Alberta tribunal designed to minimize use of lawyers in landlord tenant disputes

The article referenced in the above tweet discusses a number of reforms to the Alberta court/justice system. The focus is is on:

1. Moving Landlord and tenant disputes out of the courts and under the jurisdiction of a specialized tribunal; which

2. Should reduce overall costs to both landlords and tenants because there will be less need for lawyers (which cost  lots of money).

3. The diminished involvement of lawyers in landlord and tenant disputes should facilitate more flexible solutions to the inevitable problems in the landlord and tenant relationship.

Although the article places the reform of “landlord tenant disputes” in the broader context of the reform of the Alberta legal system, it includes:

Landlord-tenant disputes will be moved out of the courts and heard by a provincial tribunal as part of a package of civil reforms being unveiled Monday by Justice Minister Jonathan Denis.

The government plans to introduce legislation in the fall that will transfer authority over landlord tenant disputes to the quasi-judicial Residential Tenancy Dispute Resolution Service.

The bill will also include the creation of a “summary trial” process that will give provincial court litigants the option of having civil cases settled via a simplified, 30-minute hearing in front of a judge.

“This is part of our overall plan to increase access to justice for the average person, but it’s also about cutting down delays for more serious matters,” Denis said in an interview.

The new measures will begin as pilot projects in Calgary and Edmonton before expanding elsewhere.

“We want to go gradually and learn some things,” said Denis.

The government will also formally announce Monday that it’s doubling the limit for civil claims in provincial court to $50,000, which has been in the works for several months.

The higher limit for provincial court’s civil division — known informally as small claims court — takes effect Aug. 1.

The move is designed to allow more civil claims to be heard in provincial court, where procedures are less complex and don’t require lawyers.

The past-president of the Alberta Civil Trial Lawyers Association said provincial court’s simpler rules make it a suitable venue for self-represented litigants.

“You get good justice and you can do it on your own,” said Donna Purcell.

“Having no access to the court system because you can’t afford a lawyer is worse.”

Denis said hearing more civil cases in provincial court will also reduce congestion in Court of Queen’s Bench, which is the province’s superior trial court.

Because Queen’s Bench justices hear criminal cases as well, reducing the upper court’s civil docket will create more time to hear criminal matters, said Denis.

“You do victims a disservice when there is too long a delay,” he said.

One Calgary lawyer who works in both the criminal and civil systems said the move will benefit the Court of Queen’s Bench, but cautioned the government has to prepare of an influx of civil cases in the lower court.

“You’re going to have an increase in claims in provincial and they haven’t announced if they’re going to have an increase of judicial appointments or court staff in that division,” said Brendan Miller.

However, the government is counting on the measures to be introduced this fall to speed up civil claims and move some cases out of court.

Currently, landlord-tenant disputes make up five per cent of provincial court’s caseload, said Denis. Some tenancy disputes also end up in Queen’s Bench masters chambers, where procedural matters and applications in ongoing civil cases are heard.

Denis said the Residential Tenancy Dispute Resolution Service is the most logical place for those cases, because hearing officers have legal training and specialize in that area of law.

Moving all landlord-tenant disputes to the tribunal will increase its caseload and the government plans to hire more staff accordingly, said Denis.

“We’re currently working that out, but we’re committed to doing so,” he said.

Thoughts on the new “Residential Tenancy Dispute Resolution Service” …

The creation of a “Residential Tenancy Dispute Resolution Service” in Alberta is consistent with a trend toward the creation of specialized tribunals. Specialized tribunals have multiple  effects:

1. Decisions are made by specialized “decision makers” (those with experience in landlord tenant disputes);

2. One can access the tribunal without being required  to use expensive lawyers;

3. A new kind of “paralegal” will develop who  specializes in this  new area of dispute resolution (landlord and tenant disputes).

But, landlord tenant disputes should be resolved NOT with lawyers, NOT with laws and NOT with tribunals …

I have always been a proponent of developing “win win” solutions in the resolution of disputes. This principle  is particularly  important when it comes to dealing with difficult tenants.

Landlords who are challenged with difficult tenants, would do well to reread my post  on dealing with possibly evicting tenants in Ontario.

But if you are a landlord (or tenant) who needs  legal advice, I am willing to  help.


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