Accessibility Changes at the Landlord and Tenant Board
January 25, 2022
In January 2020, the Ontario Ombudsman began an investigation into the extensive delays experienced at the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB). The Ombudsman had received about 1,200 complaints regarding the issue. The investigation is specifically looking at whether sufficient work is being done by Tribunals Ontario and the Attorney General to mitigate the backlog of cases. The COVID-19 pandemic began shortly after the investigation began, and LTB tribunals were moved online to maintain safety guidelines. This led to additional complaints due to negative experiences with the virtual hearing process, persisting delays, and accessibility concerns. The limits placed on evictions during lockdowns throughout the pandemic have also generated several complaints and further delays. Tribunals Ontario has been the organization with the most complaints to the Ombudsman two years in a row.
Digital First Approach
Largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the LTB has transitioned to a digital-first approach, with hearings being conducted by videoconference, telephone, or in writing. The largely virtual nature of this new approach has lowered access barriers to many, as they do not need to physically commute and attend hearings. However, for the many tenants, landlords, and representatives who do not have consistent access to the internet, it has posed a significant barrier to justice. To mitigate this issue, the LTB established access terminals at hearing centres in Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa, and London where individuals can safely participate in proceedings.
An online payment portal has also been established so that applications can be filed by email. As of February 2021, applicants can submit payment online for most application types using a Visa, Mastercard, or debit card. This reduces the burden on applicants to travel to their local LTB office to submit applications and payments, as well as reducing the administrative burden on the LTB to manually process applications and payments.
Tribunals Ontario has developed an online tool called Navigate Tribunals Ontario. The site has information on applicable laws, guidelines, fees, hearing processes, relevant forms, and more. This will both improve access to information for the average LTB complainant, as well as lower the workload of LTB staff who would otherwise be responding to complainant queries.
Expedited Access and Service
The LTB has developed an enhanced scheduling plan as part of the move toward resuming full services and addressing the significant backlog in cases. The enhanced scheduling plan prioritizes mediation, and should both reduce delays experienced in the hearing process and increase the effectiveness of resolution services. Landlords and tenants with hearings scheduled are given same day access to mediation services with a Dispute Resolution Officer (DRO) before moving ahead with a hearing.
The plan relies heavily on the use of Zoom to conduct hearing and mediation proceedings, as well as Zoom breakout rooms for each party to meet privately with their legal counsel, in line with the new digital-first approach. The LTB is also looking into the potential use of a “virtual concierge” that would manage the Zoom proceedings, including maintaining attendance records and directing parties to breakout rooms.
The LTB has developed an Advance Resolution Request process, which should significantly cut down on unnecessary hearings. In many situations, a resolution can be reached through mediation ahead of a hearing, or the circumstances of the claim have changed ahead of the scheduled hearing (tenant has paid outstanding rent, tenant has vacated the unit, a payment plan has been agreed to by all parties, etc.). In these cases, an Advance Resolution Request Form can be submitted to forego the hearing, assuming that evidence of an adequate resolution is filed where necessary.
Ombudsman Investigation Status
The Ontario Ombusdman’s investigation into delays experienced at the LTB continues, and the 2020-2021 Ombudsman Annual Report claims that several changes have been made by the LTB to address delays and backlogged cases. The report explains that a process was put in place by the LTB to process urgent eviction cases, that a digital case management system would be in place by the end of summer 2021, and that additional adjudicators have been hired to address the backlog.
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