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In September, the Ontario legislature unanimously passed Bill 14, the Non-profit Housing Co-operatives Statute Law Amendment Act. When it takes effect, most likely in late spring or early summer, housing co-ops will be able to bring evictions before the Landlord and Tenant Board, a tribunal previously reserved for tenants who fall under the Residential Tenancies Act. Co-ops will no longer have to go to court to fight for the eviction of a member.
Housing co-ops are considered a form of affordable housing and created to foster a mixed income community. Some co-op residents choose to live in a co-op for the lower rent and the co-op model, while others, who can’t afford market rent, also willingly seek it out. Other residents end up in co-ops after a long wait for affordable housing, often not aware of what living in a co-op entails.
Approximately 125,000 people live in housing co-ops in Ontario, according to the the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada (CHFC).
Residents of housing co-ops are not tenants. They are members who own and manage a co-op corporation. The membership elects a board of directors that will represent them and act in the best interest of the co-op. Sometimes this means evicting a resident.
By going through the Landlord and Tenant Board’s mediation services, eviction proceedings will be faster, fairer and cheaper for both the co-op and the resident-members, according to the Ontario government and CHFC.
“By going to a specialized tribunal like the Landlord and Tenant Board, it’s much simpler — things can be resolved in a shorter period of time and in a cheaper way,” says Yasir Naqvi, the Ontario Minister of Labour and MPP for Ottawa Centre, who pushed for the bill at legislature.
Residents of co-ops have expressed concern over an apparent lack of equal access to the Landlord and Tenant Board.
“It is unequal before the law,” says Sharon Danley, a resident of the Older Women’s Network (OWN) Housing Co-operative in downtown Toronto. “And how it’s unequal before the law is the co-op can take a member to the Landlord and Tenant Board for eviction but a member can’t take the board and staff to the Landlord and Tenant Board for mismanagement, harassment, any problems at all.”
Danley has been living in co-ops for 16 years. She moved to the OWN Co-op after fleeing from another co-op a few blocks away, where her daughter was accused of being a drug addict. “She was taking drugs for epilepsy,” Danley explains. Switching co-ops didn’t mean she and her daughter were spared from harassment, though.
“I can’t tell you the horrendous, awful stuff I had to put up with in her name or protecting her and other people I’ve tried to protect in this co-op too,” she says. Her daughter passed away earlier this year.
Many co-op residents feel they have no place to turn when their co-op is not acting fairly, Danley says. CHFC, which lobbied for this bill, and the Ontario government, had the opportunity to give equal access for co-op residents to the Landlord and Tenant Board, but they chose not to, say co-op residents.
“The thing you have to remember, is to ask yourself who wanted this bill? That was CHFC. Why do they want it? To make evictions easier,” says Steve O’Brien, who lives in Blue Heron Co-op in Ottawa.
CHFC exists to support and lobby for the housing co-op sector nationwide. There are also regional associations across Canada such as the Co-operative Housing Association of Eastern Ontario (CHASEO) for the Ottawa region, and CHFBC for British Columbia. Being faithful to their base, CHFC and the regional associations run as co-operatives, their members being the housing co-ops.
“Be careful about members because CHFC considers co-ops their members. And when they say the co-op, they mean the board and the management, not the people living there. CHFC, CHASEO here, don’t give a crap about the residents,” O’Brien says. “You have too many disparate elements in a housing co-op. You have people that are in social housing that are there not because it’s a co-op, but because that’s the first place that became open to them.”
The only recourse for a resident remains the courts. If a resident does make it to court, they often have a hard time arguing their case. As Neighbourhood Legal Services, a non-profit legal clinic in Toronto, puts it: “A great amount of deference is shown to the [Board of] Directors’ decision due to the ‘democratic’ nature of co-ops, and courts will rarely intervene to overturn an eviction decision.”
CHFC and the regional associations do not give support to individual residents. They delegate any issues to the co-op’s board of directors.
“If members right now don’t like the service they’re receiving, or they don’t like the rules that are in place, they have the opportunity to change it,” says CHASEO’s executive director, Céline Carrière. “They have the opportunity to write a letter to their board, they can put in place a bylaw amendment that changes the rule that is contentious within their co-op.”
The problem with deferring to the board to solve internal issues is that boards have been known to take control of their co-op.
“These boards lobby to get people they can boss around and tell them as board members, this is who you like, this is who you don’t like, this is what you vote for,” Danley says. “They don’t want any thinking people on boards who will challenge some of the things these boards are doing. They will do everything to keep people like that off.”
While residents wait with apprehension for Bill 14 to come into force, the question remains if co-op residents will ever be given a place to turn that isn’t their board of directors or the courts. “[We need to] have a place where members can go and complain,” Danley says. “Either a panel, a board or something, that is arm’s lengths removed, because they don’t have any (such) place.”
The ability to go to a neutral outside organization for management transgressions is the first step, says Danley.
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Josh Hawley is currently a Graduate Diploma student in Journalism program at Concordia University in Montreal.
Photo: flickr/Steve Harris