After a series of altercations the tenant was issued with an eviction notice that didn’t proceed; then another, which is proceeding. The tenant, naturally, went to the legal clinic to be confronted with law students asking the house lawyer for advice. The house lawyer refused to meet with the tenant or answer simple yes or no questions over the phone.
(Note: I can’t identify the tenant or other parties in this story because this matter will come before the Landlord and Tenant Board shortly. The law in most Commonwealth countries is that any disclosure of information regarding legal proceedings may be prejudicial to the case
In the course of this consultation, the tenant was advised that it was only possible to claim a rebate of 15% for one year’s rent. The tenant rang the Board to be informed that they weren’t aware of any such provision, and that the tenant could claim any amount up to and not exceeding $25,000. The Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario said in an email to the tenant that:
“We are sorry that you seem to be dissatisfied with the service of your local legal clinic. You might want to take up your concerns using its Complaints Policy.”
Don’t these people realize that someone faced with eviction may not have the time to take up another complaint? What’s wrong with “What went wrong? This is how we can fix it,” as a response? The world is full of third parties in disputes, creating more work for people in trouble, and this approach simply doesn’t work.
Not happy with the clinic’s apparent lack of interest and being provided incorrect information, the tenant then sought paralegal help from a supposed specialist in eviction issues. The paralegal asked for $500 upfront with $500 to follow, wanted to meet in a coffee shop, then said he wouldn’t be available for meetings. He also wouldn't discuss anything until paid, refused to provide an address or any ID beyond a Law Society card. He referred in a phone conversation to “client prejudice”, which is a principle whereby a legal representative can withdraw from the case as result of a dispute with the client, and in this case quite possibly $1000 better off after having made minimal or no efforts on behalf of the client. The paralegal also eventually condescended to mention that he wouldn’t be in town on the date of the hearing. Enchanting, isn’t it?
The next paralegal wanted $500, then simply didn’t show up for a meeting, giving a brief excuse, didn't show up for another meeting and didn’t even ring regarding a third rescheduled appointment. Time is meanwhile ticking by, and the tenant is still no closer to getting legal representation.
Fourth time lucky? Nope. From paralegals to actual lawyers wasn't much better. Fed up with the paralegals, the tenant tried a lawyer. The lawyer wanted $1000 having quoted a lower flat fee on a website, and when informed of a requirement for rebate and costs, told the tenant that there would be additional costs involved. This may or may not be standard practice for someone, but in normal commercial law, you’re supposed to disclose fees upfront. I’m not sure, but I’d say it was unethical behaviour in principle, and perhaps in fact.
The Landlord and Tenant Board has been getting a lot of flak from tenant rights groups, which state that it’s working with the landlords and that tenants don’t get a fair hearing. This very negative perception of the Board’s role is extremely counterproductive. The reason for the existence of the Board is to create a forum to adjudicate disputes under statutory law. It’s not there to act as a support group for anybody let alone an advocacy service for landlords, and should be seen to be absolutely 100% impartial without exceptions. Any pattern of rulings in favour of landlords could only undermine the credibility of the Board, and force tenants to seek other legal options, if there are any.
The law clinic’s performance barely deserves to be described as abysmal. If this is how they’re training law students, to simply go through the motions and pick up their fees, it’s no wonder the legal profession is so thoroughly despised in the community. The other legal and paralegal practices above were utterly useless. As the tenant said, “They think that if you’re vulnerable and stressed, you’re stupid”. In my opinion the parties involved were not making anything resembling a legitimate effort to be supportive, and were mainly interested in fees and their own self-interest.
I was going to ask the Landlord and Tenant Board for comments on its issues as described above, to balance this story, but apparently the Board doesn’t have a media contact. It would be impossible to do a timely article by mail, and by phone the comments of a customer service or media liaison person wouldn’t be fairly attributable, and would have to be a synopsis of verbal information, hardly adequate to address these issues.
My questions for the Board are:
1. How does the Board respond to allegations of bias in favour of landlords?
2. Is the information provided by the Board adequate for tenants to know what they can claim from landlords?
3. Are tenants representing themselves disadvantaged?
4. If tenants can’t get adequate legal representation, as in this case, what are their options?
My research indicates that very large numbers of Toronto tenants are affected by these issues. One website I saw had no less than 45,000 hits on it. The tenant in this case has received no meaningful assistance at all, and I would think that others are in very much the same situation.
There’s another problem, and it’s all related to basic laws regarding building management and obligations to provide safe premises. The fact seems to be that if you’re a landlord you can be as guilty as you like, provided there’s no way of a tenant proving it or getting a fair hearing. This particular tenant does have some claims to make, including:
1. No heat in winter, during a -40 season (The law refers to under 60F as the benchmark for heating)
2. Lousy wiring, a built-in fire hazard (I’m a trained fire warden, and what I saw was appalling.)
3. Defective plumbing
4. No replacement of security locks, and two sticks supplied by the landlord as window security jams
5. No working smoke detector for six years
6. Other maintenance work not carried out
7. There are probably other breaches of fire, building and other codes as well, based on the information that I have.
Somebody better do something about these problems, because it’s more than likely that large numbers of people are at risk of not only eviction, but death or serious injury through horrendously inadequate maintenance and building management practices.