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CBC's Love Affair with Landlords
Canada’s public broadcaster spends an awful lot of time talking about the hardships of 'small landlords' who are unable to evict their tenants in a timely fashion.
On Monday, CBC News published a story about a landlord in Collingwood, Ont., named Marco, who has been reduced to sleeping in his car because his tenants aren’t paying rent.
The article doesn’t publish his last name, because he works as a “commission-based mortgage specialist and fears it would affect his employment.” Yet the story’s feature image is a big picture of the guy. Should be pretty easy for clients to identify him.
This piece is part of a larger trend at Canada’s public broadcaster, in which landlords, with all the power they have over other people’s necessities of life, are depicted as powerless to the whims of their tenants.
These articles place blame on provincial landlord and tenant boards for failing to speed up the eviction process during a pandemic. Everything is seen from the eyes of the landlord, who are far from the only people struggling in this equation. Renters deserve better from their public broadcaster.
In fairness, the CBC has done many stories on the plight of renters who are struggling to get by, but seldom do they acknowledge the inherent power imbalance between landlord and tenant, nor do they hint at policies like rent control or enhanced affordable housing as solutions for tenants unable to pay rent. Everything is individualized.
Renters are by definition in a more precarious position than their landlords. Suggestions that there’s a cadre of “small landlords” who have it just as bad, or that they are at the mercy of their tenants, is journalistic malpractice.
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“Just last year, Marco had two houses to his name, but for months has been sleeping in his car — all because his tenants, whom he's been unable to evict, haven't paid their rent,” the CBC reports.
In the next paragraph, we discover his homelessness is not in fact “all because” his tenants haven’t been paying their rent. It’s also because he lost his residential property in a separation agreement with his spouse.
Marco owns a two-suite rental property, where his upstairs tenant hasn’t paid rent since June and his downstairs tenant hasn’t paid since February.
"I'm at the lowest point of my life," Marco told the CBC. "I don't understand how something like this can happen."
None of his tenants are interviewed for this piece, which might have been useful in understanding why they haven’t paid their rent.
Marco is trying to get the tenants evicted, but due to pandemic-related backlogs, it now takes about eight months for Ontario's Landlord and Tenant Board to hear cases, compared to three months pre-pandemic.
In this story, that’s presented as the crux of the issue — the landlord is unable to make his tenants homeless soon enough, so he is homeless as a result.
The reporter then speaks to Asquith Allen, director of policy and regulatory affairs at the Federation of Rental-housing Providers of Ontario, to describe the “emotional toll,” in the words of the reporter, of this delay, which Allen says is “devastating.”
At the bottom of the story, we hear about Hasan Khan of Brampton, who is sleeping on a mattress in the basement of his house with his wife and one-year-old child after the tenants he rented his house to while he was in India for six months refused to leave.
This is a much more sympathetic case, as Khan was renting out his own home while he was away and, as far as we know, doesn’t own a rental property. He’s stuck paying housing costs for a house he isn’t able to live in.
The last time the tenant paid the $2,400 rent in full was in December, and then made partial payments until stopping paying altogether in May.
In this case, the CBC actually spoke to one of Khan’s tenants, who said they were having “some problems” after losing $90,000 on a business investment.
That was only the most recent example of this troubling trend.
An Oct. 27 story uses the same tropes of a struggling landlord who is unable to evict a delinquent tenant in the middle of a pandemic with winter coming.
Tozheg Roshankar, who owns a rental property in Mississauga, told the CBC she at first empathized with her tenant, as a fellow single mother.
The tenant failed to pay their $2,450 rent on time in May, and her June and July cheques bounced.
The piece notes that Roshankar “lives in a condo” and that this “house is her only rental property,” as if most people can afford to own any rental property at all.
Coming across another CBC piece on the plight of a landlord who alleges he was defrauded by a tenant who provided the names of fake workplaces on their application, Roshankar realized the tenant in question had the same name as hers.
The CBC frames the issue as “non-paying tenants are pushing small-time landlords into financial chaos” in the Oct. 27 piece, quoting a paralegal who represents landlords to back it up.
"I've seen many, many clients over the years just close up and that's it. And of course that has a negative impact on our whole society because our rental market is shrinking and shrinking,” said Kathleen Lovett, owner of KLP Paralegal Services in Toronto.
The story then quotes two landlord advocates — Tony Irwin, president and CEO of the Federation of Rental-housing Providers of Ontario, and Varun Sriskanda, a member of the board of directors for Small Ownership Landlords of Ontario — about how the Landlord and Tenant Board needs to speed its processes up.
At the very bottom of the story, the reporter notes the tenant “didn't respond directly to the allegations and said she felt she was being harassed by the media.”
The tenant could very well be a fraudster, but this emphasis on bad tenants we see repeatedly from the CBC is way out of proportion with the reality of how much power landlords have over their renters.
