02/10/2019 11:20 EST | Updated 02/10/2019 11:20 EST

Ontario PCs Float The Idea Of Private Eviction Enforcement

Landlords say the current process takes too long.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark attend a press conference on Sept. 10, 2018.

TORONTO — It would be a mistake for Ontario's Progressive Conservative government to contract out eviction enforcement, one tenant advocacy group says.

"When people have to be evicted from their home, there's some pretty nasty situations going on like family breakdowns, illnesses, deaths in the family, bankruptcy, poverty, mental health," said Kenn Hale, the director of advocacy and legal services for the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario (ACTO).

Internal documents obtained by The Toronto Star show the government is considering the use of private bailiffs to evict tenants out of their homes. Hale's colleague, ACTO policy analyst Mary Todorow, confirmed to HuffPost Canada that it was raised at a closed government consultation she attended on Feb. 1 as a way to "streamline the eviction process."

Currently, only public servants known as public enforcement officers can remove tenants once an eviction is ordered.

Some things have to be government functions.Kenn Hale

"The idea of saving a few bucks by contracting this out rather than having public servants, who are sworn to uphold the public good, is really a bad idea," Hale said. "Some things have to be government functions."

Public enforcement officers do their job with professionalism and compassion, Hale said, and they point tenants who have nowhere else to live to shelters and community services.

"It's not much," he said, "but at least there's some kind of public accountability."

Landlords have been asking for private bailiffs for years

One landlord, however, told HuffPost that the eviction process takes too long and private bailiffs would speed it up.

William Blake is a senior member of the Ontario Landlord Association (OLA), a community organization that represents small independent landlords. Blake owns about 50 units in Toronto, the GTA and Alberta.

The OLA has been asking the government to allow private bailiffs to do evictions for years, Blake said.

He said the government enforcement officers have a backlog and take too long.

"When a landlord goes through the eviction process, it can take six to eight months."

A lot of small landlords are one missed rent payment away from big troubles.William Blake

Landlords depend on rent payments for their livelihoods, he said, and going months without rent is a major financial strain.

"A lot of small landlords are one missed rent payment away from big troubles."

A spokeswoman for Steve Clark, the minister in charge of housing, would not confirm or deny that the PCs are looking at the idea of private eviction bailiffs.

The idea "is neither the current policy of the government nor proposed legislation at this time," Julie O'Driscoll, Clark's director of communications told HuffPost in an email.

Todorow, the ACTO representative who attended the government's consultation, said they fought back when the former Liberal government considered the same thing in 2016.

"It was like Groundhog Day," Todorow told HuffPost of the PC consultation. "We've already gone through this."

Former Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne speaks in the legislative chamber at Queen's Park in Toronto on July 30, 2018. Her government considered allowing private bailiffs to enforce evictions orders but didn't go through with it.

In a submission to the Liberal government three years ago, ACTO outlined the reasons why it opposes this policy.

Sometimes landlords and tenants misrepresent their situation, ACTO wrote in its paper, so the enforcement officer needs to be impartial. Paid bailiffs might just do as the landlord says, because that's who is paying their fee.

"Simply put, a lock-out, even if warranted and lawful, is a traumatic event for a family," ACTO wrote.

"Children simply never forget a forced eviction from their home and you cannot put a price on a responsible, well-mannered, professional coming to the door to do an undeniably terrible thing."

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