Taking on an elderly act

The woman took the microphone, introduced herself as Heather then asked for help. It was Wednesday night, in a packed Westmark meeting room, and the Yukon Landlord and Tenant Act review was well underway.

The woman took the microphone, introduced herself as Heather then asked for help.

It was Wednesday night, in a packed Westmark meeting room, and the Yukon Landlord and Tenant Act review was well underway.

“I have zero rights because I share a trailer with my landlord,” she said.

And she’s being evicted.

The committee, comprised of NDP MLA Steve Cardiff, Liberal MLA Darius Elias and Yukon Party backbencher Steve Nordick, asked for clarification.

Was Heather having a relationship with her landlord?

“Definitely not,” she said.

Like many Yukoners in need of housing, she was just renting a room in his house.

If the landlord had lived elsewhere, and she was renting with other tenants, the Yukon’s aged Landlord and Tenant Act would have helped her.

“But because I am living under the same roof as my landlord, I have no rights,” she said.

“He can just throw my stuff out in the yard if he chooses.”

When she was first evicted, without any reason or notice, Heather called Yukon government’s consumer affairs.

That’s when she learned about the loophole in the act.

Thinking there must have been some kind of misunderstanding, Nordick urged Heather to call government again.

But a few minutes later, Michael Noseworthy, a lawyer who now works for consumer affairs, stood up.

“I wasn’t going to speak,” he said. “I was just here to listen.”

But after hearing about Heather’s plight, and the confusion surrounding it, he wanted to shed some light on the situation.

A call to consumer affairs, which oversees the Landlord and Tenant Act, wouldn’t have helped Heather, he said.

“She’s right. The act is clear. In a situation where landlords and tenants share a living space the act just doesn’t apply.”

Nordick, Cardiff and Elias scribbled notes.

During the two-hour meeting, the review panel heard from frustrated tenants, like Heather, the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition, women’s groups and landlords.

Everyone agreed on one thing – get rid of the act’s archaic, unintelligible language.

It currently has a section titled “bawdy house convictions,” and another which lists items a landlord cannot take in exchange for overdue rent: “The following goods and chattels are not liable to seizure by a distress by a landlord for rent,” says the act.

Then, it lists a whole host of items including, “perambulators, cradles, a cooking stove with pipes, one washbasin, one tea kettle, one teapot, and cups and saucers.”

The act is 38 years old.

And because of it, the Yukon is the only Canadian jurisdiction where landlords can evict tenants without cause, said Yukon Status of Women Council co-ordinator Charlotte Hrenchuk.

“That goes against basic human rights.”

Most tenancy acts in Canada clearly outline just causes for eviction, she said.

Removing evictions without cause from the act came up repeatedly during its public review.

But this was not something everyone agreed on.

“I don’t believe landlords should have to delve into their personal lives” to give reasons for eviction, said residential landlords’ committee representative Susan Rogan.

And tenants shouldn’t have to explain why they decide to leave either, she said, as long as both parties follow the terms of their contract.

Right now, following the act, that contract demands a month’s notice, starting from the first day of the next month.

Landlords can also “jack up the rent every three months,” said Colleen Turner, a concerned renter.

The act has “no tenant-protection provisions.”

In most jurisdictions there are annual caps on rental rates: in BC it’s 3.2 per cent and in Ontario it’s 2.1 per cent for 2010.

The need for minimum rental standards was another hot-button issue.

Right now, it’s up to health and safety to inspect building complaints, whether it’s black mould, broken windows, or inadequate heat.

“But if they come and condemn the place, then you’re out on the street,” said Turner.

“The government should be able to investigate and ticket landlords – right now there’s no penalty.”

But “don’t make it too hard on landlords,” said Dan Stein. “Or they’ll turn their buildings into condominiums and there’ll be even less housing.”

A women piped up from the back -“I can’t believe you’re threatening (the review) committee.”

It’s not a threat someone called back.

“It’s already happening.”

In Alberta, there are safe building standards, said Mary Amerongen, who used to manage social housing in the province.

“We realized if you imposed new standards on old housing, a lot of buildings would close,” she said.

Instead, a safe housing committee, comprised of health inspectors, firefighters and other city officials would assess a building and cite the necessary changes.

“Few places actually had to close that way,” she said.

In Whitehorse, there’s a .5 per cent vacancy rate right now, added Hrenchuk.

Ketsia Houde, executive director of Les Essentielles, works with women who can’t find housing.

“I had one client who spent five months in a hotel room with her three kids before she could rent something,” she said.

Landlords should not be able to discriminate on the basis of whether or not you have kids, she said, but they do.

Even the name of the act is problematic, said Anti-poverty Coalition co-chair Ross Findlater.

Calling it the landlord and tenant act, assumes an adversarial relationship, he said.

“More progressive jurisdictions are now calling it a residential tenancy act.”

After more than two hours of discussion, one thing everyone agreed on is that the current act is open to interpretation.

Carry Lyle, a local landlord with more than 30 rental properties, has had tenants come up to him with their interpretation of the act.

Lyle, in turn, had his own take on what the archaic language was spelling out.

A lawyer, gave him a third interpretation, he said.

And when Lyle called consumer affairs, he got a fourth interpretation.

“I’m a trained lawyer,” said Human Rights Commission executive director Heather MacFadgen, from the back of the room.

And after she heard the evicted woman talk about her situation, living under the same roof as her landlord, MacFadgen started perusing the act, to try to find some answers.

“I couldn’t find anything,” she said.

The landlord and tenant act review committee is accepting suggestions until September 30, call 667-5494, or e-mail yla@gov.yk.ca.

Contact Genesee Keevil at

gkeevil@yukon-news.com

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