(TORONTO – May 4, 2023) Tens of thousands of Ontarians have been denied fast, fair access to justice and suffered hardship because of “excruciatingly long” delays at the Landlord and Tenant Board, Ombudsman Paul Dubé reveals in his latest investigation report, released today.
Severe backlogs, staff shortages and antiquated technology that had plagued the Board for years exploded in the “perfect storm” of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ombudsman says in his report, entitled Administrative Justice Delayed, Fairness Denied. The added pressures of lockdowns, remote work, virtual hearings and a pause on eviction orders caused extreme disruption to its operations, he found.
“As an administrative tribunal, the Board is fundamentally failing in its role of providing swift justice to those seeking resolution of residential landlord and tenant issues. In doing so, it is denying justice to a significant segment of Ontarians,” he says in the report.
Where once it took the Board a matter of days to schedule hearings, it now takes an average of seven to eight months – and scheduling of some tenant applications can take up to two years, he notes. Delays also plagued virtually every other stage of the Board’s process. Even after decisions, many people had to wait for months for the adjudicators orders to be issued – and some had to have their cases reheard because Board members retired.
“Over the past few years, the Board has proven itself unequipped for the task of reducing its extraordinary backlog of applications. More importantly, those applications represent tens of thousands of Ontarians suffering hardship caused by the Board’s inability to provide timely service.”
The Ombudsman received more than 4,000 complaints from people on both sides of the landlord-tenant relationship. Many described the financial and mental harm they suffered while “trapped in the queue,” waiting for their applications to be heard.
“There were tenants stuck waiting while they endured harassment, unsafe living conditions, and improper attempts to force them from their homes. And there were small landlords, including those renting out space within their own homes, who were trying to cope with tenants’ abuse, criminal conduct, and facing financial ruin and serious health harms,” he writes. “It was clear that prolonged delays in having their applications resolved were causing them and others significant hardship.”
The investigation, conducted by the Special Ombudsman Response Team, reviewed the Board’s existing systemic problems, as well as its struggles with COVID-related challenges, including a shift to online hearings and a glitchy application portal. Throughout, Ombudsman staff helped numerous tenants and landlords resolve their individual cases.
Among the “host of inefficiencies” the investigation identified were:
A shortage of qualified adjudicators (members), compounded by a lengthy, cumbersome appointment and training process
A complex application process that sometimes forces applicants to start over for errors
Antiquated systems that are not equipped to triage or expedite urgent cases, track orders and member caseloads, or identify members near the end of their terms
A lack of available bilingual adjudicators, and issues with application forms that only identify if applicants require services in French, not respondents
The bulk of the Ombudsman’s 61 recommendations are directed at the Board and/or Tribunals Ontario and set out detailed proposals for reforms. Three call for the government to change legislation to remove impediments to appointing members. Others urge the Ministry, Board and Tribunals Ontario to work together to ensure the Board’s backlog is reduced.
Tribunals Ontario, on behalf of the Board, has accepted the recommendations, as has the Ministry, and both have pledged to report back to the Ombudsman on their progress in implementing them. As well, the government recently announced an investment of $6.5 million to hire 40 more adjudicators and five more staff at the Board.
“I urge the Government of Ontario to act quickly to increase the Board’s adjudicative capacity and fund the additional staff required to support the new members. Otherwise, given the timelines involved in recruitment and training, the positive impacts of this initiative could be significantly delayed,” the Ombudsman says in the report. “The sooner this initiative moves forward, the sooner the Board will be in a position to improve its service levels.”
About the Office of the Ombudsman: The Ombudsman is an independent and impartial officer of the Ontario Legislature. Under the Ombudsman Act, the Ombudsman reviews and resolves complaints and inquiries from the public about provincial government organizations, as well as French language services, child protection services, municipalities, universities and school boards. The Ombudsman does not overturn the decisions of elected officials or set public policy, but makes recommendations to ensure administrative fairness, transparency and accountability. The Ombudsman's investigations have benefited millions of Ontarians and prompted widespread reforms, including improved newborn screening, a more secure lottery system, better tracking of inmates in segregation and enhanced drug funding.
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