Yukon’s Residential Tenancies Office handled 186 dispute resolutions in the last fiscal year, according to a representative during a recent rental housing seminar.
That compares to 150 cases filed in 2020-21 and 40 cases filed so far in 2022-23, Bonnie Venton Ross, communications analyst for the territory’s Community Services department, said in a June 10 email. There is presently no breakdown of the outcome of disputes, as decisions often conclude in favour of both the tenant and the landlord.
Yukoners spoke about the trials and tribulations of being a renter in the territory during a public event at the Whitehorse Public Library late last month.
The Residential Tenancies Office and Yukon Public Libraries held a drop-in session May 25 that was intended for tenants and landlords to learn about the private rental market in the Yukon.
“We were very glad that so many people made time to attend the seminar. We know that the rental housing market in the territory is challenging,” reads the department’s email, adding there will be more events like this in the future.
It was the first time the groups had hosted this kind of gathering, which fell on the same day the auditor general of Canada’s office released a scathing report on housing in the Yukon.
Two residential tenancy officers gave an overview and answered questions to a few dozen people in the room about tenant and landlord rights and responsibilities, tenancy agreements, rent increases, ending a tenancy and resolving disputes.
Mounting frustrations based on the realities and lived experiences of renting in the Yukon were shared by multiple people in attendance.
The officers did not necessarily have the capacity or jurisdiction to weigh in on specific individual circumstances, which they attempted to address in a more general way during the 90-minute event.
Audience members asked if there are patterns around landlords not meeting minimum rental standards; tenants raising issues or launching disputes with their landlords, then getting evicted; and evictions without cause since the implementation of the rental cap in May 2021.
That data was not available during the presentation. There is no recent or historical data to compare the number of evictions with and without cause over the years.
“If a tenant feels that the landlord is retaliating against them, then we encourage the tenant to apply for dispute resolution,” reads Venton Ross’s email.
“If the residential tenancies officer finds that the landlord served a notice to end tenancy in retaliation for the tenant making a complaint or attempting to enforce their rights, the officer may refuse to grant an order of possession. This means that the landlord will not be able to remove the tenant from the rental unit.”
One person said they expected to hear more about how to protect themself as a renter.
Another person who identified as being both a tenant and a landlord in their lifetime expressed their concern that the Yukon has the least amount of protections for tenants in the country.
Presenters explained they are not experts on the laws Canada-wide.
“Yukon government’s goal is to support a market rental system that is mutually beneficial to landlords and tenants,” Venton Ross said in the email.
“The Residential Landlord and Tenant Act was drafted with the intent to balance the needs and rights of landlords and tenants. We are mindful that all the factors in the rapidly changing housing market may not be addressed by the Act. If changes are necessary, we will work with stakeholders and look at options and evaluate the best way to proceed.”
Assistant deputy minister Jaime Mellott from the territory’s Community Services department stepped in partway through the seminar to introduce herself to the crowd and direct those with criticisms to speak with her or contact her by email.
“Because these [residential tenancies officers] don’t have the power to change the Act,” Mellott said.
The officers explained they are limited in their roles to providing legal information and making neutral decisions based on the Act.
The officers stressed the importance of having a written residential tenancy agreement and a condition inspection report in place. They noted that not having an agreement in writing does not mean there is no legal arrangement in place between a tenant and landlord
The officers presented about the formal dispute resolution process that is handled by their office. They explained it is a legally binding process that should be used as a last resort for tenants and landlords who cannot agree on how to resolve a legal issue between them.
Michael Dougherty is secretary for the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition and attended the event.
During the seminar, Dougherty expressed concern about the “very tilted scale for achieving an equitable resolution” created by the barriers to exercising one’s rights when it comes to the literacy needed to fill out an application form and the finances needed to pay the $50 fee associated with filing a dispute.
Presenters said the fee can be waived in some cases, such as in the case of someone with a letter stating they are on an income support program.
“If anyone would like to apply for a fee waiver, complete the fee waiver application form,” the department said in the email. The form is available from the Residential Tenancies Office or the Yukon government’s website.
The officers directed people to seek legal advice from the Yukon Law Line for certain scenarios outside the office’s capacity, contact the RCMP for criminal law matters and reach out to the Human Rights Commission, for example, when it comes to situations involving perceived discrimination because the Act explicitly prohibits officers from speaking to human rights legislation.
Contact Dana Hatherly at email@example.com