What to know when dealing with landlords
Emily Barber ASSOCIATE NEWS EDITOR
Photo: University of Toronto Student Life.
On January 29, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) invited representatives from the Downtown Legal Services (DLS) to present on Housing Law as part of the “Know Your Rights” Workshop Series at the Multi-Faith Centre Main Activity Hall. The workshop walked listeners through the life cycle of a tenancy — from when you first sign a lease to when the tenancy ends.
By educating students and faculty on Housing Law, the DLS hopes to save tenants from common pitfalls they may encounter while negotiating details of housing agreements. Topics discussed included tenant rights, the basis of tenancy, rental control, lease renewal, and ending your tenancy.
The DLS focuses on working with tenants to help them deal with the power or structural imbalance that often arises from landlord–tenant interactions. In its capacity of representing tenants of Ontario, the DLS deals with both the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) and, if necessary, the Human Rights Tribunal. Its objective is to defend tenants when contention between a tenant and their landlord arises. The Landlord and Tenant Board deals with issues like contentious eviction situations, unpaid debt, or applications for needed repairs. Serious matters are brought to the attention of the Human Rights Tribunal, a common example being discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, or any other grounds covered under the Human Rights Code. There is a zero-tolerance policy for any discrimination or any form of harassment toward any tenant, and the Human Rights Tribunal is obliged to follow up on any complaints of that nature.
The Human Rights Code and the Residential Tenancies Act are the two pieces of legislation that can aid tenants when dealing with landlord disputes. Basic rules, rights, and obligations of both tenants and landlords, as well as repair and maintenance concerns, all fall under the umbrella of the Residential Tenancies Act and can warrant compensation of up to $25,000 from the Landlord and Tenant Board if the tenant’s appeal is successful.
The basis of tenancy was another area the workshop shed light on, making important distinctions in what landlords have a right to ask for under the Human Rights Code. For instance, a landlord can request information like a tenant’s full legal name, address, job history, rental history, or even guarantors who can back up the tenant’s information. However, they cannot demand information like a social insurance number, visa or immigration information, or proof of citizenship. To demand any of these things is to violate the Human Rights Code and if tenants are refused, can draw accusations of discrimination. Landlords also cannot refuse first-time renters or newcomers to Canada on the basis of lack of rental history, or demand that the tenant pay the entire rent in full before starting a tenancy. Even asking for more than four months of pay in advance is considered illegal.
Tenants can also appeal landlord demands if they fall under the Residential Tenancies Act. This means that individual clauses might be void, such as a no pets rule or a restriction on guests. Increases in rent can only occur once over a 12-month period, and only by a rate of up to 1.8% in Ontario as of 2018. Rent increases must be provided with a 90-day written notice to give tenant time to decide whether or not to stay. If not, then the rent increase cannot be enforced.
Maintenance and repairs are an obligation of the landlord — issues like plumbing, pests, hot water, and heat all apply, even if the tenant was already aware of the maintenance problems before signing the lease.
For additional questions or more specific inquiries, check out the live stream of the entire Housing Law workshop on the University of Toronto Students’ Union’s Facebook page, or call the Downtown Legal Services intake line at 416-978-6447.