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When tenants stopped paying rent, Niagara landlord says she offered them $10K to leave. It didn’t work

When Luz Romero heard about a rental property for sale a few years ago, she jumped at the opportunity to be a landlord. 

She and her husband renovated the Niagara Falls, Ont., semi-detached home and attempted to build a good relationship with the tenants they inherited, she said.

The home has two rental units — one on the main floor, where one couple lives, and a basement apartment, home to a single renter.

When the main-floor tenants were late on their $1400-a-month rent payments a few times last year, Romero said she was understanding and gave them extensions.

But since February, those tenants haven’t paid rent at all and now owe her around $7,000, said Romero. Lengthy delays at the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) mean she’ll likely have to wait months more for a hearing to try to evict them, while her family is at a “breaking point financially,” she said. 

“I want them to leave and I want to sell and never ever, ever [be a landlord] again,” she said. “We are extremely upset and discouraged with the system.” 

In addition to the financial impact, Romero said she is also experiencing insomnia and a chronic rash from the stress. 

The tenants did not respond to requests for comment. Romero said the tenants had told her they were having financial problems.

‘We need each other to coexist’

Romero and her husband bought the house in 2021 by taking out a home equity line of credit on their GTA home, she said. They inherited tenants through the sale of the property. 

In March, when the tenants didn’t pay rent for the second month in a row, Romero said she first offered them a “cash for keys” deal — a legal tactic some landlords use to bypass a costly and lengthy formal eviction process.

She’d pay them $10,000 and forgive what they owed if they moved out by the end of May, said a letter her lawyer sent them on March 31. 

She said the tenants didn’t respond and now she’s stuck waiting to evict them while they live in the house without paying rent. She applied to evict them through the LTB last month and is still waiting for a hearing date to be set. 

The semi-detached home in Niagara Falls, Ont., is owned and rented out by Romero. (Royal LePage/Facebook)

Meanwhile, Romero and her husband are taking on extra hours at their respective retail and IT jobs and have burned through their savings to pay their bills, she said. Their three kids are also trying to help. Her teenage son has decided to delay going to university so as to not put further financial strain on the family this fall, she said.

He also paid for his own prom tuxedo this year.

“That’s sad, honestly,” Romero said. “I don’t know how I’m not crying, oh my goodness.”

Recently the tenants sent Romero a letter stating if she gave them $10,000 by June 1, they’d leave by June 30. The letter, seen by CBC Hamilton, acknowledges their rental payments “have fallen into arrears” but does not say why. 

Romero refused their offer, calling it “extortion” and said she wouldn’t trust them to move out by June 30. She also doesn’t know if they’ve paid their utility bills, she said. 

“It’s like a war right now between tenants and landlords,” she said, adding Ontario’s rental system isn’t working for either party and will only make the affordable housing crisis worse if it pushes small landlords like herself out of the market.

“People don’t understand that we need each other to coexist and [for housing] to not be in the hands of big corporations.”

LTB backlog impacting landlords and tenants

The LTB has a backlog of more than 38,000 applications, according to an ombudsman’s report from last month. After landlords file complaints against tenants, it typically takes six to nine months for a hearing. 

Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé’s office launched an investigation in 2020 into the LTB process and interviewed more than 4,000 Ontarians. He told reporters on May 4 the delays have a real impact on people’s lives.

“We had landlords who found their tenants conducting illegal activities,” Dubé said. “Some of them were harassed or threatened, attacked, by their tenants. And some faced financial ruin because rents weren’t being paid and some ended up in homeless shelters or living in their cars.”

Tenants were also “stuck waiting while they endured harassment, unsafe living conditions, and improper attempts to force them from their homes,” said the report, which included 61 recommendations to help address the backlog.

The LTB did not answer CBC Hamilton’s questions about what it’s doing to improve the wait times. 

Spokesperson Janet Deline said if a landlord or tenant believes they’ll suffer harm while waiting for a hearing, they can apply to have their case expedited and heard in weeks rather than months.

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