The system that is supposed to protect the rights of both tenants and landlords seems stacked in favour of renters, the president of the Greater Sudbury Landlords Association told Sudbury.com today.
Last week, Sudbury.com brought you the story of a "tenant blacklist" some 200 names long that was circulating among members of a private Facebook group called Sudbury Landlords.
Raymond Goulet told Sudbury.com that the process to go from a tenant not paying rent to that tenant's eviction is a months long, during which time the landlord has to continue footing all the bills while the tenant basically lives for free. So, he can understand why frustrated landlords would want to compile a list of "bad tenants" as a way of protecting themselves and their investment.
He has seen landlords deal with just about every frustrating challenge imaginable when it comes to dealing with problem tenants, and it often seems the system does a better job of protecting the right of renters than it does of landlords.
"One landlord that we're presently working with, she called me and was breaking down over the phone because she was so frustrated and discouraged with what was going on," said Goulet.
"I actually went up to her place because of her frustration level. She's an elderly woman in her 70s and she has a house that's occupied by a renter that hasn't paid their rent for six months. The tenant is obligated to pay their rent monthly no matter what their issue is, that is definite, that is defined. All tenants are required to pay their rent no matter what issues they have with their landlord."
The landlord Goulet spoke about is currently out nearly $10,000 in unpaid rent, and has also been on the hook to pay taxes and hydro bills for the rental property. The case is not as unusual as city landlords would like it to be, he said.
"This particular person is getting free rent," said Goulet. "Everyone has an obligation to uphold their responsibilities in life, whether it's paying your bills, your mortgage, your rent, whatever it may be. Life isn't fair and this shouldn't take place."
Goulet said it's mostly landlords with one or two properties who are generally getting stiffed on rent. He said he doesn't know of any available official data when it comes to how many landlords are losing money every year.
That said, based on information that comes to the association, Goulet estimates, on average, landlords in the city are losing $3,000 to $4,000 a year in unpaid rent.
How to evict a tenant
But when it comes to evicting a tenant, it's not as easy as one might think when a landlord goes through the proper channels.
Goulet said landlords have a right to file what's called an 'N4' in cases of non-payment of rent, which serves the tenant notice of early end of tenancy: 14 days for those who rent by month or year, or seven days notice for those who pay rent by day or week.
"We encourage landlords, that first month that a tenant doesn't pay rent that the landlord files an N4, which is an eviction notice," said Goulet. "Then they wait 14 days and file for an L1 which gets them a court case at the landlord tenant tribunal. (But) then the court date may not come for a month or two."
Even when a landlord is able to get a court date, Goulet explains that the deck is stacked heavily in favour of the tenant and the onus is mainly on the landlord.
"An adjudicator will assess both sides and the paperwork, and the paperwork is critical, it has to be filled out correctly, the tenant doesn't have to fill any paperwork, the tenant doesn't have to pay for legal (representation), they can get free legal aid, the landlord has to pay for a paralegal and we encourage the landlord to get a paralegal to resolve the case because if paperwork is filled out incorrectly it's thrown out," said Goulet.
"If you even mix up a date on the paperwork it's incorrect and it's thrown out."
This tenant blacklist became public knowledge last week after a man who had joined the group became aware of its existence and shared it with Sudbury.com. In the wake of publishing the story, there has been a significant response from readers, garnering more than 550 comments on Facebook, with many commenters siding with the landlords.
The man who provided Sudbury.com with the list, Matthew Hahnimaki, says he feels it's wrong for landlords to keep a list like this, and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada appears to agree with that sentiment, but many readers are backing landlords in the matter.
"It’s brilliant. Save others from getting burned and provide the opportunity to those that respect another person’s investment to rent," said David Lloyd in a Facebook post of the story.
"I agree! Why not give another landlord a warning about certain tenants! These people should be respecting other people’s properties!" said Amanda Martin in response to Lloyd's post.
There are some commenters who side with Hahnimaki and don't agree with the list. Kelsey Lortie responded to Lloyd's comment, stating, "In theory yes, it's a good idea however some landlords are more shady than tenants so if someone just doesn't like you, couldn't they submit your name?"
Lortie's comments echo that of Hahnimaki when he spoke with Sudbury.com last week, indicating that he has always paid his rent on time, but his comments or questions about maintenance or repairs could rub his landlord the wrong way and have him blacklisted as well.
An overarching theme among those who weighed in on the story is that Ontario's Landlord Tenant Act is stacked in favour of the tenant and landlords are often left with little to no options when it comes to dealing with problematic clients.
One Sudbury landlord who did not wish to have her name published but was willing to speak with Sudbury.com said that there's little protection from the Landlord Tenant Board, even in cases that landlords win.
"We can't garnish welfare or ODSP, yet we are also not allowed to discriminate against them," she said. "Welfare recipients who are given money strictly for rent and don't pay their rent are not only screwing their landlord, they're also defrauding the system, and yet welfare will still give them their monthly cheque, knowing that their rent is not being paid."
If a tenant is served with an N4, they can pay the amount of rent owed, which stops the landlord from applying to evict the tenant. Conversely, the tenant can disagree with the notice, but can't be forced out until the eviction notice is issued, something that can take months to occur. Meanwhile, the tenant can continue to live in an apartment, while not paying their rent as they wait on the eviction.
As stated on the official N4, "You could talk to your landlord. You may also want to get legal advice. If you cannot work things out, the landlord may apply to the Board for an order to evict you. The Board will schedule a hearing where you can explain why you disagree."
If a tenant decides to agree to the N4 and move out by the termination date, they officially end their tenancy, and the Landlord and Tenant Board is no longer involved, regardless if there is money owed for unpaid rent. There's no mechanism, other than the courts, for a landlord to get what they're owed.
And, because the amounts owed are relatively small, trying to recoup those losses through the courts is often more trouble (and more money) than it's worth, with no guarantee the landlord will win the case or, even if they do, that they'll see any of the money they're owed.
Sudbury.com has left several messages for the landlord who has been managing a blacklist of allegedly problem tenants for a private Facebook page called Sudbury Landlords. However, messages have not been returned.
Are you a landlord or a tenant? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.