Thursday, May 28, 2009

Too much support for such a small number of tenants

There are a number of tenant groups who claim to represent tenants. They include the Federation of Metro Tenants. CERA. ACTO and the legal aid clinic system.

From my perspective, they don't represent tenants, but only a small sub-set of tenants. They generally represent tenants who are on the margins of being evicted, generally because they haven't been willing to live within the rules. The 98% of tenants who pay their rent, report maintenance issues as they occur, don't blast music at midnight and who don't damage their units, find nothing of interest in the likes of ACTO, the FMT or the clinic system. The resources being spent on the tenant side, with community 80 legal clinics, CERA, ACTO and the Tenant Duty Counsel program all funded by government, is perverse. And if they have $100,000,000 between them, multiply that by 50 to see the real power, since they generally provide services to the same 2% of the tenant population.

The tenant duty counsel program (TDCP) funded by your tax dollars provides lawyers or community legal workers to staff outposts at Landlord and Tenant Board locations around the province. Tenants come in, supposedly prepared to proceed after seeking outside legal advice, free from the clinic system, and then they get another kick at the can with the TDCP, delaying hearings and creating unnecessary adjournments at the advice of counsel.

Moreover, there is the appearance of bias when the TDCP exists within the Landlord and Tenant Board offices. In two of Toronto's LTB offices, you need to go inside the Board office to get to the TDCP office. The workers for the TDCP appear to be Board employees, but giving advice to tenants only. This from a quasi-judicial administrative agency that must be seen to be even-handed. The relationship is too cozy for my liking. The also delay proceedings terrible. Read this letter sent this week to the Chair of the LTB and the managing director about an experience I had in Peterborough just this week:

May 26th, 2009

Dr. Lilian Ma

Chair, Landlord and Tenant Board

777 Bay Street, 12th Floor

Toronto ON

M5G 2E5

Ms. Diana Macri

Director of Operations

Landlord and Tenant Board

777 Bay Street, 12th Floor

Toronto ON

M5G 2E5

Dear Dr. Ma and Ms. Macri:

Re: Concerns regarding tenant duty counsel program

I wanted to pass along some comments regarding an experience I had today in Peterborough. My concern is not just the experience today, but certainly it is today’s events that prompted me to put my thoughts to paper.

I understand the Board has no affiliation with the Tenant Duty Counsel program, and that is well enough and with good reason. However, there is often an appearance for landlords that the two are in some way connected. Take the Toronto North and Toronto East offices where the TDC office is inside the Board offices. Last year a policy was instituted with respect to certain agents who monopolized Board mediation rooms without a mediator being present. The rationale was that this gave the appearance that the legal representative worked for or with the Board.

I find that the deference given to the TDC program staff lawyers by Board Members borders on creating an appearance of a too-familiar connection. In Peterborough, the local community legal clinic’s practice of having the same staff lawyer (or community legal worker) being retained on files in addition to doing the TDC work, creates some serious issues. The Peterborough Clinic normally sends Ms. _______ both as TDC and as an agent acting for tenants who have retained the clinic. This letter is not about Ms. ________, who is capable and professional.

Today Ms. ________ had been retained in advance through the legal clinic on three complex matters. She was also doing TDC duties. Member Burke had finished most of the simple matters early in the hearing block, and had Ms. _______'s three files remaining. None of them had settled. Meanwhile, Ms. _______ was giving advice to tenants, working with the mediator on another matter, while Member Burke waited unable to commence any of the three matters. As you know, matters are too often adjourned due to scheduling overflow, even with super-blocks.

I grant you that this was an unusual case. In the Toronto area where I spend 80% of my time, the issue is more often the amount of time TDC staff spend with clients (not the Board’s mandate) and how it affects the proceedings. There are too often de facto adjournments as tenants spend an hour and a half in the TDC office, coming out ½ hour prior to the end of the hearing block with s. 82 issues and seeking an adjournment for counsel. Parties are advised to come to the Board prepared to proceed, either advancing or defending the claims. It seems that too many tenants use it as a time to prepare for the proceeding, with the urban legend, true or otherwise, that the TDC staff can absolutely obtain for them an adjournment.

In Peterborough today, Member Burke delicately asked Ms. ________ her intentions and expectations of when she would be available. He handled it very well. I expressed my concern to the Member in the presence of Ms. ___________ that the clinic should send the resources needed to fulfill its mandate both to the TDC program and to its clients. My position was that if they fail to do that, it should not be the Board or other parties whose money, time and valuable resources are wasted waiting for the clinic staff to become available.

In summary, there are two issues I hope you will examine:

  1. The relationship between the Board and the TDCP which to the casual landlord observer seems overly cozy.

  1. The deference given to staff of the TDCP as it impacts on the service delivered to other parties and the use of Board resources.

Thank you for taking the time to consider these concerns. Also, my compliments go out to your front-line staff on the manner in which they are holding up in what appears to be challenging times.

Yours very truly,

Harry Fine


Landlord Solutions

So I ask you, can we not expect the government, in this case the Ministry of the Attorney General, to at least give the appearance of impartiality, and to not have agencies it funds impede with the Board process which is beginning to grind to a halt...not in small part due to the TDCP.

I invite your comments.


Anonymous said...

What you need to read is Federation of Metro Tenants Associations FMTA history.

You will find it a very interesting read.

To expose that group seems to be the purpose behind that Toronto Tenants Associations website.

Anonymous said...

Should the Ontario Ombudsman also be informed?

Anonymous said...

The official Ontario Ombudsman form is located here:

As well as the web site:

I think you have a valid case.