Informing potential victims of their rights when there is a time limit on protecting their rights

The Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation (CERA) in Ontario, Canada, contacts tenants at risk of eviction and gives them the information they need to avoid eviction. Canadian law limits to five days the time tenants have to dispute evictions, and many people do not have the information or resources to react quickly enough to prevent eviction.

In 1998, a new law was passed in Ontario that allowed landlords to raise the rent to market rates when a rental unit is vacant, giving them an incentive to evict tenants, particularly in communities with low vacancy rates. Every year approximately 60,000 people in Ontario face eviction.

CERA petitioned the Ontario Rental Housing Tribunal for lists of tenants facing eviction. It receives the lists on the condition that it maintains the privacy of the tenants. CERA mails an information package to each tenant whose landlord has applied for an eviction order. Volunteers then follow up with a call to inform tenants of their rights before the five-day period has lapsed. During these conversations, the volunteers inform tenants that their landlords applied to evict them, discuss possible options and refer them to relevant agencies. They also ask tenants about the situation that lead to the eviction, which provides important information about the causes of housing insecurity that CERA and other organizations can use to prevent the problem in the first place.

CERA reaches about 25,000 people each year. After the program started, eviction rates for those reached by telephone declined more than 20%. Since March 2003, however, CERA has been unable to continue the Eviction Prevention project due to a Privacy Commission ruling prohibiting the release of eviction data. CERA is currently in the process of appealing the decision.

New Tactics in Human Rights does not advocate for or endorse specific tactics, policies or issues.

What we can learn from this tactic: 

Sometimes laws themselves impose arbitrary and brief windows of opportunity for individuals to act to protect their rights. The Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation (CERA) in Ontario, Canada, uses a rapid-response tactic to inform people of their rights and their deadline for action.

While Ontario housing laws do give people the right to dispute their evictions, not all tenants have the infor­mation they need to protect those rights in the limited time allowed. CERA’s tactic helps get that information to them in time to use it. CERA did need to obtain a list of people facing eviction, and the challenge in other cases may a lack of such information. In addition, not all tenants are reachable by telephone, and not everyone is willing or able to put in the effort to fight for their rights.