How Was She to Know?
**This featured case is one example of the concerns people have brought to us. Names have been changed to protect the identity of the people involved.
Denise had a dispute with her landlord, who took the matter to the Office of Residential Tenancies. A hearing took place and Denise was told that she would receive a decision within 45 days. She was eagerly awaiting this information because of the potential impact on her finances and where she would live. It arrived 58 days after the hearing.
Denise disagreed with the decision and believed it contained factual errors. Instructions at the bottom of the decision indicated that:
“Any person who is aggrieved by a decision or order of a hearing officer may appeal the decision or order on a question of law or of jurisdiction to a judge of the Court of Queen’s Bench within 30 days after the date of the decision or order.”
Based on this information, Denise believed that she should appeal the decision to the Court of Queen’s Bench. The court dismissed her appeal because it was not based on a question of law or jurisdiction. She then discovered that the proper avenue of recourse would have been to take the matter back to the Office of Residential Tenancies within 15 days of the decision and request a review. By now, more than 15 days had passed and although Denise tried to convince the Office of Residential Tenancies to consider her information, it would not make an exception to the deadline.
Frustrated, she contacted our office with three complaints:
- that the decision took too long
- that the Office of Residential Tenancies did not specify that she could not take a question of factual error to the Court of Queen’s Bench
- that the Office of Residential Tenancies did not inform her of the review process for errors set out in Section 76 of The Residential Tenancies Act
During the course of our investigation, we turned to Hearing Back: Piecing together Timeliness in Saskatchewan’s Administrative Tribunals. Hearing Back was a report we issued in 2007 that dealt with matters of timeliness and best practices for administrative tribunals such as the Office of Residential Tenancies. The report recommended that tribunals establish timelines for decision making after a hearing and in circumstances where those timelines cannot be met, the tribunal should notify the consumer, providing reasons for the delay and a date when the decision will be ready.
In reviewing Denise’s situation, we found that the Office of Residential Tenancies had an unwritten guideline that hearing officers would complete decisions within 40 days of a hearing. This was a step in the right direction, but it was not part of written policy and there was nothing in
the policy to say that the parties should be contacted in the event of a delay and provided with reasons and a new timeline.
We found that, based on best practices, the Office of Residential Tenancies should have specified where to take a question of factual error and should have informed Denise of the review process available and the 15 day deadline to request a review. The Office acknowledged that there was merit to Denise’s complaint and allowed her to apply for a review under Section 76 of The Residential Tenancies Act, even though the deadline was past.
The Office of Residential Tenancies took steps to remedy this complaint, devised a plan and made changes to the appearance and contents of decisions. These changes would ensure that tenants and landlords would be aware of the appropriate steps for handling concerns on decisions when they disagree on fact, law or jurisdiction. Our office was provided an opportunity to offer feedback on the wording of the new forms and the changes are now in effect.
These voluntary changes addressed almost all of Denise’s concerns, leaving us with only one recommendation to make.
1. That the Office of the Residential Tenancies implements Recommendation 13 made in the report Hearing Back: Piecing Together Timeliness in Saskatchewan’s Administration Tribunals.
Recommendation 13 from Hearing Back: Government and tribunals work together to implement policy timelines within which hearings must be held and decisions must be made. The timelines must be readily available to consumers. In the event a timeline is breached, the decision-maker must provide the parties with the reason for the breach and a new timeline for rendering the decision.