Tenant’s Rights Violated: A Case of Unchecked Landlord Power in St. John’s

Allan Kitonsa has won a residential tenancies dispute with his landlord, after he was kicked out of his apartment without notice in August. (Ariana Kelland/CBC)

Allan Kitonsa’s ordeal began on an unsuspecting day in August when he faced an abrupt eviction from his rental home on William Street, near downtown St. John’s. Kitonsa, a newcomer to Canada since 2022, found himself in a dire situation when his landlord, Mike O’Dea of Newfound Rentals, along with two men, commenced packing his belongings and relocating them without prior notice.

Despite a written rental agreement, Kitonsa was forcibly moved to a substandard property, which he later described at a residential tenancies tribunal as “so bad he wouldn’t let a dog stay there,” according to CBC News. His possessions ended up at a different location across town.

“The truth is some landlords are abusing their powers,” Kitonsa told CBC News, emphasizing the reality of his experience.

Mike O’Dea of Newfound Properties is pictured at provincial court in St. John’s on Nov. 9. He was waiting for proceedings to begin in an unrelated municipal property offence trial.

Tribunal’s Decision and Landlord’s Indifference

The tribunal’s adjudicator, Jacqueline Williams, sided with Kitonsa, condemning O’Dea’s actions as a complete disregard for both the rules of the Residential Tenancies Act and the tenant’s rights. “It is distressing that any reasonable person would believe that it is OK to take everything a person owns, move those belongings twice and dictate that this is where they will live, without any input or permission from that person,” Williams stated in her decision.

O’Dea was ordered to compensate Kitonsa over $2,000 for various damages, including rent, missing possessions, and costs for emergency accommodations. However, the tribunal’s lack of authority to impose fines as per the legislation was a notable limitation.

A series of text messages between Allan Kitonsa and Mike O’Dea were submitted as part of the landlord-tenant hearing between the two men.

Systemic Gaps in Enforcement

This case highlights a significant gap in the enforcement of the Residential Tenancies Act. Despite amendments in 2018 that increased potential fines, CBC News investigations reveal a lack of clarity on who is responsible for guiding these cases through the legal system. In fact, no fines have been imposed since the law’s amendment.

Sherwin Flight, an advocate and administrator of the Newfoundland Tenant and Landlord Support Group, pointed out the ineffective nature of the current legislation. “There’s no teeth. Every other law that’s been passed, there’s some sort of enforcement mechanism built in,” Flight said to CBC News.

The RCMP and the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary have also indicated their limited involvement in such civil matters, further complicating the enforcement landscape.

Government’s Stance and Future Directions

Digital Government and Service N.L. Minister Sarah Stoodley mentioned that “anyone” can initiate legal proceedings for fines, yet admitted to being unaware if any fines had been levied under the act. This ambiguity within the enforcement mechanisms raises questions about the efficacy of the laws designed to protect tenants.