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Life as a tenant during the COVID-19 crisis

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Image: PhotoMIX-Company/Pixabay

Oakville, Ontario strives to be the most liveable town in Canada. But for many it's extremely difficult to find affordable rental housing. So, when a basement apartment was listed on Kijiji for $750 a month including internet and utilities, Aviva* took it despite not signing an official lease. She moved in during March 2014.

Her space in the basement had a private washroom, but the kitchen was shared with the three people renting rooms upstairs.

In February, her landlord said he was thinking of selling the house. When the tenants asked for a text as proof that he was giving the them notice, he complied.

However, Aviva contacted the Landlord Tenant Board (LTB) and learned her landlord was required to provide written notice of his intension to sell. That document, officially titled "Notice to End your Tenancy Because the Landlord, a Purchaser or a Family Member Requires the Rental Unit" -- more commonly referred to as an N12 form -- states tenants must receive 60 days notice.

Aviva texted her landlord informing him of this. He replied by telling Aviva to use that information with her next landlord, and threatened to kick her out for trespassing. He also suggested that she, "Look into getting a room that doesn't have to be your forever place to live but just for the time being."

Eventually, arrangements were made for the landlord to bring over the document. Instead, he arrived empty handed and aggressively offered to refund March's rent, loan Aviva money to find a new place and provide a glowing reference if she left by the end of the month. This interaction coincided with the implementation of provincial shutdowns due to COVID-19 and reassurances renters could not be evicted.

A week later, Aviva received a "Notice to End your Tenancy at the End of the Term," or N8, stating that rent payments had been late a total of 18 times in the last six years. Aviva paid using e-transfers and records back to June 2017 show five payments made one day late when the 1st fell on a weekend or holiday. Aviva was never given warnings regarding late payments.

Even if Aviva had persistently paid her rent late, the termination date must be 60 days after receipt of this notice and on the last day of the rental period -- usually the last day of the month.

Aviva says, "I don't understand how I am supposed to search for places to live during these scary times. COVID-19 has changed peoples' lives. We are being asked to stay in as much as possible. People are not opening up their spaces for people to view in fear of getting infected by the virus."

The internet stopped working March 26. When Aviva informed her landlord, he simply put instructions for returning the modem in her mailbox. Aviva, like many other Canadians, is currently working from home and needs access to the internet.

Aviva's landlord recently extended her eviction to May 31. However, Avia remains wary of her landlord shutting off other essential services.

According to Giulia Reinhardt, executive director of Halton Community Legal Services, "Halton Community Legal Services has not seen an increase in illegal lockouts as a result of the COVID-19 crisis at this time. We have observed cooperation between tenants and landlords in negotiating payment plans and implementing programs to accommodate these negotiations. We have observed that Landlords continue to serve notices for eviction for unpaid rent (N4) and notices for eviction for Landlord's own use of the unit (N12)."

According to the Ontario government's website page titled "Renting: changes during COVID-19 (coronavirus)," due to the COVID-19 outbreak, no new eviction orders will be issued until further notice and enforcement has been suspended.

Life after lockdown has Reinhardt looking to the future because:

"Our biggest concern right now is what will happen when the return to 'normal' services occurs. We are deeply concerned that if this crisis persists for some time the Landlord and Tenant Board may turn to written or telephone hearings for eviction matters which would particularly disadvantage some of our clients. As a legal aid clinic that serves low income individuals who are marginalized and vulnerable there are multiple issues that may impact our client's ability to participate in such formats including language barriers, access to technology resources, bringing witnesses and evidence, and accessing legal advice beforehand. The ability to participate fully in a hearing is so important when the outcome of that hearing will determine whether or not you will lose your housing."

Currently, it is illegal for a landlord to change the locks to a rental unit or the building, without giving the tenant a key for the new locks. If your landlord has locked you out, or is threatening to lock you out, contact the Rental Housing Enforcement Unit: Tel: 416-585-7214 or Toll-free: 1-888-772-9277, or email [email protected]

*A pseudonym has been used to protect the renter's identity and avoid retribution from her landlord.

Doreen Nicoll is a freelance writer, teacher, social activist and member of several community organizations working diligently to end poverty, hunger and gendered violence.

Image: PhotoMIX-Company/Pixabay

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