COVID-19’s Impact on the Courts and Alternate Routes to Justice in Real Estate Disputes

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the economy has been struggling to maintain the balance between the continued delivery of essential services and the need to promote physical distancing. Ontario’s court system has been trying to balance public health concerns with the need to continue promoting access to justice. In mid-March, 2020, with very few exceptions, the Courts announced that they will not listen to any trials or settlement meetings. But the Superior Court is one of the few that have remained open to deal with ‘emergency matters’, such as the custody and wellbeing of children as well as public safety.

But issues over money or property can also be considered urgent in the eyes of the court.

Last week, our firm received permission from a judge to argue this matter. (The judge’s reason for believing that this was an emergency is explained here.) In this matter, a homeowner was in the midst of closing on the sale of her property. Right before the closing, she discovered that her ex-father in law had sued her around the time she initiated a divorce. He actually won the case, received a judgment and registered the non-payment of the judgment on her home. But the thing is, she had no idea that he had sued her before this. What this meant is that when her home sold, he would receive payment of the judgment without her being given the opportunity to defend herself from the proceeds of the sale.

Under normal circumstances, the homeowner would ask the court to erase the judgment so that she may defend herself. This time, because the court that would usually deal with this is closed because of COVID, we asked the judge to order that the funds for the judgment be paid into the bank account of our law firm so that she may sell her property. The Court agreed with us, and you can read its decision here.

As time goes on, the real estate market will feel the impacts of the pandemic. This means the Court will be faced with more urgent real estate matters. Sellers should be reassured that the Courts are inclined to uphold transactions and should be prepared to act quickly to seek the assistance of the Courts when necessary to do so.

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