Voices: Experiences of Eviction in Ottawa

 

Allison McBrearty and Lori-Anne Bradley

 

A partnership between The Center for Equality Rights in Accommodation and The Carleton University School of Social Work

Table of Contents

Executive Summary

1.1 Introduction

2.1 The Context

2.2 The Conceptual Framework

2.3 Research Question

3.1 Methodology

3.1.1 Design

3.1.2 Selecting the Participants

3.1.3 Confidentiality

4.1 Findings

4.2 Events and Experiences that Lead to the Notice of Eviction

4.3 Slum Housing Practices

4.4 Concerns and Anxiety

4.5 Outcomes

4.6 Advice for Others

4.7 Comments Made About CERA

5.1 Conclusions

 6.1 Recommendations

 

Executive Summary

The goal of this project was to learn about the experiences of individuals and families in Ottawa who faced eviction and were contacted by the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation(CERA). The researchers want4ed to study the issue from the perspective of the people experiencing it by hearing the tenant' stories in their own words. Therefore, the researchers conducted semi-structured telephone interviews using open-ended questions with ten tenants who received eviction notices and were contacted by CERA.

The Researchers found that systemic problems such as a lack of rent control and the lack of availability of homes in the Ottawa area create an environment which leaves the tenants vulnerable to potential abuse on the part of the landlords. The five tenants who were to be evicted for late payment of rent cited family emergencies such as the death of a loved one, and serious illness as the reasons for being in arrears. The lack of communication on the part of landlords indicate that they were not necessarily interested in making arrangements to clear-up the problem. Rather, it is in the landlord's interest to find new tenants in order to increase the rent. Furthermore, half of the tenants were to be evicted because the landlord claimed to want to use the property for his/her own use. The tenants felt powerless to dispute this supposedly legitimate excuse to evict them when in fact they knew the landlord simply intended to sell the residence. Other concerns of the tenants included poor and/or unsafe condition of their homes, fearing for their children's sense of security, and lack of other housing options.

The researcher recommend that further studies be conducted to learn more about the concerns and experiences of tenants as described in their own words. A much larger sample will be required in order to be able to generalize the findings. Furthermore, CERA's role in providing tenants with information about their rights at a crucial time is invaluable to tenants. In addition, tenants also require more information about their rights concerning the conditions of their homes.

 

1.1 Introduction

The Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation (CERA) began the Homelessness Prevention Project in May, 2000. The primary objective of this project is to inform tenants, whose landlords have applied to have them evicted, of their rights. CERA contacts the tenants by telephone. They also mail each tenant an information package. It is the intention of CERA to:

The secondary objective of the project is to learn more about the experiences of people before, during, and after they receive the eviction notice. At the time of the initial contact, CERA gives tenants the option to provide more information about their living situations. Those who choose to complete a questionnaire provide information such as, the amount of rent they pay, the number of people who live in their household, their source of income, and the reason for the eviction notice. Upon completion of this process, the caller asks the tenants if they would like to do a follow-up interview at a later date. This enables CERA to find out what happens to people after the eviction process and to gain the retrospective insight of the tenant. The content of these follow-up interviews is the subject of this report.

Two Masters of Social Work students from Carleton University conducted the follow-up interviews for CERA, herein after referred to as the researchers.

 

2.1 The Context

This research is a direct response to what many refer to as a "housing crisis" in Ottawa. At the time of the research, Ottawa had the lowest vacancy rate in the country at .2%. Yet surprisingly, the Ontario Rental Housing Tribunal was receiving an average of 90 eviction requests per week for Ottawa. Local shelters were full by four in the afternoon, daily, and the Regional Municipality of Ottawa was paying to house homeless families in hotels for the night. There were no plans for housing starts that involved rental housing and the provincial government was in the process of devolving responsibility for social housing onto the municipalities.

