A man who bought a 40-hectare farm in the Toronto area two years ago says he's still waiting to move in because a tenant is refusing to leave — and he says the body that's supposed to rule on landlord-tenant disputes has been too slow to act.
Sarbjit Sra, a real estate broker from nearby Brampton, bought the property in April of 2020. He first went to Ontario's Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) in June of that year seeking an eviction order on the grounds that he and his family want to live on the property, located about 60 kilometres northwest of Toronto. But the board didn't rule in his favour until June of 2021 and the order can't be acted upon until the LTB issues it in writing.
Almost 10 months later, Sra is still waiting for that written order.
"I can't sleep at night right now," he said. "Right now, we are very frustrated."
Meanwhile, he says, he's facing expenses of about $10,000 a month to pay mortgages, taxes and utilities on the farm, which he bought for $1.75 million. He says the tenant refuses to pay rent or allow him onto the property to inspect it for damage. Organizations that represent landlords in Ontario say the situation underscores a growing problem — the LTB's seeming inability to quickly rule on these disputes and promptly evict problem tenants.
'A bizarre situation'
Since that first application, an exasperated Sra has tried to speed things up by applying for two more eviction orders. In November of 2020, he filed a request on the grounds that the man hadn't been paying his rent. That was denied but the board did order the tenant to pay back rent of almost $11,000. Sra says he hasn't seen a penny of it.
So Sra then filed for a third eviction order, also based on non-payment of rent, in June of 2021. It was heard by the board this past January, and this time, the LTB agreed — in writing — to evict the tenant. But about a month ago, Sra was notified that order had been set aside while it was reviewed at the tenant's request.
Sra and the paralegal who represents him say it all could have been avoided if the board had only issued a written order on his original application in a timely fashion. An LTB spokesperson declined CBC Toronto's request for an interview to explain the delay, but in the past, the board has acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a backlog of cases.
"Due to shifting of staff resources, there will be a substantive delay [in] processing and scheduling some types of applications," a statement on the board's website reads. "Orders will be issued between 20 to 60 days depending on the application type."
But Ajmer Singh Mandur, the paralegal representing Sra, told CBC Toronto he's rarely seen an applicant wait this long for a written order.
"I can say in my practice for the last 11 years that I have never come across such a bizarre situation," he said.
CBC Toronto has requested an interview with the tenant through his legal representative. So far, there has been no response.
The farm includes a barn, outbuildings and two adjacent rental units — the farmhouse and a connecting apartment. Sra says the lease calls for a monthly rent of $1,140. The LTB has calculated the tenant has racked up back rent of almost $23,000.
"Property owners who purchase a home that they wish to live in should not be made to wait for up to a year or more ... and should not be prejudiced if tenants refuse to pay the rent," said Rose Marie, vice-chair of an organization called the Small Ownership Landlords of Ontario.
"Rental housing providers are starting to wake up the fact that there is something seriously wrong with the system — it is broken. We look forward to changes in the near future. Not next year, now."
Marie says from 2019 to 2020, there were 41,621 eviction applications aimed at tenants who were refusing to pay their rent — resulting in losses to landlords of about $1.45 billion. The following year, due to the pandemic, the number of applications dropped to just 24,400, which translates to loss of rental income of about $856 million, Marie says.
Her organization is calling on the LTB to hold timelier, more efficient hearings.
"We need changes with the speed of light," she said.
"There's something broken inside that needs to be fixed," Mandur said. "COVID has had its effect on these cases, but that has to do with scheduling; nothing to do with writing decisions."
On top of everything else, Sra says he's also tried to inspect the property, after giving 24 hours notice, "six or seven times," but has been barred by the tenant.
"It's a nightmare for me," Sra says.
"I believe in our judicial system. I believe in the courts, I believe in the LTB and hopefully we will get possession one day."