Small Wins and Missed Opportunities with Bill 97

Renovictions are a growing concern for the communities we serve. Since 2021, our clinic has seen a 30% increase in the number of tenants seeking assistance because their landlord wants to either demolish or undertake significant repairs or renovations to the residential complex or to their unit.

The tenants we help are fearful of their landlords abusing this type of eviction to capitalize on a loophole in rent control known as vacancy decontrol: this is the ability of the landlord to raise the rent of a vacant unit by any amount they want, rather than being restricted to the annual guideline increase amount set by the province. Vacancy decontrol places a target on the back of long-term tenants, and creates a financial incentive for landlords to evict them without an honest reason – what’s referred to as a “bad-faith eviction.”

In April of 2023, the provincial government introduced Bill 97, the Helping Homebuyers, Protecting Tenants Act. This Bill aims, in part, to address problems with the renoviction process and provide more protection for tenants from bad faith evictions. We presented to the Standing Committee on Heritage, Infrastructure and Cultural Policy to suggest changes to the Bill that we think would make it more effective. We’ve summarized our submissions below, and you can watch the full video here.

What we liked

When renovicted, tenants have a “right to return” to their old unit once the work is completed and it’s ready for occupancy. But currently there are no rules that require landlords to give their former tenants adequate notice that the unit is available. For example, a landlord can tell the former tenant the unit is ready and they need to move in within 10 days. Bill 97 will require landlords to provide 60 days notice to a tenant that their unit is ready for them to reoccupy. While we recommended a change in the language to the Bill to make this new rule as clear as possible, we support this provision as it takes a practical step to preserve the rights of tenants and will allow them to make use of their right to return.

A missed opportunity

To further stave off bad faith renovictions, we recommended adding a provision requiring landlords to include a copy of their building permit when giving a notice of eviction for renovations (called an N13 Notice) to the tenant. We further suggested that if a landlord failed to do so, then the N13 Notice should be rendered void.

This would satisfy most tenants’ doubts about the genuine intention of their landlord to actually undertake the renovations, and is also a good indicator of whether the landlord’s application will be granted at the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB).

This one, simple requirement would not ask a landlord who is acting in good faith to do anything more than what they already have to do. They need a building permit to lawfully demolish or significantly repair the residential complex or rental unit, and they will ultimately need to produce the building permit as evidence at an LTB hearing to prove their application is in good faith.

In short: there is no imposition on a landlord who is acting in good faith to require them to include the building permit with their N13 Notice. This change could be made simply by adding a new subsection under section 50 of the Residential Tenancies Act.

Falling short on enforcement

A law is only as good as its enforcement. Despite positive changes in this Bill, including the increases in fines for landlords found in breach of their responsibilities or issuing bad faith eviction notices, we think it’s unlikely that there will be substantive changes to landlord behaviour due to a lack of oversight and enforcement.

We also suggested a change to the building permit process that will ensure a tenant’s right to return. The province has control over the Building Code through the Building Code Act, with inspectors controlling the permitting of buildings post-renovation. Why not require that building permit applications must note whether a building is tenanted and, if so, require that the owner provide proof they have given the previous tenant notice to return to the unit as a condition of receiving an occupancy permit?

The inspectors are already attending to the building, the paperwork is already being filed – an additional check-box requiring landlords to be accountable is not an unreasonable ask.

We also noted that right now there is too high of a burden on tenants to enforce their own rights and to prosecute landlords that break the law. The current scheme requires a tenant who has recently been removed from their home and likely displaced from their community to stake out their former landlord, file an application against them, and engage in what has turned into years of litigation, all for very minimal remedies.

We suggested that the province invest in enforcement to remove the burden from tenants. The province has already created an enforcement branch called the Rental Housing Enforcement Unit (RHEU). It just needs more attention and funding to be effective.

Calling the RHEU should be as simple as calling 311. A tenant calls, makes a report about a landlord, an officer does an investigation and, if there is a violation, issues a fine. Upgrading the RHEU would help the province as well, since these fines do not go to the tenant, they go to the government – surely that should create an incentive to track down those violating the rules.

Where things stand

The Standing Committee did not adopt any of our suggested changes to Bill 97. The Bill has just had its third reading and will be voted on by the Legislative Assembly of Ontario in the near future.