Ottawa was experiencing the fall out of several changes made by the provincial government. The Tenant Protection Act (1997) has removed rent controls, which enables the landlord to raise the rent each time a tenant leaves a unit. This change has clearly acted as a direct incentive for landlords to evict tenants, which as mentioned above is occurring at an alarming rate. In addition, the amendment to the Ontario Human Rights Code, that specifies that landlords are now able to impose greater restrictions on rental applicants, makes it even more difficult for tenants to secure housing.

For example, a landlord may refuse to rent to those living on low-incomes. In fact, the Centre for Social Justice reports that "landlords have increasingly refused to rent to people who spend more then 30% of their incomes on rent." According to Housing Help (2000) in Ottawa, in 1999, 50,000 households paid more than 30% of their incomes on rent. This means that overall, 41% of all tenants in Ottawa are in core need of housing. Furthermore, 24,000 households, or 20% of all households, paid more than 50% of their incomes on rent. Once landlords evict these individuals and families, they encounter a lack of affordable housing. Furthermore, they may face discriminatory rental practices. Essentially, they come face to face with the possibility of becoming homeless.

Unfortunately, at the time of writing this report, little has changed. In fact, the situation may have gotten worse. This is the bleak picture from which the following voices emerge.

 

2.2 The Conceptual Framework

Based upon the literature, affordable housing in Ottawa is clearly lacking. A substantial number of individuals and families experience difficulty securing their housing. The causes are situated on a macro social level, yet the standpoint of the individual provides a valuable perspective. Thus, the basic paradigm of this research is interpretive/constructivist as the researchers are using the lived experiences of people to gain an understanding of the broader political context. It is the basic assumption of the researchers that reality is socially constructed and that using an interactive method of data collection serves to identify the perceived realities or lived experiences of the tenants.

 

2.3 Research Question

What were the experiences of individuals and families who faced eviction and were contacted by CERA? The researchers formulated this question based upon three factors. First, the goal of the project is to learn about the experience of eviction as perceived by the tenants. Second, the researchers wished to gain insight into the reasons for evictions in the city of Ottawa. Third, the researchers sought an evaluative function on behalf of CERA. Learning more about the helping role played by CERA during the initial contact would help the agency to customize this program to suit the needs of tenants best.

 

3.1 Methodology

3.1.1 Design

The researchers chose a qualitative approach for this project because their objective was to study the issue of eviction from the point of view of the people experiencing it. The researchers wanted to learn about the perspectives of the tenants by hearing their stories told in their own words. Thus, the researchers used a semi-structured interview with open-ended questions (see Appendix A) to elicit in-depth information about the experiences of the tenants after CERA contacted them.

A semi-structured rather than unstructured interview was selected to establish some direction for the discussion and to ensure that each interview covered similar topic areas. The researchers used open-ended questions in order to give tenants some control in defining what areas of their experience they wanted to share. The researchers used telephone interviews because they deemed them to be less intrusive and less inconvenient for the tenants than arranging face-to-face interviews. Furthermore, the participants who originally agreed to do a follow-up interview, did so under the assumption that the interviews would be conducted by telephone.

In general, the design was successful in eliciting the kind of information the researchers were seeking. With the addition of probing questions used as needed, most participants gave thorough answers to each of the main questions. In the future, the researchers would advise others to have more specific probing questions on hand to provide direction for those few participants who seemed uncomfortable or unclear as to how to address such open-ended questions.

 

3.1.2 Selecting the Participants

Ten participants were chosen from a list of people who had previously completed a brief survey for CERA. At this time, CERA asked these individuals if they would like to participate in a follow-up interview. From those individuals who agreed to a follow-up interview, a purposive sample was selected. The researchers chose only those people who were surveyed between May 2000 and October 2000 to ensure that a minimum of several months had passed before interviews began in January. This allowed time for events to unfold and for the tenants to have had at least some time to reflect on the events surrounding the eviction notice.

The sample was narrowed down to those individuals and families who were paying market price for housing as opposed to subsidized housing. The researchers chose five participants who were in the paid work force and five who were receiving social assistance. The researchers also wanted the sample to reflect the various types of family units that CERA originally surveyed. Thus, under each of these two categories the researchers selected two single parent families, two families with two parents, and one single adult without children.

