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New report confronts York Region eviction horror stories

'The rental market is operating as a failed system without sufficient safeguards for tenants,' report says
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Former Newmarket Heights local engagement co-ordinator Lisa Hooper fought for her rights as a tenant.

While fighting against her own eviction and helping others in her Newmarket neighbourhood, Hooper became terminally ill earlier this year. Unwilling to continue fighting her landlord, she agreed to a formal mediation with the landlord at the provincial Landlord Tenant Board (LTB), where she agreed to leave the home in exchange for $10,000 in a binding agreement. 

Hooper and her partner both died last summer, leaving four children behind. But with Hooper passing a few days before the family's departure from the house, the landlord decided not to pay the $10,000, despite efforts from extended family to retrieve it, according to a new report from the University of Waterloo. The LTB indicated it could not help and the family would have to go to small claims court.

“Already feeling overwhelmed and full of grief, Lisa’s family would have to start another legal process with which they had no familiarity, skills or knowledge, and few resources to hire legal help,” the report recounts.

That is just one of the stories told in the research report from the Social Planning Network of Ontario and University of Waterloo. The report highlights the impact of displacement through interviews with tenants in York Region, Kingston, Oxford County and Cornwall, seeking to highlight the issue and possible solutions.

Social Planning Network of York Region’s Yvonne Kelly is one of the authors of the report. She said displacement is the term to use, rather than just eviction because you lose more than just a house.

“You lose your connections. You lose your access to schools and work and community and support,” Kelly said, adding the report is “diving deeper into what that experience is like, and all the costs that come align with it. Not just individuals, but whole communities.” 

The report highlights the plight of tenants based on 113 interviews, including 18 in the York Region. 

The York Region case study said the landlord in Hooper’s case soon moved to sell the home, despite claiming the eviction was to have a family member move in.

“Landlords avoid repercussions because the onus is on the tenant to monitor the landlord’s actions following eviction, then complete and submit an application at the LTB," the report said. “Most tenants going through displacement said they were not likely to have the time, energy, or resources to follow through with this process.”

The report highlighted the mental toll it can take on York Region tenants to be in conflict with a landlord, with participants describing the impact of intimidation and harassment, made worse by housing unaffordability and the possibility of homelessness.

A single mother of two in Markham named Brenda described what repeated threats of eviction did to her family:

“This was a disaster, it put so much stress on my family, I cried, I was anxious, we all worried, my kids were a wreck, we all thought we’d be homeless,” the report quoted.

The report said it is clear that “displacement is fear-inducing, destabilizing, and traumatic” and the tactics being employed by some landlords are creating “increased polarization in York Region communities.”

The report concludes that landlords have a financial incentive to engage in a cycle of displacement to increase monthly rental revenues on units, and are using tools to get tenants to leave faster. 

“Overall, the rental market is operating as a failed system without sufficient safeguards for tenants.”

The report recommends that governments recognize housing as a fundamental human right, inclusionary zoning bylaws to ensure new developments have some affordable units, vacant housing taxes and efforts to preserve existing affordable housing stock, among others.

Kelly said the province needs more vacancy control, meaning someone can upcharge a rental after evicting someone else. That can drive eviction, with rent prices increasing dramatically.

“Every time someone loses an affordable housing unit, we lose it for good,” she said. “If we don’t get a lock on rental control across as the system, as well as vacancy control, we’re not going to have any affordable housing in 10 years. That’s going to be even more important than all the talk about building.” 

You can read the report through