My Landlord and Tenant Board Visit
On January 22, 2019, I visited the Landlord and Tenant Board in Toronto. The board office was located at 3 Robert Speck Parkway in Mississauga. It was located very close to Square One which is the heart of Mississauga. I had no difficulty finding the location as the board office was located in a large office building. There were ample amounts of parking spots available, however it was paid parking. I was charged $7 in order to park my vehicle there for the day. For those who were to take public transit, the tribunal was located near major urban centres making it very accessible through public transit.
The board office took up one whole floor of the building as was located on the fifth floor. There were two hearing rooms and some mediation rooms for the Landlord and Tenant Board. I was surprised to find that the tribunal was not as crowded as I had imagined. The floor was very well maintained and the same could be said for the entire building. On the same floor there was also a Social Benefits Tribunal.
The layout was very intuitive and easy to access. There were arrows on the walls indicating which direction the hearing rooms were in. In front of each hearing room there was a list of matters that would be addressed starting from 9:30 AM. There was also a reception area where one could ask questions regarding anything related to the tribunal. They instructed me as to where to go and which hearing room had the most interesting hearings. Overall, I would say the receptionists were friendly in their demeanor. It is important for the layout and overall design of the tribunal to be intuitive and simple as it needs to be easily accessible for the average person.
Duty Counsel was not present in the court room but was recommended to many people by the adjudicator. There was an area on the floor where individuals who needed some legal advice could walk in and find out more information or other options relating to their legal dispute. Duty Counsel was also available to help tenants fill out documents and forms relating to the procedural requirements of the tribunal. Two of the most common forms mentioned during the proceedings were forms N12 and N5.
Lawyers and Paralegals
During my time at the Landlord and Tenant Board I saw a variety of different cases being heard. There were no lawyers present however most of the time it was either a landlord representing themselves, through a family member or the landlord being represented through a paralegal. I would say that roughly 50% of the time, paralegals were representing their clients. The other 50% consisted of relatives of the landlords or the landlords themselves.
Most cases during my observation were initiated by the landlord. The majority of the cases during my day at the tribunal consisted of eviction notices or tenants requesting deposit money back from a landlord. I found that in some cases, the paralegals representing certain tenants tried to use the reason of “bad faith” to argue their clients’ interests. There were some individuals who I believe truly needed these services but did not avail of them prior to their hearings.
It was easy to determine who the paralegals were as they conducted themselves differently than the other participants. All the paralegals were dressed in formal attire. The paralegals tended to be more aggressive when it came to advocating their point of view.
The Hearing Room and the Parties
During my observation there were 25 matters to be heard during the full session. These matters consisted of a variety of different disputes. Some of the hearings took very little time and one hearing even took one hour. It was all dependant on how complex the situation was and how much the adjudicator needed to analyze the situation. It was also dependant on how many pieces of evidence were submitted to the tribunal.
The hearing room was quite large and I would estimate to be around 50 seats in the total room. There was security guard present and the adjudicator at the front. The room was completely silent during the hearings for the most part. On some occasions, some individuals would talk to each other and they would quickly become silenced by the adjudicator. Only adults attended the tribunal and I did not see any families with children. Most of those attending the hearings came early and waited for their matter to be called. There was much more activity in the morning than in the afternoon.
The Board officer/Member
The adjudicator was sitting in the front of the hearing room with her name on the front of her desk. I decided to look her profile up and found that she was extremely qualified to be an adjudicator as she had a plethora of experience in the field of real estate law. This made me understand that this is one of the advantage of tribunals over courts. Tribunals are more specialized than a court system as those who are conducting the hearings have both the legal knowledge and specialized experience in order to make better decisions.
I was surprised as to how well the adjudicator conducted the hearings. She was very friendly to both the landlord and the tenant and wanted to hear all the details. When a landlord or tenant was not represented, the Board officer tried to help them as much as possible. There was one incident where the landlord did not have enough copies of a document so she went to her office to make copies for him.
I would feel very comfortable appearing before the Landlord and Tenant Board as the environment is not that rigid. It is still likely that those who do not know the law may have trouble presenting their case however, the tribunal does as much as possible to assist these people.
Overall, I believe that each trial was treated fairly and the Board officer analyzed all relevant facts before making a decision. Sometimes a decision was not made on the spot due to the complexity of the case and the participants were informed that they would receive a decision within 30 days.
