The release of the Ontario Ombudsman’s new report on the province’s Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) warrants reflection on the primary role of the tribunal: evictions.

The Ombudsman wrote that tenants and landlords share a common interest in making the LTB run smoothly. In truth, a more efficient approach to processing cases at the LTB will only further speed up evictions and serve to facilitate the profit-making of landlords who can raise rents on vacant units once sitting tenants have been removed.

Despite the LTB’s many internal issues, the main reason the tribunal is overwhelmed is due to the sheer volume of eviction cases landlords file against tenants. Tribunals Ontario reported that in 2021-2022, 88 per cent of all applications received by the LTB were filed by landlords against tenants, and in 89 per cent of those applications (more than 48,500), landlords sought to evict tenants.

Landlords also added to the much-discussed backlog of cases at the LTB throughout the entirety of the pandemic, as the Ontario government allowed them to continue to file for eviction against tenants uninterrupted. In fact, the Ombudsman reported that during the first pandemic lockdown in March 2020, when eviction hearings were paused for a short time, the LTB still struggled to process the high number of applications it continued to receive.

The discussion surrounding the problems at the LTB often neglects to mention the political history of the tribunal. In 1997, the Mike Harris Conservative government enacted the Tenant Protection Act, which eliminated rent control on vacant units between tenants, instituting what is known as vacancy decontrol. At the same time, the law removed landlord-tenant cases from the provincial court system and created the precursor to the LTB to handle them, the Ontario Rental Housing Tribunal.

During the legislative debate at the time, the minister of housing said that his government’s goal was to create favourable conditions for investment in housing. In reality, his government made it more potentially profitable for landlords to evict tenants, and failed to encourage the construction of any significant amount of new, purpose-built rental housing.

Vacancy decontrol has provided the legal framework within which landlords can increase their profits by closing rent gaps on a unit-by-unit basis. As a result, the LTB has seen an increase in “no fault” eviction cases, including evictions for extensive renovations such as those now being pursued against tenants at the mid-rise apartment building at 1570 Lawrence Ave. W. in Toronto by landlord Lankin Investments (formerly Pulis Investments).

Increases in street homelessness and reliance on food banks are among the more visible consequences of landlords evicting tenants to increase their rent revenues. Less obvious is how rising rents impoverish a significant section of the working population. For example, the Wellesley Institute has documented how between 1991 and 2016, the number of renter households spending 50 per cent or more of their income on housing increased by 138 per cent.

The Tenant Protection Act subjected the legal process of eviction to the authority of an administrative tribunal staffed by politically appointed adjudicators and increased the financial incentive for landlords to evict tenants through vacancy decontrol. Although the McGuinty Liberals repealed and replaced the law, they maintained vacancy decontrol and set up their own rental tribunal, the LTB. When the Ford government came to power, it removed rent control altogether from units first occupied after Nov. 15, 2018.

For its part, the Ontario NDP, in its statement on the Ombudsman’s report, attempts to gloss over the tens of thousands of evictions the LTB processes each year by insisting the system is not working for either landlords or tenants. Yet any initiative to make the LTB more efficient only further rationalizes the eviction process.

The claim that landlords and tenants both stand to gain from the government fixing the LTB is therefore meant to obfuscate its fundamental role in sanctioning and enforcing evictions.