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Ontario's rental enforcement unit probes a fraction of calls received

Rental Housing and Enforcement Unit only investigated 219 out of the 16,394 calls it got in 2022–23 and is known as 'effectively useless' among advocates
RHEU data for fiscal year 2022-23.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally appeared on The Trillium, a new Village Media website devoted exclusively to covering provincial politics at Queen’s Park.

Ontario's tenant protection arm launches investigations into just over one per cent of the calls it receives, new data show.

Documents obtained by The Trillium through a freedom-of-information request show the Rental Housing and Enforcement Unit (RHEU) received 16,394 calls in the 2022–23 fiscal year. Of those, the unit was able to solve 1,452 (nine per cent) in the "compliance stage," meaning a phone call from the ministry was enough to make one party back down, or the case was withdrawn or closed for other reasons.

Just 219 cases (just over one per cent of all calls received) made it to the investigation stage. Only 21 were prosecuted, with 17 convictions.

For the rest — nearly 15,000 calls — it appears no action was taken. 

The RHEU is supposed to enforce the rules of the Residential Tenancies Act — to step in, for example, if a landlord changes the locks on a tenant, or a tenant bars the landlord from legally entering the property. It's separate from the Landlord and Tenant Board, an adjudicative body where parties often wait months for hearings. 

In reality, the RHEU is known among tenant advocates as "effectively useless," said Geordie Dent, the executive director of the Federation of Metro Tenants Associations.

The best a tenant can hope for is their landlord being scared off by a phone call from an RHEU officer — but most landlords know better, he said.

"A tenant once told us they told their landlord they were gonna call the RHEU and the landlord laughed," he said. 

The unit has "so much potential" to prevent illegal evictions and to lighten the load on the infamously clogged Landlord and Tenant Board, said Douglas Kwan, the director of advocacy and legal services at the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario (ACTO).

It wasn't always this way. Tenant clinics would often refer tenants to the RHEU in the early 2010s, Kwan said. 

"And for at least the last five years, tenant advocates and representatives haven't felt that the RHEU is a place where tenants could find a solution to their issues," he said.

The RHEU's 17 convictions this year are about half of the 33 it achieved in 2019–20, though anecdotally, there are more illegal evictions happening now, Kwan said.

The unit should be doing outreach campaigns and investigating hot spots without waiting for calls, he said. He added that British Columbia is doubling the size of its RHEU equivalent, which he also recommends in Ontario.

It should investigate any credible claim and get results within 30 days, NDP housing critic Jessica Bell said. Right now, tenants don't have any good options to deal with bad landlords, she said.

"They cannot call a bylaw officer. The police will not come. The Landlord and Tenant Board will not hear their case in a timely manner," she said.

The data "tells us the Conservative government has abandoned the rights of tenants in their time of need," she said.

Housing Minister Paul Calandra's office didn't comment by press time.

RHEU investigations can lead to fines. And though Ontario is able to fine bad landlords up to $250,000 for breaking tenancy laws, it never does. The ministry issued $121,800 in fines last fiscal, the RHEU documents show. 

Data obtained through a separate freedom-of-information request found only a handful of landlords face fines over $2,000. Just one corporate landlord paid more than $10,000 between 2019–2022.

Fewer calls came to the RHEU this past year than any since at least 2016–17, the furthest back the data go. The beginning of the pandemic in 2020–21 saw the most calls in the past six years with 20,747.

Of the cases it did take on, 83 per cent were either closed at the compliance stage or an investigation was started within 45 days. The agency aims for 90 per cent.

The RHEU answers 71 per cent of calls within two minutes. Again, it aims for 90 per cent, but the average wait time is just two minutes and six seconds.


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Jack Hauen

About the Author: Jack Hauen

Jack has been covering Queen’s Park since 2019. Beats near to his heart include housing, transportation, municipalities, health and the environment. He especially enjoys using freedom of information requests to cause problems.
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