The Canadian press

“Lee” is on Thursday the 19th Pictured on the window of her apartment in West Toronto on March 23, 2020, THE CANADIAN PRESS / Chris Young

Tenant after tenant brought up the virtual meeting and described how COVID-19 has affected their lives and finances over the past year

A mother from Toronto said she was struggling to keep up with the bills after she lost her job in the restaurant industry. A Hamilton man who was behind on rent payments said he was with because of his financial situation after his release kept in touch with his landlord

“It’s COVID that people are fighting,” he appealed to landlord and tenant John Mazzilli in December 18 hearing block – all with non-payment of rent

Similar scenes that have played out over the past few weeks have caused concern among Ontario advocates, who say the start of evictions in the second wave of the pandemic coincides with a shift to online-only hearings that hit the deck against renters stack

“These people are being shown no mercy,” said Kenn Hale of the Advocacy Center for Tenants Ontario in a recent interview, “You should pay and pay now or get out”

Hale, director of advocacy and legal advice at ACTO, said it was “absurd” to evict people during a health crisis where many were unable to pay rent due to loss of income

“In normal times it is bad enough that people lose their homes and are treated unfairly in an administrative proceeding. But it can be life or death in the situation we are in,” Hale said in a recent interview >

Evictions have been on hold until late summer, and the Landlords and Tenants Committee is currently working on a backlog of cases that observers said had occurred prior to the pandemic and has grown this year as more people lose incomes

Tribunals Ontario are not tracking the evictions, but according to the ACTO, the board has more than 7 in November000 cases negotiated Ninety-six percent of these were filed by a landlord against a tenant, the ACTO said as of Dec. 14, 4597 hearings were scheduled for the month

Hale said the move to a purely online consultation model had made it difficult for tenants to explain their circumstances or get access to legal advice, including through the ACTO Mandatory Counselor Program

The attorneys now have to introduce themselves to the tenants in the virtual session in front of everyone else, and both have to leave the meeting to speak privately

Hale said such introductions don’t always go smoothly as lawyers enter “chaotic” listening situations where they have difficulty making themselves heard

There are also concerns about changes under Bill 184, which became law in the summer of allowing landlords to offer repayment arrangements without appearing before the landlords and tenants committee As a result, some renters may sign improper repayment terms without fully understanding their rights, Hale said

A group of Ontario legal hospitals, including ACTO, wrote to the Ontario Tribunals in October with guidelines for judges considering eviction cases during the pandemic – including public health risks and pressures on people’s finances

The progressive Conservative government has not yet responded to an opposition motion to freeze the evictions, which were passed unanimously this month, days before the legislative assembly was adjourned to February

Suze Morrison, MPP of the NDP, who presented the application, said the online listening format is inaccessible to people with visual impairments or people without stable internet access, among others

A statement from Ford’s office earlier this month said the government “continues to seek ways to continue to support Ontarians during this difficult time”

Tribunals Ontario, meanwhile, said it is pursuing “a digital first strategy to meet the diverse needs of Ontarians and improve the quality of our dispute resolution services””

Requests for face-to-face hearings would be considered on a case-by-case basis to ensure people were housed in accordance with the Human Rights Code. As of mid-December, the Ontario tribunals had not confirmed whether face-to-face hearings had been approved

Sam Nithiananthan, organizer at People’s Defense Toronto, said the online hearings had been a “double-edged sword” in the eviction process as allies can now hire and support their neighbors

Nithiananthan said the crisis has exposed long-standing problems faced by tenants in the city and is motivating tenants to organize in greater numbers than before

Keep Your Rent Toronto’s tenant organizer Bryan Doherty said his group and others have called for rent relief beyond an eviction moratorium, arguing that simply interrupting evictions would pile cases

“We knew that a moratorium at the beginning of the COVID crisis would actually only produce a flash of evacuation in the middle of the crisis, which is what we are seeing now,” he said by phone in a mid-December interview

Rents in Ontario’s largest city have long been prohibitive, and Doherty said, “COVID has thrown gasoline on this fire”

He said that pressure needs to be put on landlords and governments to deal with the housing crisis affecting working class renters during the pandemic and beyond

“I don’t think it’s going to be the same. The question is whether or not it will get worse or a little better,” he said

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World News – CA – “People Are Being Given No Mercy”: Online evictions raise alarms in Ontario