Monday, 29 October 2012

Property Standards Appeal Committee: City of Ottawa

OTTAWA: For residential landlords the arrival of a property standards officer can sometimes spell trouble.  Sometimes, a disgruntled tenant will call the City looking for an inspection to cause problems for a landlord.  The tenant, often, will meet the property standards officer at the door and take them through the entire property pointing out every conceivable problem.  The result, not infrequently, is that the landlord receives an Order made pursuant to the Property Standards By-Law.

The point of this blog is to describe what the appeal process is like.  As you will see from an Order issued by the Property Standards Officer it will contain an issued date as well as a correction date.  The correction date is the date by which the Property Owner, or the person to whom the Order is directed, is expected to have complied with the Order.  The Order also advises the recipient of the right to appeal the Order to the Property Standards Appeal Committee, normally within 30 days of the date of the Order.  There is a fee of $150 to appeal.  Once the Appeal request is received the Hearing will be scheduled within 30 days.

What do the Appeal forms look like?  As of the date of this blog, there are no formal appeal documents and no written nor formal Rules of Procedure before this committee.  A call to the coordinator reveals that a simple letter, addressed to the Secretary of the Committee, which sets out the intention to appeal the Order is sufficient.  In my experience it is best to draft a "form like" Notice of Appeal that cites the name of the property owner, the municipal address, the date of the Order, the Correction Date, and the name of the Property Standards Officer.  Then in sequentially numbered paragraphs, provide some background on the property, background on the issue, background on how the Order came to be, the attempts to comply with the Order or the attempts to negotiate a resolution with the Property Standards Officer, then the grounds for the appeal, and a final section stating what the desired outcome of the appeal is along with a reference to the evidence to be relied upon at the hearing.

It is helpful to prepare a small book of documents, with sequentially numbered pages, tabbed if necessary, that includes all of the relevant documents (i.e. all of the documents that tell the story of what has happened and show what you want to happen).  You should make at least 5 copies of this book and if time allows, file one with the secretary in advance of the hearing (though it will be accepted at hearing).

The hearing is before a committee of three Board Members.  The hearings are held in regular meeting rooms, usually at the City Building on Centrepointe Drive, Ottawa.  The process is informal although there is a record as the proceedings are recorded.  I'm not sure if it is possible to obtain a copy of the record.  It should be easy enough to get as the recording is in a digital format with a simple recorder being placed on a desk in the meeting room.

Of the Board Members, one acts as Chair and runs the hearing.  Witnesses are sworn on oath.  The Property Standards Officer is present to provide clarification and information.  Interestingly, the Property Standards Officer begins to act as a bit of an advocate for the Order and it can't be said that the "Order" speaks for itself.  The traditional adversarial process is not followed and there is indeed some back and forth.  In the Appeals I've witnessed it is not unusual for the appellant and the Property Standards Officer to engage in debate while the Board/Committee kind of watches and occasionally interjects.  It is a like a mini-cross examination.  From what it appeared to me, so long as the dialogue was respectful and fruitful, the process was quite flexible.

For anyone attending such an appeal, I can say I was taken a bit by surprise as the Property Standards Officer may indeed enter new evidence (pictures, maps, charts, whatever), without notice or advance disclosure.  To avoid such surprise I recommend that you contact the Property Standards Officer in advance of the hearing and request a copy of any evidence he/she intends to lead at the Appeal and at the same time make a similar request to the secretary of the Board.

The decision on the Appeal seems to come quickly and the panel deliberates before making an oral decision.  Perhaps in more complicated matters they would not make an oral decision but for the most part the panel seems quite efficient in its decision making.  A written decision follows in the mail following the appeal.

Michael K. E. Thiele
Quinn Thiele Mineault Grodzki LLP
310 O'Connor Street, Ottawa, ON K2P 1V8
Tel: 613.563.1131
mthiele@pqtlaw.com

12 comments:

  1. I recently called The Property Standards Officer to have them come out and inspect the property I rent. They have not been out yet. I did so as I have no confidence in my landlord completing the repairs correctly. There are many examples of non standard repairs in the house. Well the property standards officer called the landlord and the landlord shows up at my door less than happy. After a lot of yelling and insults, he left and I know he is going to try to find some reason to get me out.

    I have started recording everything said and how often he or a member of his family comes over to access as shed the landlord uses.

