A new registry of delinquent Ontario tenants — and some unscrupulous landlords — is gaining traction among landlords and legal experts.
Weiting Bollu founded the platform Openroom a little over a year ago after she had trouble ousting a tenant from the home she owned in Vaughan — even after the tenant stopped paying rent.
"I thought I was the only one until I met other landlords. And I said, 'Why isn't anyone doing more about this?" she said.
"That's when I said 'You know what? I build software for a living. Why don't I go build something myself?'"
She says the online database now contains more than 10,000 documents. The vast majority are related to delinquent tenants, although Bollu says there are also some problematic landlords listed too.
Landlord Narinder Lobana in front of his Brampton townhouse. He learned through Openroom that his tenant, who he says has stopped paying rent, has done the same to three previous landlords in the past three years. (Mike Smee/CBC)
The tool is taking off as some landlords flee the rental market, contributing to the province's housing shortage, according to Boubah Bah, chair of the Small Ownership Landlords of Ontario.
"The number of landlords leaving in the GTA, we estimate, is 50 to 75 a month and climbing," he said.
Anyone can access database
Anyone can access the Openroom and search a potential tenant or landlord's name to find out whether Ontario's Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) has issued any orders against that person. Orders include the names of both the landlord and the tenant, the alleged infractions and how the tribunal ruled — whether in favour of the landlord or the tenant.
While Bullo started the database, it's now being expanded by members of the public who've learned about it through word of mouth. She says lawyers, paralegals, landlords and tenants submit the names of people who have been found at fault by the LTB, along with legal documents to support their submissions.
Before listing an order against a particular tenant or landlord, Bollu says she checks to make sure it's accurate.
Bollu estimates more than 120,000 people accessed the database in the past year, with Openroom fielding 1.7 million searches during that time that time.
Pickering paralegal Leon Presner says he recommends the tool to landlords as way of avoiding tenants with a bad track record. (Mike Smee/CBC)
"You'll hear from landlords that it's mental distress, emotional, financial, legally, physical distress that they're under," she said.
"This pain? It's real. And I felt it and that's why I'm so passionate about making a change."
'A serious tool'
Bah says Openroom is providing landlords with a bit of hope.
"It's a serious tool and it's becoming viral," he said. "We're using it and we're advising our landlords to use it."
It's a tool that Narinder Lobana wishes he'd known about sooner.
He says he's trying to evict a tenant who owes him about $7,800. Lobana says he's been trying to get her to leave since she missed a month's rent last summer, then admitted she couldn't afford the town home. He says she's paid no rent since he applied to the LTB for an eviction order last fall.
After hearing about Openroom from a work friend, Lobana says he discovered his tenant was evicted from three previous units in the last three years for non-payment of rent.
Now, he says, he won't rent to anyone until he's checked the prospective tenant on the site.
"Openroom has taught me how to be careful," he said. "Check your tenant's history before you do anything. It's very, very helpful."
Platform has its critics
But even after renting a unit to a bad tenant, Pickering paralegal Leon Presner says it's not too late for landlords to make use of the database.
"It's evidence," he said, because the data on Openroom includes court documents and official LTB decisions.
"You can use that information at your proceeding," Presner said. "It's their order, and it originated from the Landlord and Tenant Board."
The platform does have critics though.
Geordie Dent, with the Federation of Metro Tenants Associations, says the service can unfairly stigmatize delinquent renters.
"You're creating a system where people are blacklisted for reasons that might be frivolous," he said. "You're basically creating a homeless person."
While Openroom predominately caters to landlords, tenants have other resources at their disposal, including Rate The Landlord — a crowdsourced website — and the city's RentSafeTO, which allows tenants to check a building owner's maintenance and security track records.