willing to invest under oppressive legislation. Government housing? Who pays for that? Everyone – including tenants.
After readjusting your jaw, get ready for the uppercut. The Ontario Government, via MMAH, established the 18-person Investigation and Enforcement Unit (IEU), a mostly redundant agency to the LTB whose mandate is to inform landlords and tenants about their alleged breaches of the RTA. They proactively telephone or try to make other contact with the offender – for free – and pride themselves on resolving most complaints within 24 hours.
However, unlike the LTB, which spends literally two-thirds of its operational hours and its taxpayers-financed budget adjudicating non-payment of rent (about 90 per cent of all filed LTB complaints are from landlords, of which about 75 per cent are for non-payment of rent), about 85 per cent of the IEU’s complaints are from tenants. Of 20,000 to 25,000 phone calls received annually by the IEU, about 2,500 (10 per cent) become cases. Thirty-eight per cent are against landlords withholding vital services, 21 per cent against landlords changing locks, 10 per cent against landlords failing to provide rent receipts and seven per cent against landlords allegedly entering a tenant’s premise illegally. The remaining complaints comprise six per cent against tenants who refuse landlords entry after proper notice, three per cent against tenants changing locks and 15 per cent for all other offences. Seventy-six per cent of all IEU cases target the landlord, perhaps not surprising since 79 per cent of listed RTA offences are specifically in favour of tenants.
One could reasonably speculate that the majority of landlord offences reported to the IEU were caused by, what else, tenants not paying their rent. IEU prosecuted about 60 cases with a 100-per-cent success rate in court. The breakdown of landlord versus tenant was not available but reasonable speculation would suggest that most cases were against legitimately outraged landlords who weren’t protected by their government from the abuses foisted upon them by unbalanced tenant legislation.
Some tenants assuredly have legitimate complaints and slumlords do exist. But slumlords are the exception, not the norm. Yet heavy tenant-biased legislation treats all landlords at the lowest common denominator.
Why are tenants afforded a FREE 24-hour IEU response service while landlords suffer a brutal and cripplingly expensive 2,160- to 8,760-hour LTB response service? Why is the government spending taxpayers’ funds duplicating services that arguably should be consolidated within the Ministry of the Attorney General? Why are landlords not legislatively entitled to collect rent for the vital housing service they provide? Why are rent rates (income) capped but legitimate operating and capital cost expenses are not permitted to be recovered? (No other business or industry in Canada is hampered in this way.)
How can the RTA legislatively require a landlord to provide electricity consumption information to a tenant while privacy legislation prevents a landlord from obtaining that required information from utility suppliers? Why can a fire department fine an innocent landlord for a fire code offence committed by a tenant? Why can a municipality add a utility bill not paid by a tenant on to a landlord’s realty tax bill? Why is there no financial deterrent against careless and malicious tenants trashing a property?
The above “why” list is much longer than this space allowed but landlords must start speaking up and asking their elected officials why there are two different judicial, legislative and even bureaucratic standards for tenants and landlords within a democratic nation that is supposed to guarantee equal rights and treatment before the law.
Chris Seepe is a commercial real estate broker and broker of record at Aztech Realty in Toronto, specializing in income-generating and multi-residential investment properties, retail plazas, science and technology related specialty uses and tenant mandates. (416) 525-1558 Email [email protected]; website: www.aztechrealty.com.