POLITICS
12/22/2020 11:21 EST | Updated 12/29/2020 15:37 EST

Official Says Eviction Bans Help Control COVID-19, But Ontario Hasn’t Acted

“People can’t isolate if they don’t have a home to do that in."

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, dean of the University of Toronto's Public Health Department, answers questions during a news conference at Queen's Park in Toronto on April 20, 2020.

Ontario has so far resisted resuming its eviction ban during the pandemic, but onehealth official acknowledged Monday it’s a measure that would help vulnerable communities as COVID-19 continues to spread. 

“In terms of extra supports, it’s everything from making sure that people don’t have to choose between going to work or putting food on the table, so income support is critical,” Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, dean of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, said at the province’s COVID-19 modelling update Monday.

Brown, who is also the co-chair of Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table, added it’s important people can safely isolate, either by moving to an isolation hotel themselves or moving family members to a different location if someone who is positive is isolating at home. 

“It’s eviction moratoriums, it’s very, very clear communication, working with communities to make sure that people understand the importance of testing and adherence to public health interventions,” Brown said.

WATCH: Ontario-wide lockdown to start Dec. 26. Story continues below. 

New modelling shows Ontario could reach 3,000 to 5,000 cases per day by the end of January if the province’s case rate continues to grow between one and three per cent. And officials said Monday, under all scenarios more than 300 ICU beds will be filled within 10 days, meaning surgeries will have to be cancelled and there will be a risk of delayed access to care.

Data has also shown Black and Indigenous people, and people of colour, have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. 

Brown repeatedly emphasized the need to address structural barriers impeding Ontario’s pandemic response, such as a lack suitable housing and precarious work.

“In these sorts of communities, unless there’s strong support for people to isolate and stay at home, we will not be able to get control of the pandemic,” he said.

Virtual eviction hearings an ‘absolute mess’

Ontario’s Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) halted eviction hearings during the first wave of the pandemic, meaning landlords could still file an eviction notice but couldn’t take the process further unless a tenant posed a safety risk or did something illegal. 

A spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing did not respond to HuffPost Canada’s question of whether the province would bring back its eviction moratorium.

Conrad Spezowka said the province has passed legislation mandating landlords to try to negotiate a rent repayment agreement with tenants instead of resorting to eviction. He said the province also introduced a rent freeze in October and put $510 million into the social services relief fund for rent banks and emergency loans. 

The province encourages tenants struggling to pay rent to contact their local Service Manager for support.

Meanwhile, LTB hearings resumed in August.

Suze Morrison, the Ontario NDP’s critic for tenant rights, told HuffPost the virtual evictions hearings she’s witnessed have been an “absolute mess.” She said she’s worried about reports of people with disabilities being denied access to accommodation and people with language barriers denied translators. 

“There’s no reason for these hearings to be going on the way that they are,” she said. “And, quite frankly, the solution here is an eviction moratorium, which will then also give the tenant board the time and space to sort out the technological issues they’re having, so they can figure out how to have ... a humane hearing process that adheres to human rights and access to justice.”

Morrison echoed Brown’s comments, noting there are strong public health reasons for an eviction ban right now.

“People can’t isolate if they don’t have a home to do that in,” she said.

The consequences of that will be devastating ...Suze Morrison

She put forward a motion calling for the province to reinstate its evictions moratorium. It passed unanimously, but the legislature is now adjourned so it can’t be debated. Premier Doug Ford would need to pass an emergency order to stop evictions. 

Morrison said there are 7,000 eviction hearings scheduled between now and January. 

“We are never going to get a handle on this virus and on the spread of this virus if we push 7,000 families into homelessness in the next month,” she said. “The consequences of that will be devastating in terms of the spread of this virus through our community.”

A Tribunals Ontario spokesperson said in a statement to HuffPost there were 15,973 evictions-related hearings scheduled from Aug. 1 to Dec. 30. As of Dec. 21, there are 3,606 scheduled hearings for eviction applicants for the remainder of the month going into 2021, they said.

They said hearings can also be conducted by phone or in writing, and requests for in-person hearings are considered on a case-by-case basis “to ensure access to justice for those who require accommodation under the Human Rights Code or to ensure procedural fairness.”

The LTB has not “historically” provided interpreters for languages other than English or French, the spokesperson said.

Small landlords ‘really suffering,’ call for support

William Blake, a member of the Ontario Landlords Association (OLA), told HuffPost he’s in favour of the eviction ban because it helps tenants and prevents unnecessary travel or interactions that could spread COVID-19.

“If we’re really serious about doing the lockdown and trying to get the pandemic under control, you can’t have, like, hundreds and thousands of tenants going around looking for other units.”

But he said a ban would need to be accompanied by support for small landlords who are “really suffering.”

“What we’re calling for is if there is a ban on evictions to help [with] stopping the spread of COVID-19, yes, that’s a public policy decision and it seems to make sense,” he said. “But on the other hand, small landlords need to get help to cover our mortgages and costs.”

Blake pointed to B.C., which introduced a measure to give landlords $500 if a tenant lost income because of the pandemic.

“We think that would be a win-win situation for the tenants who don’t have to worry about finding a new home until it’s safe, and also to let small landlords sleep well at night, knowing that they’re not going to lose their property over the next three months or so,” he said.

He added he and other small landlords are unhappy with the LTB’s “evictions blitz.”

He said the OLA is calling for more adjudicators to be hired.

The Tribunals Ontario spokesperson said the LTB “currently has the highest number of adjudicators ever appointed” but did not say how many have been hired.

“There’s a lot of concern that the landlord tenant board has turned into something that’s unfair, unjust, and it’s only going to make the entire system seem worse from a tenant’s perspective, and also from a landlord’s perspective,” Blake said. “And this is all on the Ford government.”

With a file from the Canadian Press

This story has been updated with a statement from Tribunals Ontario.