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Protesters take to the streets for the Labour Day parade in Toronto on Sept. 4, 2023.Arif Balkan/The Globe and Mail

Andrea Werhun is a performer, producer and author.

You might not know it based on the current crisis, but housing is a human right in Canada.

In 2019, the federal Liberal government enshrined the right to adequate housing in the National Housing Strategy Act. Canada is also a signatory to the U.N.-backed International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which recognizes housing as a human right in which parties must ensure the security of tenure for all citizens. Forced evictions are a prima facie violation of the covenant.

So why is it seemingly so easy for landlords in Ontario to use N12 and N13 notices to evict tenants from affordable housing in bad faith?

Illegal evictions are on the rise in Canada and go largely unpunished by all levels of government. With so little housing stock and the mounting price of new builds, bad-faith evictions threaten the ever-dwindling number of affordable housing units that remain on the market and potentially push long-term renters to the brink of homelessness.

In Ontario, where I live, N12 and N13 evictions are loopholes that allow individual landlords to legally end tenancies. The N12 evicts the tenant for the landlord’s own use, requiring either the landlord or an immediate family member to live in the unit for at least 12 months. The N13 evicts the tenant for demolition or conversion and is colloquially known as the “renoviction.” It requires the landlord to offer the tenant the right to return to the unit after the renovations are complete.

These requirements, however, go largely unenforced. It’s not uncommon for landlords to use N12 and N13 evictions to remove long-term tenants only to flip units back into the market at much higher rents – a practice known as vacancy decontrol.

Bad-faith evictions are illegal but difficult to prove to the Landlord and Tenant Board. Fines and other restrictions have done little to deter bad-faith evictions, which remain the fastest and most effective way for landlords to remove tenants from their rental units.

According to a 2023 report from the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, of the tenants evicted over the past 10 years, one in three were the result of N12 evictions.

I was one of them.

When my partner and I were served an N12 in May, 2023, by our landlord after five happy years in our Parkdale apartment, we believed their story: their son needed housing – ours. Legally, the landlord’s son must live in the unit for one year before they put the rental back on the market. We’ve got alerts for our former address set up on every rental website in Toronto and neighbours keeping an eye out.

If it turns out they’ve evicted us in bad faith? Well, the onus is on us to prove it. If my partner and I collect enough evidence that our former landlord is advertising the unit, renting it to anyone other than a family member, or selling or demolishing the building, that would be enough to file a T5 – Landlord Gave Notice of Termination in Bad Faith with the LTB.

According to The Globe and Mail, the number of N12 evictions disputed before the LTB almost doubled between 2012 and 2019. With a backlog of more than 53,000 cases and a year-long wait for a hearing, we’d have to exercise some mighty patience waiting for our case to be heard. Not to mention managing the extreme stress of suddenly losing our home in a market where rent had increased 42 per cent since the last time we’d moved.

Had we submitted the Bad Faith T5, we could have stayed in our unit until the LTB hearing, buying ourselves another year of tenancy. We chose, instead, to cut our losses and move into a new apartment.

If successful in disputing a bad-faith eviction – and sadly, the chances are slim – the tenant is entitled to the difference in any increased rent for one year, a payment of up to 12 months of the old rent, out-of-pocket expenses such as moving and storage, and general damages to a maximum of $35,000.

Bad-faith findings at the LTB are exceedingly rare. Landlords know they can get away with breaking the law with little to no consequence. In fact, for many landlords, it is more profitable to illegally evict the tenant and pay the fine – if they even decide to pay it.

As of November, 2023, the LTB says of the 13 fines issued to landlords for bad-faith evictions, only four have been paid. Most of those fines amounted to less than $5,000 per landlord to a maximum of $10,000.

Tracking the number of landlords issuing bad-faith evictions is difficult because many notices are printed and hand-delivered by landlords to tenants on paper, and do not reach the attention of the LTB until disputed. Nor do these numbers remotely reflect the maximum amount a landlord can be fined by the LTB.

In June, 2023, the Ontario Progressive Conservatives passed Bill 97, the Helping Homebuyers, Protecting Tenants Act, which they say will protect tenants who are facing personal use evictions. The bill increases the maximum fine for bad-faith evictions to $100,000.

That $100,000 might look good to tenants evicted in bad faith, but MPP Jessica Bell, the NDP’s housing critic, who debated Bill 97 in the Ontario Legislature, said it’s important to establish the fact that fine doesn’t go to the tenants: it goes to the LTB or the government. And since landlords only get fined if a wronged tenant files a successful T5, increasing fines without enforcement does nothing to change predatory landlord behaviour.

If the tenant leaves the unit and chooses to dispute an illegal eviction, the chances of them returning to that unit are close to zero. Once the landlord moves a new tenant in, the LTB won’t kick them out.

Municipal governments are now employing measures to tackle the negative effects of bad-faith evictions. After seeing a staggering 983-per-cent increase in the number of N13s issued to tenants between 2017 and 2022, Hamilton City Council unanimously passed a renovictions bylaw designed to better protect tenants living in affordable units.

Starting in January, 2025, landlords will need a renovation licence to evict a tenant; they must make arrangements with any tenant who wants to return to the unit once the renovation is complete, including providing the tenant with temporary accommodations comparable to their current rental and rate; and, when the renovation is complete, the landlord must allow the tenant to return to their unit at the same rate they paid before the work was done. Non-compliance with the bylaw could cost landlords up to $500 per unit per day, plus administrative fines. The Region of Waterloo is considering similar bylaws.

Bad-faith evictions contravene our human right to adequate housing and needlessly worsen an ever-deepening housing crisis in Canada. In addition to ending illegal evictions, advocates have called for an end to vacancy decontrol and above-guideline rental increases (AGIs), the re-establishment of rent control, and a landlord registry. Policies that treat housing as an investment for profit, rather than a right for every single person, force tenants to organize and take collective action against predatory landlords.

Tenants who face the sudden prospect of homelessness are responding to the threat to their “security of tenure” – to use language from the UN – by forming unions and going on rent strike. Tenants in Toronto at 33 King Street, 22 John Street, and 1440-1442 Lawrence Ave, represented by the York South-Weston Tenant Union, have been on rent strike since 2023 to protest unlawful AGIs and the landlord’s failure to keep buildings in good condition. Withholding rent is a last resort for tenants in a market driven by profits, not people. But if governments don’t take action to protect our human rights, tenants will.

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