Challenges collecting evictions data through Freedom of Information requests

An empty apartment. The photo is taken from the entrance of a room with a view of the apartment’s balcony and two windows. The hardwood floors and walls are bare.

Freedom of Information (FOI) laws are meant to ensure that the public has access to records that belong to the public. This legislation is important for maintaining democracy and accountability, as it allows citizens to know how institutions are performing and how decisions that affect them are made. Anyone has the right to submit an FOI request and these requests are often used to obtain data on police services, court proceedings, property information, and more.

When developing the Low-End of Market Rental (LEMR) Housing Monitor, we used FOI requests to obtain eviction proceeding records including the date, rental address, reason for eviction, and result. It is important to note that these records only include eviction orders that have been registered with a Landlord and Tenant Board (or equivalent), usually because of a legal dispute. Evictions that took place without initiating a formal legal proceeding are not included in these records.

Here we break down some of the challenges we experienced in collecting data through FOI requests, and the implications for knowledge building.

Factors Affecting Timing 

On average, it took 151.2 days to receive eviction order data from each province included in the LEMR Housing Monitor, except for Quebec which did not provide any records despite repeated requests. 

Number of days between application and receipt of data

ProvinceNumber of Days
Alberta154 days
British Columbia59 days
Manitoba88 days
Nova Scotia197 days
Ontario258 days
QuebecNo data received

Several factors may have contributed to the length of time taken to receive evictions data. First, in all provinces, it was not clear how, or which, data is being stored. As a result, data requests were negotiated over several weeks or months via FOI administrators until the request was modified to facilitate sharing of a dataset that the governing body felt they could provide. In the case of Quebec, two requests were made and both were denied without a revision process, resulting in no eviction-related data being available for the Greater Montreal Area map.

Timelines also varied because of extension requests. Alberta, British Columbia, and Nova Scotia all formally requested multiple extensions. Additional delays were the result of administrative difficulties, including payments being sent to the wrong department, as in Ontario, and amendments to agreements being requested after payment was received, as in Manitoba. 

Data Formats and Redaction

Despite similar requests made in all provinces, the data that were provided varied. The most common modification requested by the governing bodies was to redact, or partially redact, location information. As a result, in Manitoba and British Columbia only partial postal code information was provided for each record. In Alberta, only the municipality name was provided. In Nova Scotia, records varied in having a partial postal code, a municipality name, or no location information whatsoever, resulting in missing data on the Halifax map. 

An additional barrier was that the data formats varied, making it difficult to process and evaluate. Alberta and Manitoba both provided data tables saved as lengthy PDF documents. In Alberta, this document also contained pages where colour was shaded out (light grey text on a white background) making the document difficult to read. Overcoming these challenges required additional processing time after data were received in order to be useful for the LEMR Housing Monitor.


The challenges described above are not unique to FOI requests and can have serious implications for knowledge building. For developing the LEMR Housing Monitor, long wait times and lack of location information meant that an analysis of localized, short-term, emerging trends in eviction filings could not be undertaken. 

While FOI requests have provided valuable information about evictions for the LEMR Housing Monitor, such as information on the frequency of eviction orders over time, addressing these systemic issues within the FOI process would facilitate greater opportunities for more nuanced analysis.