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  • Petar Guzina

Is Ontario Ready for Rent Strikes?

The economic fallout from government mandated closures due to COVID-19 hasn't yet gone through a monthly rent cycle. As most residential rents are due on the 1st of the month, April 1 will be the first day that most residential rents come due during the State of Emergency. The Federal Government has announced recently that more than 1 million Canadians have applied for EI, the federal unemployment insurance program. Needless to say, there are going to be many unpaid rents in the near term. This was clearly anticipated by the Ontario Government which moved quickly to stop all evictions in Ontario, as I wrote about in my last Blog post.

Rent Strikes

A "rent strike" is a co-ordinated withholding of rent by a group of tenants usually in the same residential complex. Rent strikes have occurred with enough frequency in Ontario's urban centres over the past couple of years to have garnered news coverage. They seem to have had the goal of gaining leverage in negotiations with landlord's for specific actions in relation to buildings, usually associated with lingering maintenance concerns and/or the organization of a tenant's association. Community organizers from non-profit organizations are most likely to be involved in organizing and promoting rent strikes.

LTB and Rent Strikes

In the past, rent strike cases at the Landlord and Tenant Board have been scheduled, as much as possible, together and before the same Member for continuity. Rent Strike cases have often been associated with protests at hearing sites, and even inside the hearing room. In the relatively normal times of the past couple of years rent strike cases have taken months to wind their way through an already overloaded and underfunded system.

What Now with COVID-19?

Time will tell what impact, if any, this call for rent strikes will have. The organizations calling for rent strikes have had success in organizing them in the past and these much harder economic times may attract more to their cause. Meanwhile, landlords and landlord organizations have been proactive trying to get the word out to tenants that they will work with tenants who are unable to pay the full rent and to keep communication lines open. Some landlords have even taken the initiative to reach out and provide assistance to tenants during this time.

For tenants who engage in a rent strike now, they (or at least the organizers) do so knowing that evictions in Ontario have been suspended. For landlords who face a rent strike they do so with the same knowledge.

The courts have left open the possibility enforcing evictions with the granting of leave; however, this cannot be obtained without already having an eviction order from the LTB. The LTB has stated that eviction applications will proceed only for "illegal act" and "serious impairment of safety" cases.

Some questions for which we may have an answer should this crisis last longer than we hope: At what point will landlords caught up in a rent strike feel the need to take legal action? If legal action is taken during the COVID-19 shut down, will the LTB be receptive to special pleadings from landlords facing deliberate withholding of rent to schedule an eviction application for the non-payment of rent? And if the LTB decides to proceed on such a case, how long will it take the Board to organize, schedule, and hear such applications given the restriction on hearings already in place? It is anyone's guess what the LTB will do.

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