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How do I find a lawyer or paralegal to help me with my tenancy issue?

You don't have to hire a lawyer or paralegal to help you deal with your landlord but they can be very helpful.

Lawyers are specially trained to give legal advice. Legal advice means that a lawyer can explain what the law means for your specific problem. For example, a lawyer can explain how to get your landlord to respect your rights, or tell you if your landlord has a good enough reason to have you evicted.

A lawyer can represent you at the Landlord and Tenant Board and in other tribunals and courts. Lawyers can also help you resolve your issues without going to a Board, tribunal, or court.

A lawyer is also called an attorney, barrister, or solicitor.

A paralegal is another type of legal professional but they cannot do everything a lawyer can do. Paralegals can represent you at the Landlord and Tenant Board, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, or Small Claims Court. But a paralegal cannot represent you in other courts. For example, they can't represent you in appealing a decision of the Landlord and Tenant Board.

A paralegal can work for and be supervised by a lawyer, or they can work for themselves.

In Ontario, the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) regulates lawyers and paralegals. This means that the LSUC:

  • decides who can become a lawyer or paralegal
  • has rules of conduct that lawyers and paralegals must follow
  • handles complaints against lawyers and paralegals

If you can't afford to hire a lawyer for your whole case, some lawyers offer "unbundled" or "limited scope" services. This means you can pay them to help you with some parts of your case. You can also speak to a lawyer for advice on steps you might be able to do yourself.

If you can't afford to hire a lawyer or paralegal at all, you may be able to find other legal help.

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Next Steps: 

1. Find a lawyer

Think about the type of lawyer you want to work with. For example, do they:

  • have experience dealing with cases like yours
  • listen to you and answer your questions
  • make you feel comfortable and not rushed
  • explain things in a way you can understand
  • give advice based on what you want
  • help you find an interpreter, if you need one
  • answer your calls within a few days
  • tell you clearly about their fees
  • work with a disability you may have

Here are some ways to find a lawyer:

Referral from a Community Legal Clinic

Community legal clinics give legal help to people with low incomes in all parts of Ontario. If your local clinic can't help you, they might be able to give you the names of lawyers in your community who have experience dealing with tenancy problems.

Law Society of Upper Canada

The Law Society of Upper Canada has a Directory of all lawyers and paralegals who are licensed to practice law in Ontario.

Law Society Referral Service

The Law Society of Upper Canada also has a Law Society Referral Service. This online service gives you the name of a lawyer in your area who can give you a free consultation for up to 30 minutes. You don't have to hire this person as your lawyer. But you can't ask for a second referral for the same legal problem.

You can also ask for a lawyer who speaks your language or a lawyer who accepts Legal Aid certificates.

If you do not have internet access or you are unable to use the online service, you can call the Law Society Referral Service on a crisis line at 1-855-947-5255 or 416 947-5288 in Toronto. The line is available from Monday to Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Family and friends

If you decide to hire a lawyer that a friend or family member used, remember that everyone's case is different.

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2. Talk to the lawyer

When you meet with or speak to a lawyer on the phone, remember that you're interviewing them as much as they're interviewing you.

You can ask the lawyer about things like:

  • their experience in tenancy law and how they would handle your case
  • how the law affects your situation and what choices you have
  • how long they think your case will take
  • what their business hours are
  • how they will charge you and what your case might cost
  • what could cause the cost to increase and how you can keep the cost down
  • how they will let you know what’s happening with your case, for example, by telephone, mail, or email     
  • what you should do next
  • what community services you can contact for information or help

You should also tell the lawyer about any needs you have. For example:

  • finding an interpreter
  • accommodating disabilities
  • addressing safety concerns

Based on your conversation, you can decide if you want this person to be your lawyer. Your lawyer should be someone you can work with and trust.

All the conversations you have with your lawyer, or a lawyer you're thinking of hiring, are confidential. This means the lawyer can't talk to anyone about what you have said without your permission.

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3. Prepare for your first meeting

At your first meeting, you should be ready to talk about your tenancy problem and everything that has happened so far, including any steps you have taken to try to solve the problem.

Be sure to bring any documents that have anything to do with your situation. For example:

  • any notices or other papers that your landlord has given you
  • copies of any notices or other papers that you have given your landlord
  • any papers you have received from the Landlord and Tenant Board or from a court, especially any Notice of Hearing or Order

You should also:

  • make a list of questions you have
  • think of what solutions you would like

Tell your lawyer how you want the problem to be solved. Ask your lawyer if they think your solution is realistic. You may have to change what you want based on what your lawyer tells you.

Before they can work with someone, lawyers have to check the person's identity. You will have to show the lawyer photo identification, such as a driver's license or passport.

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4. Hire your lawyer

When you hire a lawyer they usually ask you to sign a "retainer agreement". This is a written document that says what you're hiring the lawyer to do and how you will be charged for the lawyer's services.

You can hire a lawyer to handle your whole tenancy problem. Or you can hire a lawyer for help with a specific task, like:

  • writing a letter to your landlord,
  • negotiating with your landlord,
  • filling out forms to take your case to the Landlord and Tenant Board, or
  • preparing for a hearing.

If you want help for only part of your case, ask the lawyer if they offer "unbundled" or "limited scope" services. This means you can pay them to help you with some parts of your case but not the whole case.

Lawyers usually charge an hourly rate. They might also have other people working with them who charge at a different rate. For example, the lawyer may ask another lawyer, paralegal, or a law clerk to help with your case.

The retainer agreement should include an estimate of the cost. It should also say if there are set fees for specific tasks, like a half-day or daily rate for going to a hearing.

Lawyers usually also charge for other expenses, such as photocopies, filing fees, and business name searches. These are called disbursements. You should check what the retainer agreement says about these types of fees.

A retainer agreement might also have other details, such as:

  • how you and your lawyer will communicate
  • if and how your lawyer charges you for emails and telephone calls
  • when you will be charged for services

Ask your lawyer about anything you're not sure about or don't understand.

Be sure to get a copy of your retainer agreement for your records.

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5. Pay a deposit

Lawyers usually ask for a deposit before they agree to start work on a case. This is sometimes called a retainer fee, or just a retainer.

If your lawyer asks for a retainer fee, you might want to ask:

  • how much work the deposit is expected to cover
  • if you can arrange a payment plan if you're not able to pay all of the deposit at once

Be sure to get a receipt to show the amount that you've paid.

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Reviewed: 
July, 2016