Monday, December 5, 2011

Auditor General Slams Legal Aid Ontario. Lots of $$$ Wasted in Landlord & Tenant.


I was not surpised to see Auditor general Jim McCarter report on the way Legal Aid Ontario handles it’s money. As a paralegal working primarily in the area of landlord and tenant law, I routinely see 3 staff lawyers paid for by LAO through the Advocacy Centre For Tenants, Ontario, giving assistance to tenants who can’t or won't pay rent.  And these are NOT the destitute or marginalized, they are every tenant who arrives for a hearing and signs up for tenant duty counsel.  Parties are supposed to come prepared to proceed, but instead the tenant duty counsel program operates as an adjournment generator slowing down the Landlord and Tenant Board.  It seems that the most frequent advice given to tenants entering the LAO office is how to get an adjournment which ratchets up the arrears owed and delays the time to eviction.

I have acted for landlords on a number of files over the years where the legal clinic system, also LAO funded, has taken on the most flawed and hopeless cases, some of which have gone on for over a year with over ten appearance, only to have the Landlord and Tenant Board rule against the tenant.  There appears to be no oversight as to which cases have a reasonable expectation of success, a criteria that should be a part of the publicly funded system.  Many of my clients are non-profit landlords, and frankly they are often beaten down by the legal costs while the other side uses the machinery of government to overwhelm.

It’s one thing to have criminal duty counsel when incarceration or a criminal record might be the outcome.  But to spend millions annually to provide support for tenants who don’t pay their rent is unnecessary and wasteful.  There are lots of ways to trim down our deficit forecast for $16 billion, but the government doesn’t seem interested in making the hard decisions.

On the landlord side, there is but one clinic funded to help small landlords with summary legal advice.  They have no funding for test case litigation, no lawyers on staff and no legal workers to give advice at the LTB.  I think the government needs to look at whether tenant duty counsel is a necessity in these times of huge deficits, when the legal clinics are available to tenants for advice prior to the hearings, and when tenants who qualify can get a private bar lawyer on a legal aid certificate.

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