Toronto renters facing crisis amid ongoing eviction blitz
Tenants in Toronto have had a rough go of it since the pandemic first hit in March and many lost their jobs, and now Ontario's Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) is barrelling through online eviction hearings in as little as 60 seconds in what many — including adjudicators themselves — have reffered to as an ongoing eviction "blitz."
The province's moratorium on residential evictions, introduced at the start of the pandemic, was lifted in August despite warnings that ending the ban would lead to mass evictions and only worsen the city's already dire housing and homeslessness crisis.
But demands from tenants and activists to extend the ban throughout the duration of COVID-19 went unanswered, and now it seems the forewarned mass evictions are taking place just as many said they would, through online hearings that have been riddled with ethical and technological issues.
"The Landlord Tenant Board's online eviction blitz targets tenants who lost their jobs and were unable to pay rent in full during the months of the economic shutdown. The blitz is happening in wintertime while COVID-19 cases are rising," Cole Webber, a legal clinic worker in Parkdale, told blogTO.
"In Toronto, where rent prices are unbearably high for working class people, the Canadian Emergency Response benefit was not enough. Essential workers who have been celebrated as heroes are now being evicted from their homes in as little as 60 seconds in online hearing videoconference calls."
Adjudicators are repeatedly referring to these hearing as an "eviction blitz" and "express eviction hearings". There are adjudicators that are presiding over hearings in which the law firm the adjudicator currently works for is representing the landlord.— Keep Your Rent Toronto (@KeepYourRent) December 2, 2020
According to Webber, in the month of November alone, the LTB scheduled nearly 2,500 online eviction hearings against Toronto tenants, and there are 2,000 online eviction hearings taking place each week province-wide.
In these hearings, which are conducted through Microsoft Teams video conference rooms and often last no more than a few minutes, tenants are having to accept hefty repayment plans for rent arrears they often can't afford on top of their regular rent, or face automatic eviction.
Here is a landlord suggesting to shake down a struggling tenants' mother for rent money. https://t.co/hEZvFdeyzg— Josh Hawley (@squashhawley) December 3, 2020
Keep Your Rent Toronto and People's Defence TO, organizations made up of tenants and activists advocating for no COVID-19 evictions, have been documenting these virtual LTB hearings by sharing video and audio footage in threads on Twitter.
And, as described by Webber, they show "endless horrors."
The absurdity/cruelty is the point https://t.co/Z8LphsgOXH— Ian Mosby (@Ian_Mosby) December 3, 2020
In one case, for example, the child of tenant who is not fluent in English was pressured to agree to a rent repayment plan on the parent's behalf.
The plan included a clause that would allow the landlord to get an automatic eviction order if the tenant is ever late by a dollar or a day on any scheduled repayment, and the child had no choice but to agree despite their parents' inability to understand what was happening.
The Landlord Tenant Board forcing a CHILD to translate complex legal matters because her parents don't speak English. If anything is lost in communication, their family could be kicked out of their home in the middle of winter and a pandemic. #ShutdownLTB https://t.co/Cdnp20bYeZ— M (@m_jay_vee) December 3, 2020
In another situation, a tenant expressed that she did not feel comfortable giving out her phone number publicly while on the call because she is a survivor of domestic abuse, but she was told she had no choice if she wanted to access Tenant Duty Counsel.
"When tenants are absent their eviction hearing goes ahead without them but when landlords don't show up the hearing is held down until later," said Webber. "When tenants come prepared to argue their case for relief from eviction they are told there is not enough time and the case is adjourned to a later date."
The legal clinic worker said the last time Toronto evictions spiked to historically high levels was after the mass job losses of the Great Recession in 2008, but the current blitz could easily outpace the number of evictions during that period and become the deepest economic crisis since the 1930s.
This is just my hearing, 50 of my neighbours were set to defend themselves from eviction and their landlord’s retaliation but the result was the same—adjourned, unheard. The LTB wants 60 sec evictions—but tenants came ready to fight, and we’re not finished yet. #ShutdownLTB https://t.co/GU2xIEdN4Z— Carly (@carlysomething) December 3, 2020
Tenants aren't just accepting this doomed fate, though — they're fighting it.
Many have showed up at their landlord's home or issued phone zaps and public letters demanding they work with tenants to organize reasonable repayment plans and rent relief.
And while some have been sympathetic to struggling tenants and agreed to compromise, others have stood firm in their demand for full repayment of any dollar missed throughout the first few months of the pandemic.
"Every day for weeks now tenants have been confronting their landlords and intervening at the Landlord Tenant Board in defense of their neighbours," said Webber.
"We've already seen tenants in East York organize to have a neighbour's home rightfully returned to her after she was illegally evicted by Toronto police. We've seen tenants block attempts made by sheriffs to remove tenants from their homes."
Now, tenants are also working to shed a light on what is going on during LTB hearings in hopes that somewhow, something will change.
"Tenants are working to expose what's happening in the online eviction hearings using social media and their real-life networks," he said. "We can expect this activity to ramp up if landlords and the government continue their reckless drive to evict tens of thousands of people out of their homes."
In the meantime, though, the hearings continue, and more and more Toronto residents are being pushed to the brink of homelessness in a city that is already greatly struggling to provide shelter for the more than 10,000 people who remain unhoused on any given night.
"From a public health perspective, a U.S. study showed that states which lifted their eviction moratoriums saw a corresponding rise in COVID-19 cases and deaths. This is common sense," said Webber.
"Homeless shelters in Toronto are full. When people are evicted from their homes they are often forced to move in with family members or friends. Evictions destroy working class lives and tear communities apart."
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