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Why this landlord is living in his restaurant basement

Stephane Poquet has been living in his restaurant basement for the last five months while awaiting a decision from Ontario’s Landlord and Tenant Board after he applied to evict his tenant so he could move into the condo unit he owns after he and his ex-partner sold their home last year.

Stephane Poquet awaiting decision after filing own-use eviction application 15 months ago

A man sits in a chair in a cluttered basement. A makeshift bed is next to him.

Stephane Poquet says his sleeping quarters in the basement of his Toronto restaurant remind him of his days in the French Navy.

The makeshift bed is small, squeezed between shelves with construction materials and tools and a desk littered with a combination of personal and work items like deodorant and vitamins, paperwork and a security system.

His pants are strewn across a pipe that hangs low from the ceiling. Other clothes are piled up on chairs and in a laundry basket on the cement floor.

It's tight, dark, hot and noisy, thanks to the business phone ringing, ice machine whirring and the restaurant's air compressor humming.

Poquet has been living in the basement for the last five months while awaiting a decision from Ontario's Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) after he applied to evict his tenant so he could move into the condo unit he owns, as he and his ex-partner sold their home last year.

The LTB resolves disputes between residential landlords and tenants.

His tenant has continued to pay rent each month and does not have to vacate the unit unless the the board decides in Poquet's favour and orders them to do so.

Poquet thought the basement abode would be temporary as he kept anticipating an imminent decision, which is why he hasn't rented a place on a monthly basis.

"It's just not home," Poquet said of the basement. "I worked so hard for 25 years doing this restaurant, and then suddenly I'm stuck here, sleeping in the basement."

The LTB says the majority of its decisions take an average of 30 days after the final hearing, but Poquet has been waiting for more than 130 days while the board deals with a backlog of cases that, according to data up until 2022, had been taking longer and longer to resolve.

WATCH | Stephane Poquet shows his basement living space:

Why this Toronto landlord is sleeping in his restaurant basement

2 hours ago

Duration 3:46

Stephane Poquet filed an own-use eviction application with Ontario’s Landlord and Tenant Board. He’s been waiting more than 130 days for a decision. CBC's Angelina King has the story.

Four months with no decision

Poquet was previously living with his ex-partner, who is his current business partner. The two were preparing to sell their home, and he had planned to move back into his condo near Toronto's Cabbagetown neighbourhood.

So, on March 2, 2023, he gave his tenant an N12 notice, which allows a landlord to evict a tenant if the landlord or their family member will be moving into the occupied rental unit.

The landlord must provide at least 60 days' notice; Poquet gave the tenant nearly 120 days and provided them with the required compensation of one month's rent, according to documents reviewed by CBC Toronto.

On March 3, 2023, he filed an own-use eviction application with the LTB and a virtual hearing was scheduled for six months later in September 2023.

The case was adjourned, and the final hearing took place Jan. 17, but a decision has still not been rendered more than four months later.

"Nothing's been done," Poquet said. "We've been phoning, complaining, emailing."

Tribunals Ontario, which oversees the LTB, did not answer questions about why Poquet's case is taking so long.

LTB decisions took 5 times longer between 2018 and 2022

Last fiscal year, the LTB received more than 73,000 applications. At the end of the fiscal year, there were more than 53,000 unresolved cases, according to its 2022-23 annual report.

The most recent available data from Tribunals Ontario shows that each year between 2018 and 2022, it took longer for cases to get resolved. In 2022, it took about five times as long to receive a decision after the final hearing compared to 2018.

The data also shows tenants wait longer than landlords for their applications to go through the system.

In 2022, it took on average 278 days for a decision to be made after an application was filed, compared to 59 days in 2018.

Poquet's case has been active for 450 days and counting.

Tribunal Watch Ontario, a non-profit that keeps tabs on the province's tribunals including the LTB, says the board is "failing" Ontarians when it comes to delays.

Kathy Laird, a retired human rights lawyer and Tribunal Watch committee member, says no decision should take this long.

"There's really no reason why the board shouldn't be able to get any decision out within 30 days, or considerably shorter, no matter the complexity," she said. "They're supposed to know the law."

Laird says she'd like to see a dedicated backlog reduction panel of adjudicators to manage cases that are stalemated before the board.

She'd also like the LTB to go back to more in-person hearings, since Tribunals Ontario has adopted a default virtual hearing format unless requested otherwise.

Laird says cases can be settled easier in person, are run more smoothly when everyone is in the same room. She also says virtual hearings can create more barriers for tenants, like requiring reliable internet or phone access, which can affect a hearing's fairness.

Tribunals Ontario says virtual hearings are effective, efficient and provide accessible and more timely services.

Province says it's making progress

Tribunals Ontario says it has implemented a number of strategies to reduce backlogs, including streamlining processes, introducing new technology and hiring more staff.

A spokesperson says the LTB's case count has declined every month this year, and the total count has been reduced by approximately 10 per cent since the end of last year.

"We are making progress and we expect to see even more in the coming months," Tribunals Ontario spokesperson Veronica Spada said.

Last year, the LTB resolved 83,000 cases, a 45 per cent increase compared to the year before, Spada said. That would have significantly reduced the backlog, but the LTB received a 31 per cent increase in applications in 2023, she said.

Spada also said the LTB has been processing some application types quicker, pointing to certain landlord applications for non-payment of rent. Early last year, those would take eight to 10 months to get a hearing, but now they're being scheduled in less than four months, she said.

She said in the last year, 47 full-time and 29 part-time adjudicators have been appointed to the LTB.

The board is projecting to schedule over 100,000 hearings this year, which will be the highest number ever scheduled, Spada said.

The Ministry of the Attorney General, which oversees Tribunals Ontario, says it's increased funding and resources to help reduce the backlog and improve decision time frames.

A spokesperson said it's spending $6.5 million to appoint new adjudicators and staff to the LTB, as well as providing additional training to help ensure files and hearings are managed efficiently.

Elaine Page, a long-time paralegal focusing on LTB matters, says while there's still a backlog, she's seeing cases get resolved quicker since the new year has started.

"I'm still dealing with some tenant files for 2022, we're just kind of getting to those ones now and certainly the 2023s, but they're working hard to clear the backlog," she said. "There are noticeable improvements."

'I feel let down'

Both Page and Laird say there's concern that small landlords like Poquet will stop renting out their units due to LTB delays.

"This dysfunction at the Landlord and Tenant Board … may mean fewer small landlords and it may mean fewer affordable units that are more accessible," Laird said.

Poquet says he doesn't want to be a landlord again after this experience with the LTB.

While awaiting the decision, Poquet showers and does laundry in his business partner's unit, who lives above their restaurant.

"I should be allowed to move to my property," he said. "I feel let down by the government."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Angelina King

Reporter

Angelina King is a reporter with CBC Toronto's enterprise unit where she covers a wide range of topics. She has a particular interest in crime, justice issues and human interest stories. Angelina started her career in her home city of Saskatoon where she spent much of her time covering the courts. You can contact her at angelina.king@cbc.ca or @angelinaaking

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