    I am worried this is going to become a "I never said that" or "I had no idea the problems existed" kind of thing.

    What advice can you give? I just want the repairs which will be extensive, but necessary as they have gone on for years.

    I have asked for a repair to rotting wood stairs for almost a year. Verbally and I showed him in person.

    Last winter I was not allowed to use the furnace until a new one was installed... that was Dec 12th. I froze for a month and had to use a space heater to thaw my washing machine before using it.

    The bathroom tiles are loose and were caulked in place by someone before I moved in.. mold can be seen in the wall and the ceiling on the floor below.

    Just looking for advice on how to present this to the LTB if I need to take that step or to defend against a "my son needs the place" application.

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  2. Thank you very much for your comment. You certainly did the right thing in getting Property Standards Involved as your requests to the landlord (in writing I presume) resulted in no action being taken. When tenants come to me about significant repair issues one of the first things I recommend (after not getting anywhere with the Landlord) is to contact Property Standards. The benefit of Property Standards is that they are generally considered, by the Landlord and Tenant Board, to be objective in assessing the condition of a property. Their orders bear the weight of law as well. As such, a Property Standards Order generally carries a lot of weight at the Landlord and Tenant Board and it has the added benefit of getting the work done.

    Now, your experience that the Property Standards Officer called the landlord is not in fact unusual. Some Property Standards Officers view their job as a process whereby they get property owners to bring their property up to code/standards through communication and working together. An Order is like a hammer and many Officers find an Order to be the last resort. If they can get cooperation, and hence avoid writing an Order, they will go that way as it gets the problem solved in a less antagonistic manner.

    Your landlord's reaction is unfortunate. At this stage, I would recommend writing an email to the Property Standards Officer, or a letter if you don't have a business card with an email address. You may wish to consider copying your email to your councillor as well. That email should be polite, thank the officer for his efforts and advise him/her that as a result of him contacting the landlord/property owner about your complaints that the result has been harassment, yelling at you, and insults. You can acknowledge that he was trying to get the landlord to cooperate (which likely was the Property Standards Officer's motivation), but that it hasn't worked. Ask the Property Standards Officer to please write an actual Order requiring the landlord to comply with the Property Standards By-Law as the landlord's actions towards you do not suggest a willingness to comply voluntarily.

    Documenting your request to the Property Standards Officer, copying the letter to your councillor or to the head of the Property Standards Department should at least get some attention at different levels. If, by chance, the landlord and the Property Standards officer are a little to informal, then hopefully bring your complaints to the attention of your councillor and the "boss" should get a proper Order written.

    continued

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  3. With respect to the problems with your landlord I wish I could offer you a great solution. Unfortunately, the landlord and tenant Board can not order your landlord to be a decent person. You can get an Order from the Board for repairs (T6 application) and for substantial interference (T2) but these are cold comfort with a landlord who is behaving irrationally. Please remember that if you feel unsafe, or you expect interactions to be particularly tense that you can always call the police. If you know that you will be interacting with the landlord and are worried you can ask the police to visit while the landlord is present to keep the peace and perhaps highlight to the landlord to behave rationally. Yelling insults is not acceptable and only invites escalation that you shouldn't have to suffer.

    Otherwise, and to your last comment on presenting your case to the Board. The key is to document and record and to deliver as much measured and objective evidence as possible. Photographs are great. video is great, a Property Standards Report can be invaluable, contractor reports, home inspector reports, and independent persons who don't have any direct interest in the outcome of the proceedings make great witnesses.

    Presentation of evidence is always a challenge, even for lawyers who have been doing this forever! The key is to deliver compelling evidence, quickly and efficiently and in such a way that the conclusion is obvious. The Landlord and Tenant Board is an extremely busy Board and the fact is that adjudicators have a limited amount of time to hear your case. From that perspective, having all of your documents (that you intend to present) put into one sequentially numbered paged book (x3 copies) is a great start to showing the adjudicator that you are organized and know exactly what you intend to enter as evidence and prove.

    Best of luck---please let me know how it goes.

    Mike Thiele

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  4. Thank you for the advice. I will take action and draft a letter to my city councillor today. I only have a name of the property standards officer, but will try to find his contact information. Will keep you posted.

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  5. I wrote an email to both the officer and my councillor. The officer called me that afternoon and arranged for an inspection today.