The goal of the project was to gain insight into some of the personal experiences and concerns of families and individuals who have faced eviction in Ottawa. Therefore, a sample of ten was sufficient for this particular study. However, in the future a larger sample would be required in order for the researchers to generalize their conclusions to the larger population of tenants in Ottawa who have been through this process. The main challenge to conducting a study with a large sample would be to attain contact with enough participants. Many of the potential participants could not be accessed by telephone due to the fact that the landlords had successfully evicted the tenants or possibly because the tenants no longer have a telephone.

 

3.1.3 Confidentiality

Names and addresses of the participants were kept in a master file separate from all other research notes and materials. The two researchers were the only individuals to see this file. Code numbers and pseudonyms were used on all interview notes and the final report. The researchers read a consent narrative (Appendix B) which included the steps taken to guarantee confidentiality to the participants prior to the interviews.

 

4.1 Findings

The data collected from each tenant were surprisingly similar. The researchers expected to find inconsistencies or vast differences in the stories told by the tenants, given that it was a small sample. However, there are clearly common themes in the stories of these tenants. First, the reasons for having received the eviction notice, were either non-payment of rent or the landlord claimed to need to utilize the premises in another way. Second, there was ample evidence that tenants were subjected to varying degrees of slum housing practices by landlords. They were also strangely apologetic of situations for which the landlord was responsible, stating that they had been 'good' tenants. This finding in particular, was surprising to the researchers. Third, people experienced a great deal of stress and concern before, during and after the eviction process.

The last three subject areas elicited responses from the tenants that were less similar. First, each tenant had a unique outcome. Second, the researchers asked the tenants if they had advice for others in a similar situation. The responses varied, based upon their own outcomes. Last, the researchers asked whether CERA had played a helpful role. This was dependent upon the stage of the eviction process that the tenant was in at the time of the initial contact. In general, people were pleased that CERA had contacted them in their time of need.

Overall, the stories were quite telling of the various kinds of experiences of eviction. In each section, the people tell the story of eviction best in their own words.

 

4.2 Events and Experiences that Lead to the Notice of Eviction

The first question asked was "What were the events or experiences that led to the eviction notice?" The researchers expected that being in arrears would be the most common reason given by the tenants. However, only five out of the ten tenants interviewed had fallen behind in their rents. Landlords asked the other half to leave for reasons that involved alternative usage of the property. Furthermore, the researchers can take neither of these categories at face value. The reasons tenants were in arrears were almost all based upon having experienced a family emergency, such as a death in the family, job loss, or illness. The following story illustrates this observation.

Keith and his wife, Karen, have three children. They received an eviction notice after falling three months behind in their rent. They owed $2,550 when CERA made the first contact.

Both Keith and Karen had been employed full-time until Keith had a heart attack. Consequently, he was laid off work and was ordered by his doctor not to return to work for one year. This is when they fell behind in their rent.

Karen took extra work and they managed to pay the money that they owed. However, at the time of the follow-up interview, they had just received another notice of eviction for falling behind again. Karen had just had a miscarriage. She had just gotten out of the hospital and was "on bed rest."

Now both are unemployed and fear that they will not find housing that they can afford and that can reasonably accommodate a family of five.

 The story of 'Keith' and 'Karen' is very troubling to the researchers. Unfortunately, they are not alone as this next story indicates.

Don and Erin have three children. They fell behind in their rent due to the death of one of their children. Just after the death of their child, Don was "hurt on the job" and subsequently had a nervous breakdown.

They were fifteen days late. They had been living pay cheque to pay cheque and did not get paid at the same time of the month, so they had to wait to be able to have enough money to make the full payment.

 Other tenants reported similar situations. One woman stated "I was late paying rent. I was only a couple of weeks behind. I had a couple of family emergencies, unexpected things." Some of the same tenants who were in arrears felt that their landlord was using this as an excuse to evict them. Many reported poor communication with their landlords and felt that they could have dealt with the matters less formally. As in the story of 'Don' and 'Erin', the landlord was evicting them for being in arrears, yet it seemed obvious to them that the landlord wanted to sell the house. They explained that they had been there for seven years and that the landlord "just handed me the notice" without inquiring about why they were late paying the rent. The landlord was selling the other houses in the neighbourhood and wished to sell this property as well. They made arrangements to pay the owed rent immediately. It was in their opinion "an excuse to get rid" of them.

