The City of Toronto has launched a legal challenge of an Ontario law that allows tenants to be evicted without a hearing if they fall behind on arrears repayments.
In a court filing, the city argues that Bill 184 — dubbed the Protecting Tenants and Strengthening Community Housing Act — is unconstitutional, violates tenants’ security of person, and creates “an unfair administrative process” that facilitates accelerated evictions.
Under the new law, the city argues tenants can be pressured into creating “binding agreements” with their landlords without the oversight of the Landlord and Tenant Board. Those tenants are then vulnerable to being evicted without a chance to respond, its claim says, arguing the change requires renters to be legally savvy, have representation, time, money and resources.
Preventing evictions is a city priority, the filing said, while also noting wider ripple effects of the legislation.
“The housing system is an ecosystem. Rental housing, affordable housing, and the City’s shelter system work together. A change in one area impacts the others,” the city wrote, noting tenants losing their homes overburdens the city’s already “strained” shelter network.
“The loss of one’s home can have devastating effects on an individual, impacting their physical and mental health, socio-economic well-being, and their human dignity,” the filing continues.
The province, which introduced the law in early March 2020 and voted to present it for Royal Assent that July, had not filed a formal response with the courts as of Friday.
On Tuesday, a spokesperson for Ontario’s housing ministry declined to comment on the case, saying it would be “inappropriate” given it was before the courts.
The province has previously defended the amendments made through Bill 184, saying the law upped the compensation available to tenants in cases of wrongdoing by their landlords, encourages mediation during disputes, and promotes the use of repayment agreements over evictions.
Toronto council promised to fight the law due to the changes around evictions without hearings, despite a secret report advising elected officials against it. When council voted in July 2020 to challenge Bill 184 in court, it broke with the guidance of its solicitor general, who had provided councillors with a confidential report that week advising on the possibility of a legal challenge.
The Star has not seen a copy of the report, but two sources with knowledge of the document who were not authorized to speak about it publicly said it had advised against a court fight.
The province has pointed to that guidance in defending its law.
“We are confident that the advice given to the City of Toronto by their own solicitor to not challenge the Protecting Tenants and Strengthening Community Housing Act is the right advice,” Julie O’Driscoll, a spokesperson for Ontario Housing Minister Steve Clark, told the Star before the challenge was launched.
Mayor John Tory — who was among the majority of elected municipal officials who voted in favour of challenging the law last year, based on the “rules of procedural fairness and natural justice” — has described Toronto as in for an uphill battle in taking the province to court.
“We can’t win if we don’t try,” he said last year.
The city filed its application record in November, it says, about 15 months after the initial vote and after several expected timelines were amended. As of last May, nearly a year after the vote, the city said staff were still collecting external affidavits and finalizing that application record.
“The City remains committed to challenging Bill 184 and staff are working to complete this work as quickly as they can,” a city spokesperson told the Star at the time.
Asked to share its affidavits this week, the city declined, citing an ongoing process of exchanging “litigation materials.”
A hearing date has not yet been scheduled, it says.
Victoria Gibson is a Toronto-based reporter for the Star covering affordable housing. Reach her via email: firstname.lastname@example.org