It was interesting to see the behaviour of certain tenants and landlords. Sometimes, one of these parties would become frustrated because they did not understand the procedures of the tribunal. The Board officer tried as best as possible to explain the steps in simple English. Some of the individuals that were at the hearing did not speak fluent English and this made the Board officer’s job more challenging. There was one instance where a tenant filled out a form incorrectly and the tenant became very frustrated with the Board officer. There was another instance where a woman who was a tenant kept on repeatedly yelling at the Board officer. I was amazed to see that the Board officer repeatedly answered her in a polite fashion. After a few times of explaining to her the situation, the tenant had to be escorted out by security. I understand that these situations can be frustrating for either of the parties however generally most people were able to speak calmly without becoming emotional.
On the door to the hearing room, there were 25 matters posted for the day. These hearings commenced at 9:30 in the morning. There were hearings for a variety of different matters including, unpaid rent, evicting tenants, and disputes regarding the return of a deposit. One tenant filed an application with the tribunal in order to force the landlord to repair a washing machine.
Many matters were either adjourned either due to an error in an application or a party not being present. In other situations, the Board officer needed more time to think about a case before issuing a judgement. In other cases, a judgement was made quickly after the Board officer analyzed all the relevant facts.
In regards to evidence, many types of evidence were allowed including videos. In one hearing, even though there was an objection from one party, the video was still shown to the adjudicator. I found the tribunal to be very liberal with evidence and there were no strict rules. I did not see anyone present hearsay as evidence.
There was one instance where both parties were interested in mediation. The Board officer then called a mediator in and I had to leave as those discussions are not available for the public to hear.
During my visit to the Landlord and Tenant Board, I was made aware of how a tribunal operates and how it is much different from a court. The process is overall very flexible and there is an expectation that those who are coming before the tribunal are not well versed in law. On the other hand, there were landlords and paralegals who were very proficient with the law.
In one instance, the adjudicator allowed a landlord to be present through a phone call which was suprising to me. The Board officer found the landlord’s representative not qualified to represent the landlord. He then offered to put the landlord on the phone and the hearing was then commenced in that fashion. A mediation session was also held with the landlord on the phone.
I do believe that access to justice is evident in the Landlord and Tenant Board however, there is one area in which it can be improved. When two parties wanted their matter moved to another date, the earliest time slot was 3 months away. I find this to be unreasonable as if a landlord is having a tenant that does not pay rent for three months, they may face financial hardship. The government should find a way to decrease the 3-month delay to promote access to justice.
Access to justice is evident in the tribunal as there was a duty counsel area in which one could ask questions if they were unsure about anything at the tribunal. Landlords could also go to a self-help desk in order to get assistance if needed.
There was one situation where the Board officer made three copies of the letter of authorization for the landlord so that it could be given to the tenant. This would not happen in a court where the process is much more formal.
Throughout all the hearings, the adjudicator referred to sections of the Residential Tenancies Act, the enabling legislation for the Landlord and Tenant Board. As the tribunal is created by the act, it is a requirement for the adjudicator to be well versed in what the act states.
Prior to each hearing, the Board officer called the file number and then the address of the property in which there is a dispute. The individuals would go up, sit down and state their names. All the procedures for each matter were the same. This is a testament to how procedural fairness is a requirement for tribunals to follow. When a party wanted to skip a procedural step, they were quickly told that procedures must be followed otherwise if they are not followed, the decision may be subject to review. Procedural fairness is such an essential underpinning to the tribunal so that it treats everyone fairly. The Board officer was not biased at any moment and she kept an open mind. Everyone had the ability to go before the Board officer and present their argument provided it was not frivolous or irrelevant to the issue. The ability to have a hearing demonstrates that natural justice is existing within our legal system.
The Board officers were also very attentive to stay in their jurisdiction and not provide relief that they were not allowed to do. In one hearing, the tenant asked for certain relief but the Board officer stated that it was not in her jurisdiction. They also exercised discretion and considered all facts when a unique scenario was presented to them. For example, one matter was adjourned till later on in the day in order for a witness to be present.
I believe that paralegals can help promote access to justice by following the Paralegal Code of Conduct and acting professionally in the Landlord and Tenant Board. Instead of trying to intimidate the other party, they should be calm and collected so as to let the other side present their side of the story without feeling intimidated.
Overall, my observation at the Landlord and Tenant Board made me aware of how a tribunal operates. It is different than a court in which there are strict formal procedures and the judges do not get very deeply involved. In a tribunal the Board officers have more freedom to ask questions and try to piece together information. Hearings were also faster in a tribunal and the Board officer was very specialized in her field. I now understand the necessity of having tribunals and they are a crucial component of the legal system.