The Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario says that tenants who have been evacuated from their homes have rights and can take steps to protect themselves.
On Tuesday, the City of Windsor issued an evacuation order for an apartment building at 1616 Ouellette Ave. after deeming it unsafe. The city said the building had no heat or electricity.
Some residents have moved in with family or friends, while others have been staying at an emergency shelter set up by the city at the John Atkinson Memorial Community Centre.
Tenants who spoke with CBC News said the apartment building hasn't been in good condition for months, saying there was mould, plumbing issues, water leaks and no hot water in some units.
"Landlords in Ontario have a legal obligation to maintain their buildings and it's quite distressing when I see a situation where a building has gone into such disrepair where it's no longer habitable," Douglas Kwan, director of advocacy and legal services at the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario (ACTO).
Kwan said there are a few things tenants and municipalities can do in situations where a building hasn't been maintained or tenants have been evacuated.
Here's what you should know if you're an evacuated tenant
Kwan said community legal clinics are a good place to start. He said tenants should reach out to their local community legal clinic — ACTO suggested the clinic through the University of Windsor — and seek support.
He also said residents can file the following two applications to the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB):
The T2 form notes that tenants should file this if the landlord or superintendent "substantially interfered with your reasonable enjoyment of the rental unit or complex" or "withheld or interfered with vital services, care services or meals," among other issues.
Meanwhile the T6 form states that tenants should file this one if the landlord hasn't "repaired or maintained the rental unit or the residential complex" or "complied with health, safety, housing or maintenance standards."
There is a fee of $53 per application filed.
Under both applications, the LTB can issue several orders to the landlord. Some of these include:
Pay the tenant a rent abatement.
Stop the issues that are happening from taking place again.
Pay a fine to the LTB.
Pay the tenant for out-of-pocket expenses that resulted from the landlord's actions.
Make the landlord do the repairs, replacement or other needed work.
Here's what the city can do
Rob Vani, director of inspections for Windsor's building department, told CBC News that the city gets involved when it receives complaints from tenants.
At that point, it will send inspectors, who can then issue orders to the landlord. These orders vary from repairs to evacuation depending on what conditions are being violated in the Ontario Building Code Act.
Vani said if they issue an unsafe order that can include hazardous health and safety conditions, serious structural or electrical issues. These orders can stay in place indefinitely, he said.
"The unsafe order still requires certain repairs to be done to the building and ... the order prohibiting occupancy would stay in place until the building is brought up to a standard that we feel comfortable to allow re-occupancy of the building," Vani said.
As of Wednesday, he said there was no legal action filed against the building's owners, but said the Office of the Chief Building Official can choose to still charge them for failing to comply with an order.
According to Kwan, there's also steps the city can take to penalize the landlords.
He said the municipality can issue orders where the cost of supporting the tenants in an emergency shelter is added on to the landlord's property tax of the building.
"It's going to be a significant cost on municipal services and so it's only right and fair that the landlord should pay for those additional services, because they failed to do what was required of them under the law," he said.
Kwan added that preventative measures that could have helped in the situation of 1616 Ouellette Ave. would be to initiative proactive inspection — rather than have them be complaints based — and introduce a landlord licensing program.
"That provides a proactive way where bylaw inspectors go into buildings and can identify any infractions," he said.
The City of Windsor approved a residential rental licensing pilot study in March 2021, but that is only for units with four or fewer units.
According to the city's website, properties with five or more units have "more stringent requirements for construction, design and life safety systems."
This study is not yet in effect, as the city said it is working to set up the systems and hire staff to run the program. It said it anticipates this will be done by winter 2022, which is when city staff will have council ratify the final bylaw.