Public input sought for landlord and tenant act

The Yukon government will overhaul the Yukon Landlord and Tenant Act, a document that hasn't seen substantial changes since 1972.

The Yukon government will overhaul the Yukon Landlord and Tenant Act, a document that hasn’t seen substantial changes since 1972.

Wednesday, the government passed an NDP-led motion to create a committee to review and make recommendations to the act.

Amended only twice since 1972, the document is often criticized for being outdated and for unfairly benefitting landlords.

For several years the NDP pressured the government to review the act.

In 2008, the government agreed to conduct an internal review of the legislation, but nothing came from that review.

Now an all-party committee will review the act once again to seek public input on how it should be changed.

The motion allows the committee to recommend “substantive amendments to the act” or to scrap it altogether and draft a new one.

“We feel that the present act is well past its best-before date,” said NDP MLA Steve Cardiff in the legislature Wednesday.

The act, filled with antiquated words like “chattel” and “forenoon” is so circuitous that only a lawyer can understand it.

It also includes measures that are hardly relevant in 2009.

For instance, it allows the landlord to “take under a distress for rent any horses, cattle, sheep, swine, poultry, fowl, livestock and other domestic animals, which are grazing, pasturing, or feeding on any highway or road.”

But it’s not only the language that is a problem.

Under the act, tenants can be evicted without reason and landlords are only required to give one month’s notice for tenants to vacate.

The Yukon is the only place in Canada to allow evictions without cause.

The act also doesn’t

lay out health and safety standards for tenants or landlords.

According to section 76 of the act, landlords are required to “comply with health, safety, maintenance and occupancy standards established by law.”

But the standards were never drafted, so there aren’t any to comply with.

“The conditions of housing need to be clear so that when a landlord rents a place to a tenant they can expect certain standards: that the lights work, the windows aren’t broken, that there’s heat,” said NDP MLA Steve Cardiff.

“At the same time, however, if a tenant damages property, then the landlord needs protection and assurance that they’ll get paid.”

Dispute resolution between landlords and tenants in the Yukon also need to be improved, said Cardiff.

Right now, mediation is only available if both parties agree to it, which rarely happens. he said.

Most often the dispute ends up in court and it is often landlords who are more successful in getting their claims to court and winning their cases.

Of 72 Yukon cases that ended up in litigation between 2006 and 2008, 63 claims were made by landlords. And of those claims, landlords won 70 per cent of the time, compared to 44 per cent for tenants.

“It would seem that the landlord and tenant court is a remedy favoured by landlords and not used by tenants,” according to a group of Yukon nonprofit organizations who prepared a review of the landlord tenant act this past winter.

Nyingje Norgang, who briefly sat on that working group, was happy to see that the government supported the NDP motion.

“It’s such a relief to know that this motion has been introduced,” said Norgang, who is the women’s advocate at the Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre.

There is a general feeling of “hopelessness and helplessness” from the low-income women she helps who are dealing with housing issues.

“They tell me they have to accept whatever they get and often say to me, ‘I don’t want to complain and risk losing my place.’”

Colleen Harrington, who also sat on the working group representing the Yukon Human Rights Commission, was pleased.

“In the past we were told by the minister (Archie Lang) that the act didn’t need to be changed, so we thought nothing would come of the landlord and tenant act.”

She hopes to be a part of the process that will review and recommend changes to the act.

The all-party committee is expected to bring forward its recommendations in the spring of 2010.

Contact Vivian Belik at

vivianb@yukon-news.com

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