As painfully long wait times continue to plague the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB), the Ontario government announced it will invest $6.5M to hire dozens of new employees to help clear the backlog.

The multi-million-dollar investment will go towards appointing an additional 40 adjudicators and hiring five back office staff members to "improve service standards and continue to reduce active applications and decision timeframes," the Province said. It follows the $1.4M investment made in November to hire 35 additional operational staff at the LTB.

Wait times at the LTB average around seven or eight months, with some waiting 10 months or longer for a hearing. "Ontario citizens deserve better results," said Attorney General Doug Downey at a press conference held in London on Wednesday.

The wait times have affected landlords of all sizes, with a spokesperson for Canadian Apartment Properties REIT (CAPREIT), Canada's largest publicly traded apartment landlord, calling the backlog prohibitive.

"Disputes linger, and the consequences can be momentous to our residents if there are monetary disputes -- they are compounded by the months in which we wait for a hearing," they said.

The increased staffing, however, appears to be offering some hope.

"CAPREIT has always advocated for more investment that leads to a swift and transparent process to settle disputes that is fair to all parties," CAPREIT said. "We hope that with additional funds, the LTB will be able to swiftly clear the backlog and that greater expedience will once again be the norm."

Genrys Goodchild, Communications and Public Affairs Specialist for Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, says, however, that it's not staffing that's the issue, and doubts that hiring new adjudicators will fix the backlog.

"The main problem is that LTB processes have dramatically slowed with their pivot to a remote service model, Goodchild said. "Part of the pivot to digital-only included changing matters to being heard by type (as opposed to regionally, the way it was done before). Rather than improve the hearing process, digital-only and scheduling matter by type has introduced unprecedented inefficiencies into the system, created a gigantic backlog of cases, and has negatively impacted access to justice for low-income tenants."

Returning to more in-person hearings, heard by region, would go a long way to resolving issues at the LTB, Goodchild said.

Along with the new LTB funding, the Province simultaneously announced a handful of other changes intended to protect renters, including new guidelines for both renovictions and personal-use evictions. Landlords who evict a tenant so that they or an immediate family member can use the unit will have to move into the unit "by a specific deadline." The Province did not state what that deadline would be, but Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, said it will clarify language in the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) that says the unit must be occupied within "a reasonable amount of time."

"I asked to see the last 10 or 12 decisions at the Landlord and Tenant Board," Clark said. "Well, there was a decision that said three months was adequate time. There was a decision that said three months wasn't adequate time. There was a decision that said five months was appropriate. There was a decision that said five months wasn't appropriate. So there's this ambiguity in what constitutes a reasonable amount of time for a landlord to move in for their own use."

When evicting a tenant to renovate the unit, landlords would now be required to justify the eviction by providing "a report from a qualified person stating the unit must be vacant for renovations to take place." If a tenant is planning to return to the unit once the renovation is complete, the landlord would have to update the tenant on the status of the renovation in writing. Tenants would then be given a 60-day grace period to move back in once the renovations are complete.

Additionally, if a landlord doesn’t allow their tenant to move back into the unit at the same rent, the tenant would have two years after moving out, or six months after renovations are complete (whichever is longer), to apply to the LTB for a remedy.

Under current legislation, landlords are required to allow their tenant to move back in at the same rent, but the tenant must provide the landlord with written notice of their intent to return before moving out.

Goodchild said that although action on curbing renovictions and other bad-faith evictions is desperately needed, the proposed changes aren't likely to have much of an impact.

"As it stands, there’s just too much money to be made by landlords to get them to stop doing this and the fines are not enough of a deterrent," Goodchild said. Currently, individual landlords found to be carrying out bad faith evictions can face a fine up to $50,000. For corporations, that fine can go up to $250,000.

Speaking to the proposed changes, CAPREIT said it has never in its 25-year history carried out a renoviction and supports "fair and transparent business practices that balance the rights of housing providers with the rights of residents."

The provincial government's announcement also included more proposed protections for renters who are behind on payments. Tenants in arrears of rent who enter into a repayment agreement with their landlord would have to use an LTB plain language repayment agreement form. "This would help ensure all parties better understand their rights and responsibilities," the Province said.

"That's more of an administrative matter, but there will be legislation to come that will be debated and, hopefully, the will of the Legislature will put these changes in force," Clark said.

The Province is also taking aim at unreasonably high temperatures in rental units by proposing a clarification and enhancement of tenant rights to install air conditioning.

"Some landlords already provide air conditioning, but where they don't, they would have to allow tenants to install a window or portable unit, so long as the tenant meets a few real basic requirements," Clark said.

The units would have to be installed safely and securely without damaging the unit or the building, and would need to comply with applicable laws, including municipal bylaws and the rules set out under the Residential Tenancies Act.

Clark referenced an Ontario Human Rights Commission report that highlighted the risk of tenants being exposed to extreme heat, saying they have listened to its findings. As the report explains, the RTA does not presently include air conditioning as a vital service, and only housing that has central air conditioning may be required by a municipality to maintain a maximum temperature of no more than 26°C between June and September.

In the report, the Ontario Human Rights Commission called on the Government of Ontario to include air conditioning as a vital service, similar to the provision of heat, and to establish a provincial maximum temperature. The government's proposed changes, however, put the onus on the renter to provide the air conditioning unit, rather than making air conditioning a required service.

Looking forward, Goodchild says what will make the biggest difference in protecting tenants is bringing back rent control across the board and axing current regulations that allow unrestricted rent increases for all units first occupied after November 2018.

"This is a move that would actually stop the relentless wave of renovictions and bad faith evictions in their tracks."