An Oct. 5 piece from CBC Ottawa has the Beaverton-worthy headline, “Ontario's Landlord and Tenant Board has collapsed, landlord says.”
The story says the backlog at the board is impacting “tenants, who face harassment or problems with the space they rent, and small landlords, who increasingly say they have tenants who take advantage of the delays at the board.”
False equivalency aside, the story speaks only to landlords and their advocates — no tenants.
The story’s first voice is landlord Sian Tuang, who came to Canada as a refugee from Myanmar in 2008, and later “bought a home in Smiths Falls, Ont., with plans to flip it himself,” the report says.
Instead, in December he found tenants who would move in and assist in finishing the basement. He said they could live for free for three months, but they never paid the rent after and Tuang is now on the hook for a mortgage of $2,600 a month.
The moral of the story seems to me to be don’t flip houses.
The reporter then quotes federal public servant Ali Labano who in July 2021 rented his home in the Ottawa suburb of Barrhaven to a family of four.
By November 2021, the family couldn’t afford the $2,600 rent so he lowered it to $2,200. The family then informed Labano the home was cockroach infested, so they would be withholding their rent.
It would have been nice to hear from a member of this family about their experience living in a cockroach-infested home and then being expected to pay $2,200 for it, but instead the story speaks to Ottawa Small Landlord Association founder Tony Miller.
The piece says the “financial consequences are tough on small landlords [who] are powerless with backlogs at the board.”
The story concludes with the voice of Ottawa-Vanier Liberal MPP Lucille Collard, who says the board’s backlog is equally difficult for tenants and landlords alike.
A Sept. 23 piece headlined “Backlog at Residential Tenancy Branch leaves landlords and tenants in the lurch” predictably begins with the perspective of a “small B.C. landlord.”
Abdelnasser Samara, we’re told, used to live in a condo in Burnaby, but decided to “upgrade to a townhouse” with his family so he’s now renting the condo out for $2,200.
In the reporter’s words, a “dispute over sharing a copy of newly-cut keys led to his tenant withholding rent starting in July.” Again, no word from the tenant, who might be able to provide more context and detail.
Samara has taken his tenant to B.C.’s Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB). The piece then quotes David Hutniak, the CEO of LandlordBC, who complains about — you guessed it — how long it takes for hearings to occur.
"Hearings that should be happening in, you know, six to 10 weeks or less are taking months. And it's the possession hearings that this landlord referred to that's particularly challenging right now,” Hutniak said.
Oh, by the way, this delay also impacts tenants, the story notes in its final section, quoting Robert Patterson, a lawyer and tenant advocate at the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre, who notes that tenants who lose appeals are expected to move out 48 hours after the hearing.
"In the majority of cases, I think telling anyone that they have 48 hours to get all of their belongings out of their home and find another place to live, the most rational and common result is going to be that they are homeless," said Patterson.
But after quoting a representative of the RTB, the story gives the final word to Samara, who says his goal is to “keep this apartment as future security for myself, for my retirement, for my children."
Finally, an April 11 story brings us full circle to the plight of landlords who have become homeless, which is once again blamed on delays at the Landlord and Tenant Board.
In Ottawa, small business owner Franchesca Ranger became homeless after getting divorced and selling her family home. She attempted to move into one of her rental suites in Barrhaven, giving the tenant a 75-day termination notice with a move out date of Aug. 31, 2020.
According to Ranger, the tenant who had been living there for four years refused to move out and stopped paying rent.
The story says Ranger “was left to pay thousands a month in mortgage, property taxes, bills, and storage for her belongings — all while running a small restaurant that was hit hard by lockdowns and pandemic restrictions.”
"I felt so let down and so violated,” said Ranger, who had to wait eight months for a hearing, and then another four because her renter needed it to be conducted in French.
However, she was able to move back into her home in February after staying with friends and family, so she wasn’t out on the street like her tenant may have been.
The story then quotes Lovett, the aforementioned pro-landlord paralegal, who laments how the tribunal system “has become so broken.”
The CBC reached out to Ranger’s tenant, who declined a request for comment. But in an N12 form, which a landlord has to provide a tenant if they’re moving into their rental property, the renter said his wife was on disability and that all the medical professionals who work with her are near the unit.
He said the family would be homeless if they were forced to vacate the apartment, and asked Ranger to pay him to find a place elsewhere.
"I find it inconceivable that tax dollars pay for a government body that has zero accountability, that thinks it's OK for someone to own a home and be homeless," Ranger said, without a hint of sympathy for the person she was to make homeless.
The piece then quotes Boubacar Bah, chair of Small Ownership Landlords of Ontario (SOLO), who assists “working-class landlords” with tenancy disputes.
"The way the system is designed, it's calling for abuse,” said Bah.
The next voice is a SOLO volunteer, Pearl Karimalis, who said the Landlord and Tenant Board’s "bias toward tenants is systemic," presumably with a straight face.
Not a single tenant was interviewed to dispute this claim.