The researchers heard other similar complaints. For example, in the next story the landlord changed his reason three times to be able to get the tenants to move.

 Mark is a single adult with no children. He lives with two other people. In the first eviction notice the landlord accused him and his house mates of running a bed and breakfast which was considered an illegal operation. Mark disputed this with the Tribunal as it was not true.

The second notice that Mark received stated that someone was living in the basement and that it was not zoned for such an arrangement. Mark disputed this, as again, it was not true.

The third notice indicated that the landlord's daughter was planning to move into the house. Since this is legal grounds for eviction, Mark agreed to move.

 While 'Mark' and his house mates agreed to move, he is skeptical about whether the landlord is being truthful about his daughter moving into the house. "It is my intent to follow up to make sure that she has moved in, if she hasn't then the landlord probably owes me some money." Other tenants reported similar situations where the landlord or a relative of the landlord claimed to be moving into the premises, but did not do so. Thus, again, the researchers must give the reasons for eviction a second glance. It must not be assumed that landlords are evicting tenants for irresponsible behaviour. None of the tenants interviewed by the researchers could be considered as such.

 

4.3 Slum Housing Practices

Generally, the tenants were very concerned about the condition of the homes they were living in and what they considered to be the unfair amount of rent they had to pay for such dwellings. Several tenants were spending well over half their monthly incomes on rents. Most of the tenants expressed frustration with their attempts to get their landlords to do basic repairs and upkeep of their homes, such as painting and fixing broken windows and damaged floors. More important, there were several complaints about faulty or useless appliances such as refrigerators and furnaces.

 Jane is a single, twenty-five year old mother with three children including an infant and a pre-schooler. She is supposed to receive child support but does not. She received an eviction notice when she was a month and a half late with the rent due to the breakup of a relationship.

She does not understand why her landlord did not discuss it with her before going ahead with the "legal stuff". Although she settled the matter with her landlord, he threatened to evict her again when she did not park in her own parking spot.

She now says she wishes she had looked for another place after the first eviction notice because she feels living there is not worth the aggravation. 

'Jane' was very concerned about the condition of her townhouse.

"I went through the majority of this winter with none or very little heat because my furnace wasn't working. My daughter (eighteen months) has ended up with pneumonia and bronchitis four times since October. I had to actually threaten him with that to get him to come fix my furnace. When I said my daughter has been to the doctor and diagnosed with bronchitis about four times and pneumonia, next thing, he was in fixing the furnace. I guess he figures, well, he has it on file so it's not a good thing."

This tenant was also frustrated in her attempts to get the landlord to fix a sink that kept falling when her toddler leaned on it. Overall, Jane is uncomfortable living there because "he's a slumlord, he doesn't do very much. I've been waiting for one year for him to redo the kitchen floor."

Other tenants echoed these sentiments.

"So it's really hard now, we have been here three years. After we had moved in we had an agreement with the landlord to paint the place. Because of the ice storm it had leaked throughout the place so he was supposed to paint and within those three years, nothing was ever done, so we just left it. It's not worth causing ourselves any more grief, while we got brown marks all over the ceiling and its kind of embarrassing when your mother comes over or family. The place looks really bad".

"The place was horrible1/4the house has so many problems, leaks everywhere. A lot of the cupboards leak1/4the bedroom cupboards leak. We can't even heat the place. The bedrooms have rads and are like ovens, the living room is freezing, electric in the bathroom, nothing in the living room and dining area, and no heat in the basement."

