Adding Insult to Injury: the Ontario License Appeal Tribunal

If you think the Ontario License Appeal Tribunal (LAT) is doing a poor job as a court for homeowners to get new home defects resolved, you’re not alone. What you may not know, and neither did we until last month, is that the oversight body of the LAT seems to agree!

The Executive Chair of SLASTO (Safety, Licensing Appeals and Standards Tribunals, Ontario), Ms. Linda Lamoureux, said this to Dr. Karen Somerville, President of the Consumer organization CPBH on Dec. 9th, 2014. She stated:

1)  The LAT’s website is “terrible”. (Ms. Lamoureux’s words). Consumers have been telling the LAT this for years. Its impossible to search builder records without the exact date and year of the appeal,  there’s no explanation of the meaning of “ONHWPA”, no organization of cases according to type of defect or name of builder, no indication of whether its a precedent-setting decision, or whether the builder is a repeat LAT defendant. All things a consumer might want to know about a builder.

2) Chairs NEED TRAINING in dealing with self-represented parties. Consumers are subject to a two-on-one at the LAT, fighting two sets of lawyers, Tarion’s and the builder’s. To balance the interests of fairness to consumers, specific training is required, and this specific training is not what current adjudicators have.

3)  SLASTO is aware that 83% of consumers lose their cases at the LAT.  The LAT, and the Ministry of Consumer and Government Services has been aware of this data for over 6 years. (CPBH research on the LAT, 2007-2013)

4) The SLASTO Chair is well aware of the “Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters” report initiated by the Chief Justice of Canada to make the courts more cost-efficient, and user-friendly for ordinary citizens. She has however not implemented any of these recommendations at the LAT.

5) The LAT needs to improve its transparency and accountability to the public. Also a point agreed by the SLASTO Chair in her meeting with CPBH on Dec. 9th.

It’s outrageous the Executive Chair says she’ll take 12 to 18 months to address these short-comings of the LAT – which the LAT has known about for years. Anyone in the private sector who would say they need 1 1/2 years to do their job  would be shown the door. Not in the public sector.

Our public servants may forget they are there to serve the public, not their own timetables and organizations. They seem to ignore the human cost of their policy decisions, make us endure endless delays and finger-pointing, creating financial hardship for families.

Many honest, hard-working consumers who through no fault of their own found construction defects in their new home, are suffering and losing their shirts at the LAT. Who can afford a lawyer at $1,200+ a day for a week or more? This is excluding technical reports and expert witness’s hourly fees. Tarion (using our warranty fund money) can certainly afford it, as can builders, since its for them a tax-deductible “cost of doing business”.

My message to Ms. Lamoureux, Chair of SLASTO: 

Why is the courtroom being used at all as a forum to resolve home defects? Neither the homeowner nor the taxpayer is being well-served by this.

Many problems don’t need a courtroom or lawyers. Home defects cannot be solved FAIRLY in a forum where the applicants can’t afford legal representation. Being right, and being able to prove in a court of law, are two different things. Whoever said legal cases are 15% facts, 15% law, and 70% procedure and  tactics must have been to the LAT.  Lawyers always win this game. Consumers can’t afford this costly, stressful, time-consuming process where even the best-prepared and well-educated are at a distinct disadvantage.

Ms. Lamoureux: the LAT is not a fair forum for consumers to resolve new home defects.

You have said you are bound by current provincial legislation. That’s what your public servant colleagues have told us, for years. No one seems to be able to fix problems, but all concerned continue to acknowledge them. Government created this unfair system, now we rely on someone at senior levels of government to fix it. Please contribute to a fair solution for homeowners, such as providing mediation services, and other early resolution options – with equal representation for consumers. That would be taxpayer money better spent.

Please consider the human cost of having consumers wait for 1 1/2 years for your organization to address these urgent problems. If you cannot personally influence legislation, I’m sure you have direct and personal access to those who can. We rely on your and your organization with responsibility for the LAT to take leadership and bring meaningful change, urgently, to rectify this uneven playing field.

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Adding Insult to Injury: the Ontario License Appeal Tribunal

  1. Now that these senior SLASTO and LAT representatives have confirmed these very serious issues, many questions need to be answered, e.g.,
    – how is it possible that the LAT adjudicators are hearing cases, but have not had the necessary training, particularly in relation to self-represented parties?
    – how is it possible that the LAT does not have the resources it needs for the basics such as a proper web-site and provision of adequate information to consumers before consumers proceed to the LAT, again, especially for unrepresented consumers?
    – how is it possible that CPBH has been reporting about an 85% consumer failure rate for cases that proceed to decisions at the LAT, and yet the Ontario Government has never responded in any meaningful way to CPBH, and has done nothing to level the playing field for consumers — even though CPBH has been raising these concerns to Ontario government officials, including the Ombudsman of Ontario for the past eight years? See the CPBH report regarding the LAT at this link: http://www.canadiansforproperlybuilthomes.com/html/whatsnew/2014/sept/2013LATanalysis.pdf .

    It is very clear that immediate and appropriate action is required to properly protect Ontario’s consumers – both those who are currently before the LAT and those who are about to go before the LAT. Ms. Lamoureux indicated in the meeting on Dec. 9, 2014 that she would need 12 – 18 months to resolve this situation. Surely, it cannot be “business as usual” in the meantime as they are trying to fix these issues.

    As far as those consumers who have been unsuccessful at the LAT – and who feel that they were not fairly treated by the LAT – that is a much more complicated matter that the Ontario Government will also need to resolve. Some who are aware of the seriousness of these issues are suggesting that a full investigation into this matter is warranted, including why the Ombudsman of Ontario has not responded in a meaningful way before now given that that office has jurisdiction over the LAT.

    It’s an understatement to say that Ontarians need – and deserve – much better.

  2. nicole lalonde

    Kudos to CPBH and Consumers’ Reform Tarion for their relentless pursuit of truth ,justice and fairness to Ontario homeowners who have been asking the same questions without ever getting answers . The fact that a number of consumers from different parts of the Province having suffered the same fate from the Tarion/builder relationship have somehow rallied together in their quest for Tarion accountability not indicative of a substantial and highly serious problem in need of urgent attention ? Thank you for your years of research confirming widespread consumer live experience. ! The slow wheel of government needs to be ” motorized ” .

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