Why the controversy? Ontario's Bill 184 may help both landlords and tenants

Legislation that benefits landlords is always going to be a tough sell in the province's tenant-tilted environment. Here's what investor-focused brokers should be telling their clients about Bill 184

Why the controversy? Ontario's Bill 184 may help both landlords and tenants

On July 6, the Ontario government’s Standing Committee on Social Policy made amendments to the Protecting Tenants and Strengthening Community Housing Act that critics say will lead to mass evictions in the province. The announcement of the changes sparked protests outside the Landlord Tenant Board office in Ottawa, Queen’s Park in Toronto and in front of Toronto Mayor John Tory’s condo, where protestors attempted to force their way into the building.

The controversy isn’t surprising. Tenants in Ontario have grown used to calling the shots when it comes to terminating their rental agreements. But according to Ismail Ibrahim of Robins Appleby Barristers and Solicitors, they have little to be upset about.

“I can’t see any reason why anybody would be protesting this bill,” he says. “I think it provides more protections for tenants than they previously had.”

Ibrahim explains that the penalty provisions contained in the bill have been strengthened, creating stiffer penalties for landlords acting in bad faith, and more compensation for tenants who are being evicted because of the demolition or repurposing of a unit.

“The [Residential Tenancies Act] has these provisions already. What [Bill 184] did is actually provide more compensation for tenants. Whether that compensation is enough, that’s another conversation, but it improves on what already exists,” he says.

Tenants, however, have focused their anger on a provision that they say will ease the eviction process. That’s not exactly the case.

The Residential Tenancies Act already allows landlords to evict a tenant on an ex parte (without notifying the tenant) basis if they breach an agreement that was endorsed by the Landlord Tenant Board after both parties went through the mediation process. Bill 184 provides landlords and tenants increased freedom to create their own resolutions before going in front of the board, such as a plan for repaying rent withheld during the COVID-19 pandemic, that can then be endorsed by the LTB. If the tenant breaks that agreement, they can be evicted without notification.

“If you have a repayment agreement and you don’t pay, you can be evicted. To me, I don’t see what’s unfair about that,” says Ibrahim. “I think it’s unfair to say that you won’t be evicted, because the landlord has their mortgage to pay.”

InTouch Mortgage Solutions’ Anthony Venuto says Bill 184 evens the playing field out for landlords after years of being at a disadvantage.

“As a landlord myself, we were stripped of our rights after the Fair Housing Measures Act was put in in 2017,” he says. “[Bill 184] gives a bit of a leg-up to the landlord to have some type of executable agreement they can fall back on. From the tenants’ perspective, it’s lacklustre.”

When Venuto speaks to his investor clients about the changes contained in the bill, his advice is for them to keep in mind how their renters have behaved throughout the course of their tenancy, not just over the past two or three months, and respond accordingly. A happy renter, he reminds investors, is a good renter.

“You have to look at the overall picture of your tenant,” he says.

When it comes to giving clients advice around the kinds of repayment agreements that are allowed by Bill 184, Venuto defers to the experts.

“I tend to divert them to their lawyer because I cannot provide legal advice on how to manage their tenants,” he says. “We don’t want to be held culpable.”

Ibrahim explains that all mediated agreements between tenants and landlords need to be endorsed by an adjudicator. These negotiations used to happen on the day of an LTB hearing, but can now take place before so long as the agreement still receives the proper endorsement.

Without that endorsement, these repayment agreements are worthless. In that case, landlords looking to evict tenants because of late rent will have to give them proper notice and an opportunity to appear before the LTB.

“If you go through the whole process of going through a full hearing, it could delay matters, and those delays could potentially impact the landlord more,” Ibrahim says, adding that he doesn’t expect Bill 184 to lead to a wave of evictions.

“I don’t see this as increasing evictions,” he says. “I see this as an opportunity for landlords and tenants to have better communication and discussions with respect to repayment agreements outside of a mediator.”

Venuto, however, isn’t so sure.

“I think there’s going to be a lot of evictions for a lot of people, some of them fair, some of them unfair,” he says. “I just think there needs to be a middle-ground between the rights of the landlord and the rights of the tenant. You don’t walk into a restaurant, order something and then not pay.”