    I walked though with him very quickly as he kept saying "next", took a picture, moved on. He did not really look at the detail of the problems, just general area. Some items were discounted as "it's an old house". Okay, so my toilet needs to be flushed twice because it is an old house? Really?

    He then told me he would contact the landlord, tell him what needs to be repaired, and that much of the repairs will be "lipstick on a pig". I said "surely the safety issues must be addressed properly?" He said the house is old, I have to expect it to be like this.

    I will wait and see what the landlord actually does.

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    1. Certainly it is true that you can not expect an old house to be like a new house. Often enough, the very reason to want and old house is so that it isn't like new house. That being said, you make the distinction perfectly in asking why a toilet should have to be flushed twice. If this is to be expected then I suppose you should only expect half the lights to work, half the outlets etc etc.. This does not make sense. Good luck and I hope that the Property Standards Officer surprises you. If not, you are not precluded from filing a T6 form (Maintenance) but to be successful you will need to prove in other ways that the property is in need of repair--i.e. photos, video, contractor quotes, perhaps even a home inspection report. Sometimes even common sense will count!

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  6. Well, it gets better. The landlord sent me an email to say that he will be by to see the repairs I want corrected and that I need to make a list. He said he'd be by sometime in the next three days.

    I politely informed him that the officer was going to contact him with the list of repairs and that notice must be given in person, by mail, or fax reference RTA 191 with specific information like date, time, reason reference section 27.

    I told him he could come by and bring the signed letter with him this time with all the times and details, but he has to let me know when.

    I also mentioned that he was out on the weekend and walked around the deck looking at the rot. He did not tell me he was coming, just showed up and I said that was illegal and he should really follow the law. I said you wouldn't like if I dropped by and walked around your deck would you?

    I then said I insist that we follow proper procedure as verbal obviously hasn't worked for us.

    I just got an email reply that read..

    I am afraid you are going to get nothing out of "landlord" if you keep this nonsense up.

    Unlike you, "Landlord" works everyday and doesn't have the freedom to be dropping by at a certain hour of a certain day. He doesn't know from one day to the next what area of the country he will be in. And who do you think we could hire that would work under these conditions.

    If you don't like where you're living you can leave anytime. Give us written one month notice and then go.

    "landlords wife"


    This was all done by email and I printed and saved the messages. Best part is she CC'd the city building inspector.

    All I ever wanted was the repairs made and that we follow the law. Am I being unreasonable?

    I am thinking of filing with the LTB about everything now. I just don't know where to start as there has been so much and frankly, I can't afford to be kicked out of here right now.

    I know he will be by in the next couple of days to yell, I am going to record him on my ipad.

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    Replies
    1. It does get more interesting! It seems to me that you have a landlord who is not a professional landlord and one who hasn't informed himself of the requirements of the Residential Tenancies Act. You ask whether you are being unreasonable---well that is a question that doesn't really need to be answered as you are only demanding what the law gives you (i.e. it doesn't matter if "people" find it reasonable or not. Your relationship with the landlord is severely strained and you are not getting any satisfaction from him. Under such circumstances it is entirely reasonable to demand compliance with the law and to stick to the strict letter of it. If the landlord begins to cooperate, be appreciative and reasonable--maybe then you will be comfortable waiving statutory and legal requirements. Until your relationship gets there, you are fully entitled to demand compliance with the provisions of the RTA.

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  7. Now, he has told the City inspector that I refuse to let him in. No, I just refuse to sit here for "sometime within the next 3 days" for the landlord to show up. I just want proper notice.. I mean how do I show him the problems if I am not here?

    I'm close to done.



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  8. Hi Michael,
    I just found your website as I was looking for details on what was involved in an appeal process for property standards for the city of Ottawa. I found your posting tremendously helpful. I am not a renter or a landlord but have been having issues with my neighbour's snow and ice accumulation falling off their newly installed solar panels into my backyard. The avalanche of snow and ice is very dangerous for us to use the backyard in the winter and prevents us from putting any structure in that area in the summer as it will be damaged in the winter.

    I contacted the city of Ottawa and the initial by-law officer deemed it a safety hazard but when a property standards officer came by several months after we kept inquiring about our case, they told us that there was nothing they could do.
    I contacted the officer's supervisor who then took it to the city's legal services and they finally issued our neighbour a notice to comply.
    Now the neighbour has appealed the process and I'm worried that the property standards offficer will not fairly represent us in the appeal process as they were the one who denied us in the first place.

