Landlords in Ontario now may be able to access previous eviction records, which could greatly enhance their ability to screen rental applicants and avoid income loss from chronically bad tenants.
The move comes after a court order which requires the social tribunals in Ontario — including the Landlord and Tenant Board — to provide greater transparency to the public.
In 2018, the Toronto Star Newspapers, Ltd., won a lawsuit against Ontario claiming that its privacy protections, which were applied to social tribunals and the reason tenant names are redacted in eviction records, were too restrictive.
Prior to the lawsuit, court hearings and records were open to the public, but tribunal records, including decisions, generally were not made public or were subject to long delays.
The Star argued this system made it nearly impossible for the public to identify chronic offenders, run tenant background checks, and obtain other information within the time needed to avoid injury. Requests for information made by reporters took on average 30-45 days and as long as eight months.
In recent years, the Star profiled several professional tenants who scammed multiple landlords. These reports came primarily from court proceedings and extensive investigative journalism. Prospective landlords could not gain access to this information due to privacy protections in place at the Landlord and Tenant Board. An Ontario judge also spoke out about what he saw as abuses of the system, including tenants who were evicted many times, but landlords remained blind to the bad actors.
Siding with the Star, Ontario’s Superior Court declared that privacy considerations do not override the public’s right to information, so several tribunals — including the Landlord and Tenant Board — now must provide broader and faster access to records. These tribunals were given one year to prepare policies in line with the court’s order.
Last month, Ontario Social Justice Tribunals announced its new public access policy for tribunals. A request form for Landlord and Tenant Board records can be found here.
It is not yet clear how quickly requests will be fulfilled. However, email options are provided, and landlords are allowed to access information in person at tribunal offices. The new policy acknowledges the need for a speedy response — like when a landlord is waiting to fill a vacancy — but the policy does not expressly prioritize those requests. Specifically, the policy reads:
“Timeliness is essential to ensure access to tribunal files and documents. Tribunals Ontario staff work to provide access to tribunal files and documents as quickly and efficiently as possible. However, the time it takes to provide access can be affected by various factors, including whether records are stored on-site and other staff responsibilities and priorities.”
The Star’s effort in obtaining better transparency is a boon to landlords. No doubt some landlords who run these checks will discover their applicant has been evicted multiple times for failing to pay rent, damaging the property, or violating a tenancy agreement.
However, landlords should remain realistic about how far eviction records — or lack of records — will go toward vetting tenants. If the applicant is a professional tenant, the eviction record will save the day. But these records will not catch every bad applicant because not all cases are resolved by a tribunal. Some tenants skip out or seek new housing before an eviction is filed or reported. Previous landlord references will remain crucial to evaluating rental history.
And rental history is not the only qualifying factor. Credit-worthiness and sufficient income verification remain critical pieces of the tenant screening puzzle.
This post is provided by Tenant Verification Service, Inc., helping landlords reduce the risks of renting with fraud prevention tools that include Tenant Screening, Tenant Background Checks, (U.S. and Canada), as well as Criminal Background Checks, and Eviction Reports (U.S. only).
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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.