Another tenant's refrigerator was not working. "I asked for another fridge. He came over and looked at it and said he'd send a contractor1/4that was three months ago." The landlord also refused this single mother a new kitchen floor when the pipes leaked and flooded the room. Moreover, this tenant was concerned about the amount of rent the landlord charged her to live in such conditions. Out of her monthly income of $997, she paid $627 for rent. Consequently, she had few resources to pay for other basic living expenses for herself and her daughter, let alone have any money to contribute toward repairs that are the responsibility of the landlord.

Another single parent was paying $660 for rent in addition to utilities from a monthly salary of $930 a month. Although this tenant acknowledged that the landlord did the necessary repairs at his apartment building, he said the landlord did not clear the snow, cut the grass, or rake leaves. This could be a substantial problem for this tenant who has a child with a disability. "The people who live here, we do it all ourselves because we just want a nice place."

Surprisingly, a few of the tenants appeared to be somewhat apologetic for having what are reasonable expectations for a safe and functional home environment. Several tenants expressed regret at having to 'bother' the landlords.

"I don't bug him. I fix most of the stuff by myself. I don't bug him for much and the stuff I do ask him for never gets done anyway."

"The place looks really bad. It's okay. Whenever something broke I fixed it myself, I thought I did my share. I never called to bug them. I thought, I would just do the work for them because that's what I used to do. It's just unfortunate."

"We cleaned and painted. We told him we'll fix everything ourselves, just not the plumbing and electrical. We were going to build two extra rooms in the basement because it isn't finished down there, but not now. Pull the rug from under us, no way, we were getting ready to do it but screw that."

"My son has a disability, so I stay home and take care of him. I don't drink, smoke or take drugs. Like it's very hard to pay rent and this and that. I was taking care of everything properly. I'm very quiet, no parties."

These tenants appeared to be frustrated by the fact that they were facing eviction even though they were 'good' tenants.

Overall, many tenants, expressed frustration at having to pay a disproportionate amount of their monthly incomes to landlords who are slow to respond, if they do at all, to maintenance needs for housing that is inadequate, uncomfortable, or unsafe.

 

4.4 Concerns and Anxiety

Both the events that led up to the eviction and the eviction process itself clearly caused a great deal of stress for the tenants. Families had particular concerns about the lack of stability in their children's lives. Even those tenants who wanted to leave because of a stressful relationship with the landlord or poor condition of the home, felt compelled to keep their homes so that their children would not have to change schools and neighbourhoods.

 Carol and her husband Mike have two children (seven and twelve years old). They were evicted when their landlord claimed to want to move into the house himself. The tenants were not surprised to learn that the landlord in fact never did move in but instead sold the house.

They were fortunate enough to find another house a week before their eviction date in the same area so that their children could continue attending the same school.

 'Carol' said, "We were cutting it kind of close. But we didn't want to leave the neighbourhood. My kids go to school here. So we're pretty lucky, but we're paying through the nose here . . . but you know, what can you do." Unfortunately, three weeks after moving in and making many improvements to the house themselves, they were told that the landlord wanted to sell the house. Carol and Mike's landlord gave no indication that he would allow the family to continue living there once he had sold the house. After leaving several unanswered messages for the landlord, Carol was completely frustrated.

"We have two kids, we need something secure. We need to know that we can be here for a year, or two, or three or ten or whatever. This is too much like work having to deal with a landlord. You know, we're just a young family trying to raise our kids. It's ridiculous coming home and dealing with this. Our poor kids, it's always, 'Are we going to have to move again?'. Like I have a seven-year-old and a twelve-year-old, all upset, making themselves physically ill about it when they heard the real estate agent talking (about selling the house) . . . it's ridiculous.

Other families also felt that their housing was less than adequate but tried to keep their homes to avoid placing additional stress on their children.

"It's really hard on the market right now. We don't want to move our kids out of our school district because they have been going to the same school for the past four or five years now."

"On either side of me, I've known them since I was a kid, and the one at the end, her daughter goes to school with my son . . . I stayed for the kids, they love it here."

