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Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, at a press conference on Sept. 10, 2018. Clark tabled a bill in the legislature on Thursday that would boost fines for violations.

Fred Lum/the Globe and Mail

The Ontario government says new legislation it introduced Thursday takes aim at unscrupulous landlords who kick out tenants in order to renovate their units or rent them out to others at higher rates.

But tenants’ advocates argue the proposed changes to the province’s Residential Tenancies Act will do little to curtail what they say are tens of thousands of unlawful evictions and what they call “renovictions” across Ontario each year.

Steve Clark, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, tabled a bill in the legislature on Thursday that would boost fines for violations. It would also require landlords evicting tenants from a unit they intend to use themselves to report to the Landlord and Tenant Board if they have done that previously within the past two years – something Mr. Clark said would allow the board to determine patterns of wrongdoing. In some cases, landlords falsely claim they are taking over units for their own use, but then turn around and rent them to others at higher rates.

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The bill would also force landlords of buildings with fewer than five units to pay one-month’s rent in compensation to tenants in “no fault” evictions, as larger landlords must.

Mr. Clark said the bill’s higher maximum fines for violations, increased to $50,000 from $25,000 for individuals and to $250,000 from $100,000 for a corporation, would deter bad landlord behaviour.

“It will make someone think twice about trying to unlawfully evict a tenant,” Mr. Clark said.

Landlords who evict tenants under false pretenses, or who fail to offer renovated units back to their evicted tenants, could be forced to cover the difference in rent costs their former tenants face for two years, up from the current one-year period, to a maximum of $35,000.

The legislation also includes provisions to streamline the process before the Landlord and Tenant Board and, the government says, make it easier for landlords and tenants to settle disputes without formal hearings.

The changes were welcomed by the Federation of Rental-Housing Providers of Ontario, a landlord association.

But tenants-rights advocates, who also oppose the Progressive Conservative government’s 2018 move to scrap rent controls on new buildings, say the bill will make little difference to tenants. Geordie Dent of the Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations says the bill’s provisions to hike fines and compensation would make no difference for the thousands of evictions and renovictions that are never brought before the Landlord and Tenant Board.

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“The problem is 98 per cent of these don’t go to hearings,” Mr. Dent said. “They’re fraud.”

He also said that some of the bill’s other changes would weaken a 90-day notice provision for rent hikes and make it more difficult for tenants to win disputes over repairs and unpaid rent.

Caryma Sa’d, a housing lawyer in Toronto, said she had concerns about the bill’s aim to streamline procedures at the Landlord and Tenant Board.

“It’s under the guise of streamlining. But if streamlining simply means removing procedural protections for tenants, that’s not beneficial in this type of housing market,” she said. "It needs to be more difficult to evict, not easier.”

Tenants’ advocates have been raising increasing alarms about the number of bad-faith evictions and renovictions. Last year, a Globe and Mail investigation found that the number of cases before Ontario’s Landlord and Tenant Board involving evictions by landlords demanding units for their own use had doubled since 2012.

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