The Price of Eviction
by Ryan Kolman
It was a story that has become so familiar, hardly anyone noticed. In September of 2019 BDO Canada released a survey detailing the financial hardships facing the working-class. In the survey BDO revealed that over half of all Canadians live paycheque to paycheque, with over a quarter reporting they don’t have enough to meet their daily needs. With so many of its people living on the brink of financial ruin, the silence from governments across the country was deafening.
Now here we are, a little more than a year after BDO released its devastating survey, and the financial ruin that our governments turned a blind eye to, fueled by a global pandemic, has come knocking. Unemployment has skyrocketed along with food insecurity, what little savings people had have evaporated, and personal debt has reached levels we’ve never seen before. Yet from coast to coast to coast Canadians are now facing another growing epidemic: eviction.
With provincial eviction moratoriums gone, landlords have kicked things into high gear, filing tens of thousands of eviction notices across the county. Major landlords have also been waging a lobbying campaign, pushing stories about the hardships facing small ‘mom and pop’ landlords in order to convince governments not to enact further protections for renters. In reality mom and pop landlords only account for 4% of the Canadian rental market. The rest of the market is dominated by large, multi-million dollar corporations with deep institutional ties and political backing. The only thing these predatory landlords have in mind is profit; placing shareholder dividends above the safety and well-being of working-class Canadians.
In Ontario the Landlord and Tenant Board has moved to an online hearing format, one that tenant advocate Kenn Hale has called “chaotic”. The online-only model has made it nearly impossible for tenants to present their circumstances and, even more worrying, has made it difficult for tenants to access badly needed legal advice. In an effort to clear the backlog of cases that predate the pandemic, tenants are given as little as 60 seconds in this new format to present their cases with hearings being rammed through even when tenants are unable to log in to the online proceedings.
In these virtual hearings many tenants have been pressured into repayment agreements that are impossible for renters to meet. Some payments towards rent arrears have reached as high as half the tenant’s monthly rental cost on top of their current month’s rent. Landlord and Tenant Board adjudicators regularly remind tenants that if they’re ever “a day late or a dollar short” on a single arrears payment their landlord can get an automatic eviction order from the LTB without a hearing, enforceable by the sheriff.
There is no indication these circumstances will improve either, with Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government taking no action after the legislature unanimously passed a motion in December to freeze pandemic evictions. According to the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, ACTO, more than 7,000 cases were heard by the Landlord and Tenant Board in November with more than 4,500 cases scheduled for December and no signs of cases slowing down in the new year.
Out west the tenants of a 21-unit, three-storey apartment in Victoria were given notices in October saying they had until February 28th to move out. Some of the building’s residents, including seniors with fixed incomes, have lamented the decision and questioned why, during a public health crisis, landlords are allowed to force tenants out.
“It’s been really devastating,” said Tom Kershaw, a 72-year-old who has lived in the building for nine and a half years, “It’s just been overwhelming, the stress.” Kershaw pays $590 for his ground floor bachelor, a price that would likely double if he’s forced to find a new home.
“This isn’t an eviction for bad behavior”, said Joan Davy, a tenant in her 60’s, “This is a completely baseless eviction. It’s a renoviction.” Davy said if she’s forced to find another one bedroom in the current rental market it could take up to 70% of her income. Not only are these evictions devastating financially but they seem to contradict provincial public health orders that are meant to limit the spread of COVID-19. “On one hand, I’m not supposed to see my family members at Christmas,” said Davy, “but I’m being forced to enter multiple buildings [to search for a new apartment]?”
A group of tenants from the building are disputing the eviction notices with the Residential Tenancy Branch, but because of the backlog of cases at the government agency they were told a hearing might not take place until February, mere days before the date of eviction.
And yet amidst the deafening silence from political leaders, while government agencies continue to churn through eviction cases like relentless meat grinders, working-class Canadians are getting organized.
In Victoria the tenants fighting their mass-eviction order have enlisted the help of local tenant advocacy group Together Against Poverty, who are providing legal services to help the tenants navigate the complex legal process.
Back in Ontario advocacy groups like Keep Your Rent, along with ACTO, have been helping to provide renters throughout the province with the resources they need to take a stand. And across Toronto tenant unions have begun to spring up to challenge the greed of corporate landlords. In September one of these unions, the Goodwood Tenants Union, successfully prevented the eviction of an elderly Indigenous woman who has serious health issues.
“When neighbours heard about this woman [getting evicted] we were outraged because she’s older, she’s Indigenous, and she’s unwell.” said Goodwood Tenants Union member Carly Tisdall.
Neighbours took turns patrolling the property in the east Toronto neighbourhood, keeping watch in case the sheriff showed up to change the locks on the elderly woman’s apartment. When the sheriff did arrive neighbours were quickly notified and within minutes dozens of tenants came together to block the sheriff, along with accompanying Toronto police officers, from evicting the woman.
Another group, the East York 50, a conglomeration of tenant unions from the Crescent Town, Goodwood Park and Teesdale neighbourhoods, have attended their members eviction hearings en masse with legal representation to force the Landlord and Tenant Board to push their cases to a later date. The group has also marched from their district to Victoria Park and Danforth, blocking off the intersection and demanding the Landlord and Tenant Board be shut down.
These are just some of the incredible stories of success that show the strength and power working people have when they come together. As this pandemic and economic crisis continues to unfold more renters are put at risk of eviction. But if we organize and support one another, together we can stem the rising tide of evictions.
When this public health crisis showed up on our doorstep, governments asked working-class people to sacrifice for their own health and safety and for the health and safety of their communities. Canadians honoured their part of the social contract. Youth across the country sacrificed their graduation ceremonies; a special and pivotal moment in a young person’s life. Families faced with shuttered schools and daycare services found a way to balance home schooling, childcare, and work. Seniors in long-term care, separated from their loved ones had only brief, painful, and at times, final visits through window panes. And now when those same people, who have sacrificed so much, need help the most, politicians have abandoned them. Instead politicians have championed the cause of corporations and the wealthy to further line their own pockets. But, if Canadians continue to organize and fight back against these unjust evictions, then governments will end up on the losing side of history.
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