According to several tenants, the stress of uprooting one's family and moving to another neighbourhood is compounded by the fact that there are so few houses available, let alone affordable ones. Several tenants expressed concerns about the combined impact of the lack of availability and the lack of rent control. Asked what his main concern for the future was, one tenant stated, "Lack of availability, we're kind of stuck here and I have three kids. Where would I go? There is nothing out there. We're stuck." Other tenants had similar concerns.

"They'll just look for any reason to kick you out, a day late for rent, any reason to kick you out, any reason . . . and they can, as soon as you screw up, that's it. You have to be on your toes constantly, it's ridiculous. Once you're living there and they can't raise the rent they'll get rid of you to put the rent up."

"There's not a lot out there right now1/4a bit more in Hull. That's why the landlords have all the cards."

Three of the tenants indicated they had experienced discrimination when searching for adequate housing and were concerned with the possibility of facing more of the same in the future. One landlord told a tenant, "none of your neighbours like you" even though she is friends with everyone and has known them since she was a child.

"He won't give me a break because he's under the understanding that no one likes me and it would be easier if he just evicted me. I think it has to do with the fact that I'm young, they're all older, thirties and up, maybe that's the problem. They look down at me. I'm only twenty-five and I have three kids so they look at me like 'you're not married, you have three kids.'"

Another tenant felt discriminated against in several instances.

I found a lot of places we went and applied for were 'no kids, no dogs, no this, no that', and they can't do that. People don't realize they can't do that. Oh yah, I've been told 'no kids, no smoking, no dogs. If you lie about the dog or kids and move in, they'll just look for a reason to kick you out.

In general, the tenants already have major concerns about the lack of availability in the Ottawa area. The added stress of having to worry about the possibility of facing discrimination, when searching for a new home can be overwhelming. On the other hand, the decision to stay and fight the eviction can be equally as stressful. As one tenant stated, "When you have all this stuff happening, it doesn't feel like a home."

 

4.5 Outcomes

The outcome data varied. Table 4.1 shows the break down of outcomes.

Not evicted

4

Not evicted and being evicted again

2

Not evicted, but moved anyway

1

Evicted, but waiting for appeal outcome

1

Evicted

1

Evicted and being evicted again

1

  Seven of the tenants maintained their housing, although one moved due to the stress caused by the harassment of the landlord. Two of the seven had maintained their housing, but were being evicted again. Keith and Karen had this to say about being threatened with eviction for the second time.

"We fell behind this time because it was only the wife bringing in money . . . we lost our baby . . . she's on bed rest . . . so I guess that's another set back. It's just unlucky conditions right now. I don't know if I can fight it or not, I never even bothered."

A second threat of eviction also worried Jane. Her landlord threatened to evict her a second time because her car broke down and she did not park in her spot, but rather next to the fence. As she described above, she feels that he is trying to find a reason to evict her because she is young with three children. Overall, the landlords had evicted only two people contacted by the researchers, (although one is still in his home waiting for the outcome of his appeal to the Divisional Court).

Seven out of the ten tenants went to the Tribunal. Of those who went before the Tribunal five had positive experiences and the other two, negative. Those whose experiences were agreeable made the following comments:

"I had to go to the Tribunal. I had already paid back the rent and they just said okay."

"The Tribunal was fair. The mediator I had definitely understood my circumstances."

Keith and Karen reported a negative experience.

"It didn't really help. They had a sheriff willing to come and lock the doors, but we ended up paying the last amount we owed. They gave us a certain amount of time."

Another tenant reported:

"I went to the tribunal, the Tribunal decided to evict me. I figure they're all a bunch of buddies and they're not going to contradict each other, you know . . . I'm appealing to the divisional court . . . then I'll go to the Provincial Court."

Most of the tenants who went before the Tribunal were able to make arrangements, although as is obvious in Keith and Karen's story, there seemed to be little flexibility on the part of landlords. The landlord would have evicted them if Karen had not taken extra employment to make up the money owed. In the case of Mark and his house mates, once the landlord put forward a valid reason for the eviction, Mark could no longer contest it.

 

4.6 Advice for Others

The last question that the researchers asked the tenants regard what advice they might like to pass on to others in a similar situation. The tenants all had words of wisdom to share, although they differed somewhat.

