Ontario's Landlord and Tenant Board 'fundamentally failing,' ombudsman finds (CBC)
Backlog of cases at the LTB now more than 38,000
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May 3, 2023
A "perfect storm" of factors including the 2018 election, inefficient practices and the COVID pandemic has left Ontario's trouble-plagued Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) "fundamentally failing" to provide swift justice, the province's ombudsman says.
In a lengthy report published Thursday, Paul Dubé made 61 recommendations to address a backlog of cases at the tribunal that has ballooned to more than 38,000 applications.
"Where once it took the Board a matter of days to schedule hearings, it now takes an average of seven to eight months," Dubé noted.
"As of February 2023, landlord applications were generally being scheduled for hearing within six to nine months of receipt, and tenant applications could take up to two years to be scheduled."
Dubé's office launched its investigation in 2020 following a sharp spike in complaints about delays at the tribunal from people on both sides of the landlord and tenant divide. His office would eventually hear from 4,000 more Ontarians over the course of its inquiry.
"There were tenants stuck waiting while they endured harassment, unsafe living conditions, and improper attempts to force them from their homes," the report said.
"And there were small landlords, including those renting out space within their own homes, who were trying to cope with tenants' abuse, criminal conduct, and facing financial ruin and serious health harms."
Dubé found that while the COVID-19 response exacerbated already existing problems at the LTB, many of the primary causes for delays predated the pandemic.
By 2019, the tribunal had already fell into a "moribund state" with a backlog of more than 20,000 applications due to a "host of inefficiencies" that included:
A shortage of qualified adjudicators, made worse by a lengthy appointment and training process.
A complicated application process that could be upended by simple clerical errors.
Antiquated systems that failed to triage urgent cases.
A lack of bilingual adjudicators.
Subsequent moves to virtual hearings and two moratoriums on evictions during the pandemic impeded the board's ability to chip away at the existing backlog. The ombudsman's office said it heard from tenants and legal clinics that regularly encountered "insurmountable" barriers to accessing online hearings.
Dubé concluded that, given the experience of the last several years, the LTB has "proven itself unequipped for the task of reducing its extraordinary backlog of applications." He added that those applications represent tens of thousands of Ontarians suffering hardship due to the board's inadequacies.
"As an administrative tribunal, the Board is fundamentally failing in its role of providing swift justice to those seeking resolution of residential landlord and tenant issues. In doing so, it is denying justice to a significant segment of Ontarians," he continued.
The ombudsman noted that the government has pledged to appoint 40 more adjudicators and he urged it to act quickly.
Improvements underway: Tribunals Ontario
The executive chair and executive director of Tribunals Ontario — which oversees the Landlord and Tenant Board — issued a joint statement saying the board had already taken some actions to address delays, such as implementing an online application system and streamlining processes, but there is more work to do.
"With the new resources we've been allocated by the government of Ontario and plans we have underway, many of the report's recommendations are being addressed," Sean Weir and Harry Gousopoulos wrote.
"We are confident that significant inroads into the backlog will be made this fiscal year."
A statement from a spokesperson for the attorney general noted spending for $6.5 million to hire more adjudicators and $28.5 million for a new case management system for Tribunals Ontario, but suggested the ombudsman's report did not tell the full story.
"We are currently reviewing the report, which examined the Landlord Tenant Board (LTB) at a previous moment in time that does not reflect the ongoing work that the Ministry and at Tribunals Ontario is doing to address delays," Andrew Kennedy wrote.
Impact of 2018 election
The investigation found that the number of adjudicators appointed to the board fell "rapidly" following the 2018 provincial election, which saw Premier Doug Ford's Progressive Conservatives sail to a majority after 15 years of Liberal government.
There were a number of reasons for this, Dubé said. It is common for governments, as an election approaches, to limit the number of new appointments and the lengths of their terms. This happened in the lead up to the 2018 vote. Then, the new government needed to familiarize itself with previous appointments, leading to delays in new adjudicators being brought on.
These realities, combined with the concurrent terms of some adjudicators ending at the same time, meant a severe shortage of personnel to hear and decide cases, the report said.
At a news conference accompanying the release of the report, Dubé said Ford's government was not solely to blame for that outcome.
"I don't blame a new government for having to find its way," he told reporters. "I blame a system that's so precarious."
Dubé noted that several of his dozens of recommendations were directed at the provincial government because they require legislative change. They include suggested amendments to limit how turnovers in government can reduce the capacity of the board to issue decisions and another to extend the time given to adjudicators whose terms on the board are about to expire so they can complete cases they already heard.
Dubé said he believes significant reforms will be enough to eventually tackle the backlog. Properly trained and securely employed adjudicators with sufficient support staff and updated technology, as well as a plan for election years, are key first steps, he said.
"I think that it's improvements rather than blowing up and rebuilding that can get us there to where we want to be," he told reporters at the news conference.
Dubé said that Tribunals Ontario, which oversees the LTB as well as 12 other tribunals, and the Ministry of the Attorney General have accepted all of his recommendations. Both have pledged to report back in six months on their progress in implementing the recommendations.
"What I want to see is movement, what I want to see is progress," he said.
After the report was released, the Ontario NDP held a news conference to respond.
"We have known for years the LTB has been failing in its duty," said MPP Jessica Bell. "The Conservatives have had five years to fix the Landlord and Tenant Board, and this report shows they've made the problem worse."
Bell also took aim at the finding that tenants are waiting sometimes twice as long for a hearing as landlords.
"This is discrimination, and we urge the Conservatives to immediately step in and fix this injustice," she said.
Asked about the discrepancy, Dubé said that roughly 90 per cent of applications to the tribunal come from landlords.