    Should I be attending the appeal process with the evidence (pictures) I have along with a lawyer?

    Any advice you can me on this would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks in advance.

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    Replies
    1. Hi there:

      I was intrigued to read your approach through property standards as opposed to proceeding in a private lawsuit against the nieghbour, seeking an injuction, damages etc. for causing this nuisance. I presume that the Property Standards officer would have based the Order on the property not being safe? I recall several years ago that there was a problem in Ottawa with people being struck by ice sliding from roofs. I thought a by-law was passed to address that problem but perhaps it was done in the Property Standards By-Law.

      In any event, your question was whether you should attend the hearing with a lawyer. This is an impossible question to say "no" to as it is difficult to conceive how your presence could be harmful. In fact, being there could only help your cause. I think your evidence of the existence of the problem, the extent of it, some photos, some video, and explanation as to the danger it presents would indeed be useful evidence for the committee. The bigger issue is likely procedural. I haven't been to this committee in some time. The last time I was there, no specific rules had been passed and no "forms" existed. The committee seemed to proceed on the fly conducting itself in a manner that seemed impromptu. Fairness seemed to be the over-riding rule. Hopefully that is still the case. If I were you now, I would inquire with the secretary whether there are Rules of Practice and review them. In doing so, I would be focused on finding out how to get "standing" at the appeal. "Standing" is a legal concept which basically refers to the adjudicative body recognizing you and allowing you to participate in the process. Given that you have a direct interest in the outcome of the appeal it would not be unreasonable for the Committee to grant you "standing". The question often, in relation to granting people standing, is whether you have anything unique to offer or contribute to the decision making process. If the committee has no rules, and nothing explicit about how you may participate, I'd simply write a letter to the secretary advising that you are a homeowner who is directly affected by the decision in this appeal and that you would like the committee to recognize you and allow you the opportunity to make a presentation. Perhaps you could offer evidence, suggestions, or information that would allow the committee to fashion a remedy(solution) that would not otherwise be obvious if you were not involved. Hopefully, the secretary would be able to confirm that the committee would hear you. Alternatively, you could try to get recognized at the hearing by standing up and trying to intervene. However, I think that this would have less chance of success. If the secretary informs you that the committee will not hear from you, then perhaps you go and try anyway, or alternatively go and support the by-law officer and try to force him to call you as a witness. Then, as a witness, make the point you wish to make.

      Some of this, of course, you have to play be ear and react based on the situation. To that end, and to your last point, having a lawyer present--who has advocacy experience (i.e. trial experience)---would indeed be helpful. The process will be familiar to that lawyer (even if they've never been before this committee) and they will be comfortable getting the Committee to pay attention to you. Obviously, the lawyer can't guarantee that you will be heard but your chances will increase.

      Best of luck. If you don't mind, I'd appreciate knowing how the decision turned out and even to get a copy of the decision would be great. You can send it to my email if you don't wish to share it publicly in this forum. Thanks for writing.

      Michael K. E. Thiele

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  9. Please continue this great work and I look forward to more of your awesome blog posts.
    bradgarey.com

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IMPORTANT NOTICE

Any answers provided are intended to reflect the Law of Ontario, Canada. The answers are not legal advice and no one should rely on the answers provided as legal advice. The answers are intended to be general information about Ontario Law and are the personal view of the author based on the limited facts provided to the author. The answers may not be legally accurate and may indeed be contrary to the law of Ontario. Answers and conclusions drawn may have been different if facts had been shared that have not been disclosed in the comment/question. This blog is intended to assist people in learning about Ontario Landlord and Tenant Law. However, if you have actual legal problems this blog should under no circumstances replace proper legal advice obtained by retaining a lawyer or licensed paralegal to advise you. Nothing in this blog, comments submitted or answers provided, gives rise to a solicitor and client relationship. Comments are published as submitted and commenters should be aware that if they identify themselves in a comment that their identity will become public upon the comment being published. Comments that have been published may be deleted upon request to the author.

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Ottawa lawyer and partner at Quinn Thiele Mineault Grodzki LLP.  Graduate of Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario.  Called to the bar in Ontario in 1997.  Undergraduate degree at Colby College, Waterville Maine, U.S.A.