Mark, having gone to the Tribunal had this to say:

"Find out the reasons why. Find out the legalities of it. Don't be afraid to go before the tribunal. Educate yourself of what the real legitimate reasons are and then go from there. If you're eligible for legal aid then go for it."

Other tenants had this to say:

"If I could do it all over again, I probably would have taken him (landlord) to court. I hope that other people with landlords like that can still win. They're just your landlord. They're not your king. They can't harass you."

"Don't let the landlord intimidate you into letting it (the house) go."

"Just talk to them and maybe they will straighten it out. Just try to negotiate an agreement like I did. It doesn't hurt to ask."

"If people are happy in their place, fight and try to stay, but if you don't sense you'll be happy in a place, don't bother trying. Find a way to pay off the rent and try to find another place to go."

"Never back down. Landlords think they're all powerful, but they're not."

Keith had this advice to pass on concerning his horribly maintained housing.

"File court papers to bring him (landlord) to court for the stuff to be fixed in the house. To find another tenant to move in they'll probably have a month of renovations and it's not due to us . . . with holes in the walls, nails and screws . . . I'm patching them all, so they can't bring it back on us and I'm taking pictures so I'd advise people to do the same."

The tenants had other suggestions. Some felt that tenants should try to 'fight' for their housing, while others suggested that people should really consider the costs and benefits of such action. "It takes a lot of time and energy to fight it, so maybe it's not even worth it." Overall the tenants seemed to be concerned that the landlords take advantage of people who do not know their rights as tenants. This is obvious in the advice of this tenant: "It seems like the landlords have all the rights . . . the tenants do have rights."

Another theme that emerged from this category was unexpected by the researchers. Many tenants attempted to think from the standpoint of the landlord. Generally, it surprised people that their landlords could be so insensitive to the experiences of tenants.

"I was thinking that some people would be understanding, but I guess landlords are protecting themselves and are afraid of everybody."

"There are lots of people right now who are in financial trouble, some things happen in life that are unexpected. I don't think I would become a landlord unless, I know that if something happens to people . . . I can still afford my home. Especially when there's children involved, single mothers especially."

"If I was the owner, I would communicate with my tenants."

"We keep saying that if we win money we will buy our own property, but we'd never be like this (her landlord). It's too much."

 

4.7 Comments Made About CERA

The last findings presented here regard the comments made when the researchers asked the tenants if CERA helped. All of the tenants were pleased that CERA has pursued this project. Most appreciated the information given to them by mail and by telephone. Many indicated that CERA was helpful to them. Some of the comments are as follows:

"(CERA) told me what to do and what to look for. I already knew what I was doing, but when you're going through it, it's kind of good to have someone there to tell you your rights."

"Information from CERA was a definite asset. I promptly contested."

"CERA told me I had five days to respond and I received the stuff in the mail and complied with that."

"CERA sent me some publications. I didn't pursue help from CERA, but the publications helped sort out the legitimate reasons why I could be evicted. (CERA) you do good work!"

The tenants seemed pleased that there is an organization to help tenants.

"If anyone calls to offer you help if you're in this situation, take it because there is so little done for tenants these days. It's all for the landlords and there's nobody to help you. I was so shocked when CERA called, I was like 'What! Who are you? I don't understand.'"

Tenants offered their perceptions about the need for more support of tenants.

"My Mom told me, way back tenants had rights, but now if you're a tenant, you're totally screwed. There are a lot of bad tenants out there, but there are way more bad landlords . . . there must be a lot of people suffering for it."

"We need better protection for tenants. I find the landlords have more."

Other organizations that the tenants contacted included Legal Aid, the Housing Tribunal, Housing Help, and private lawyers.

 

5.1 Conclusions

Because of the small size of the sample it is not possible to generalize any of the information. Although seven of the tenants were not in fact evicted, one cannot conclude that most tenants are able to maintain their housing when faced with eviction. The researchers made many calls to tenants who had disconnected telephones before they were able to reach ten participants. This indicates that many tenants changed their numbers, lost their telephones, moved, or were successfully evicted. The researchers interviewed only one tenant who had been evicted and kept the same telephone number. Thus, based upon the research, making any assumptions about the numbers of people actually losing their housing during the eviction process would be inappropriate.

