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Rising backlog of landlord-tenant disputes causing tensions to boil over

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A dispute that resulted in charges being laid against a landlord in Barrie last week is serving as an anecdote for just how dire the situation regarding unresolved cases is in Ontario.

On Thursday, police in Barrie arrested and charged a landlord accused of entering a rental property and turning off the utilities without notifying her tenant.

According to police, the tenant returned home to a cold house with no power or gas supply and called officers.

While an extreme case, tensions for landlords and tenants alike on both sides of the issue are boiling over as backlogs at Ontario's Landlord and Tenant Board continue to rise.

According to Ontario Tribunals Annual 2022-2023 report, there were more than 53,000 unresolved cases at the end of March last year. That figure is significantly higher than the Ontario Ombudsman's 38,000 backlog number reported in May.

"Hearings can take up to a year to get a date in front of the Landlord Tenant Board, sometimes even more," said Joshua Valler, a partner at Barriston Law in Barrie.

Valler said the backlogs can make some landlords feel like they have to take matters into their own hands.

"On the flip side, we've got tenants who are getting frustrated with substandard living accommodations," he said.

The standstill has allowed slum lords and problematic tenants to take advantage of the situation, according to Valler.

"We are seeing that, where you've got those professional renters that are taking advantage of the system and the delays that are associated with that, so that's a risk that you're going to have to factor into the decision in regards to having a rental income property," he said.

"But I think we have an affordable housing crisis in this country where people can't afford to buy their own homes, so they are left with no other option but to rent and then you've got this dichotomy between renters and landlords, and it's difficult to reconcile those two," Valler added.

According to a Rentals.ca February report, average rents nationally have increased to nearly $2,200, which is a 10 per cent increase from last year, and a 20 per cent increase from two years ago.

The same report lists Barrie as the 12th most expensive city to rent in.

"I think until real changes are made, landlords are going to be reluctant," said Paul Portman, associate lawyer at Epstein and Associates. "The cards are sort of stacked against landlords; at least they feel that way; that's what my clients are telling me."

Portman specializes in landlord-tenant disputes, representing clients on both sides. One issue he highlights is the limited parameters for evictions.

"I think a good balance to consider might be to expand the reasons for evictions," he said. "A landlord still only has three or four reasons to evict a tenant right, they haven't paid rent, they're selling a home; I think we could expand those reasons and still be fair to the tenants by giving them a certain notice period."

Portman points to the N12 form, a notice to end tenancy for the purpose of the owner or family member to move into the residence for at least one year, as one-way landlord-tenant disputes could be expedited.

"That's a very common application, probably one of the easier ones for the landlord," he added. "Even there, you have a 60-day notice period, and the tenant doesn't have to leave, so there is still a hearing date, which is a year out. I think there could be expedited ways of doing that, even if it's just an amendment to that particular application to say after those 60 days, within 60 more days or 30 more days, there would be a hearing."

CTV News did not hear back from Ontario's Attorney General's Office for comment, but Valler and Portman said the province has begun working on hiring more full-time and part-time adjudicators as part of the dozens of recommendations made by Ontario's Ombudsman.

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