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Investment in legal advice pays off for landlords, tenants

Landlords and tenants should resist the temptation to go it alone when they encounter legal troubles, Toronto landlord/tenant lawyer Caryma Sa’d tells AdvocateDaily.com.

Sa’d, the founder and principal of SADVOCACY Professional Corporation, explains that the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB), where many disputes are settled, is part of Social Justice Tribunals Ontario, eight administrative decision-making bodies specifically designed to be accessible to laypeople.  

“For that reason, people get the sense that they can tackle it on their own,” Sa’d says. “It may seem feasible to proceed without legal representation, but you need to consider the risks.”

Tenants appearing before the LTB can avail themselves of guidance from duty counsel, if one is available, while landlords are given access to a self-help centre, which is a community clinic funded by Legal Aid Ontario.

“The issue with those options is that you’re not necessarily getting in-depth advice,” Sa’d says. “Sometimes the devil is in the details, and you don’t want the first time you’re getting legal advice to be on the morning of your hearing.”

While many landlords and tenants are scared off by the expense of legal services, Sa’d says there are affordable options out there.

For example, she belongs to JusticeNet, a non-profit network of lawyers and paralegals committed to providing reduced-rate services for the increasingly large group of people whose income is too high for legal aid, but too low to comfortably afford a lawyer.

“There are plenty of skilled lawyers and paralegals in the JusticeNet network who will do a great job at relatively low rates,” Sa’d says.

Even if they stop short of a full retainer, she says both landlords and tenants can also benefit from an initial consultation with a lawyer to make sure they’re on the right track.

“Orienting oneself with the legal landscape is crucial,” Sa’d says, noting that there’s frequently a disconnect between the issues that tenants latch on to and those that the board finds compelling.

“Certain issues can feel very important to the person involved, but are not relevant considerations, legally speaking,” she explains. “A lawyer can give you a sense of what your rights are and how best to proceed.”  

Either way, Sa’d says an investment in legal services usually works out cheaper than tackling legal issues alone.

“Often you will only get one kick at the can, so doing it right from the outset is very important,” she says. ”For small-scale landlords, in particular, eviction applications are incredibly technical, and even the smallest error can void the entire thing, forcing you right back to the beginning, including to the statutory notice period.

“If you’re trying to move with any sense of urgency, simple mistakes can set you way back,” Sa’d adds.

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