However, there are definite themes that were prominent in the tenants' stories. There were strong similarities in several areas which lead the researchers to believe that there are systemic problems such as the lack of rent control and lack of availability, that create undue hardships for the tenants who were interviewed. Based on the opinions of those interviewed these conditions appear to have encouraged landlords to engage in practices that are problematic.

Of the tenants who were in arrears, most were experiencing family emergencies of one kind or another. These tenants were not persistently late with rent. Rather, they were facing a crisis and needed time to recover financially and otherwise. The lack of communication on the part of the landlord exacerbated the problem. More often than not, the problem would have been resolved to the satisfaction of both parties if the landlord had shown a modicum of patience and understanding. This situation leads the researchers to believe that in some cases the landlord was not interested in working things out with the tenants. Rather, it is in the interests of the landlord to find new tenants in order to be able to raise the rent.

The five tenants who were not in arrears were to be evicted because the landlord wanted to use the residence for his/her own use. However, the findings indicate that in several cases the landlord simply sold the residence. Evidently, the landlord was taking advantage of the sellers' market in Ottawa at the expense of the tenants. Although the tenants were not fooled by this deception, they felt powerless to defend themselves against this supposedly legitimate excuse to evict them.

This sense of powerlessness was cited by several tenants who felt that the landlords had complete control over the eviction process. Therefore, the tenants were surprised and relieved to have been contacted by CERA with information they could use to defend themselves. Generally, the tenants felt there should be more help available that would inform tenants of their rights and encourage them to fight the eviction notice.

The tenants also felt powerless to do anything about the poor condition of their homes. As the stories illustrate, even in situations where there were major health concerns, tenants felt there was no recourse to force the landlord to address the problems in the home. In fact, the tenants often took it upon themselves to attend to matters that were the landlords' responsibilities. Many tenants did not understand why their landlords were evicting them since they viewed themselves as responsible tenants. Again, the findings point to the lack of rent control as a possible answer. It is in the landlords' interest to find new tenants to keep raising the rent or alternatively, to sell the building without having to worry about tenants getting in the way of the deal.

Finally, the findings demonstrate the concerns parents have about maintaining a stable and safe home environment for their children. Even in situations where the parents felt they could no longer withstand the frustration of negotiating with the landlord, they felt compelled to stay because they feared the impact that another move would have on their children. These parents also fear having to move because of the complete lack of available housing in Ottawa.

The researchers feel that they have answered the primary research question and met the overall expectations of the research. First, the researchers have presented the experiences of ten individuals and families who faced eviction and were contacted by CERA. Again, while it is clear that a small sample does not allow generalization, it does provide an initial glimpse into the lives of tenants in Ottawa. Furthermore, it indicates the need for a larger sample and justifies future endeavours of this nature. Second, the researchers are confident that this report satisfies the intended purpose identified at the outset of the project. The report is a vehicle by which to share the stories or lived experiences of the tenants interviewed. The researchers are able to situate these stories within the broader political context described in the introduction of this report. Last, the report can serve as an evaluative tool for CERA as it provides constructive feedback.

 

 6.1 Recommendations

6.1.1 It would be valuable to have more research that is based directly on concerns defined by the tenants themselves. Perhaps some of the concerns identified in this report would be a good starting point for future research. A larger sample would be necessary in order to be able to generalize the outcomes of the research.

6.1.2 The role of CERA in providing information about their rights at a crucial time is invaluable to many tenants. Once the pressing issue of eviction is settled, tenants would also like information about their rights regarding the condition of their homes. For example, tenants need to know when they have the right to call an emergency repair person to remedy a problem that the landlord has refused to address. In this event, tenants wanted to know how to ensure that the landlord would pay for such a repair.

 

Please note that the web version of this report does not contain endnotes and has been modified for the web.

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