Small Scale Landlords

by Mr. Cheap

I was in Tim Horton’s recently, and overheard two men talking.  One of them was saying “I got cash from him in the first month, but I haven’t gotten anything since then.”  Perking up at a real estate discussion, I casually eavesdropped.  They were on their way out, but I heard him continue saying “I don’t even know if the name he gave me is a real name.  I’ve never seen any I.D. or his student records or anything…”

Sadly this is quite common: someone decides to get into land lording, perhaps renting out a room in their house, or converting their basement into a small apartment.  Figuring that they’re operating on such a small scale, they throw caution to the wind and rent based on their gut feeling.  People follow a similar approach with subletting, reasoning “I’m not a landlord, I’m just subletting my apartment.”

Although there are *SOME* *SMALL* legal difference based on the number of units in a building, for the most part when you start selling housing to someone you’re a landlord. All the standard legal protections for tenants apply.  If you’re subletting your apartment and something happens, you will be in the middle of the situation. If you’re renting out part of your house and they turn into a bad tenant, it’s just as bad as a tenant in a typical apartment, except they’re LIVING WITH YOU! Whatever the situation is for the Tim Horton’s guy, I find it SHOCKING that he would rent to someone without even verifying their identity.

Since most of The Residential Tenancies Act applies to them, it is well worth landlords (and soon-to-be-landlords) to review it.  Many of the expectations some people have (such as “it’s my house, I can make whatever rules I want!”) are explicitly rejected.  I’m positive it’s a joke, but Krystal at Give Me Back My Five Dollars posted an amusing example of this sort of thing.

Two married friends of mine bought a house a year ago, and have been renovating the basement to rent out as a student apartment.  The wife has been asking me for advice, and is trying her best to make the best possible decisions.  The husband has been acting from a place of anxiety, and just wants to get someone in and paying rent as soon as possible.  I’ve warned him that a bad tenant is worse than no tenant, but he feels pressured to get rent checks coming in soon.

I think often people who end up renting out part of their houses want the rent, but they don’t want the tenant.  They figure there’s some way they can make enough rules that the tenant will be so inconspicuous (until rent is due) that it’ll almost be like they’re living without a tenant. When I was first looking for a place to rent at the start of my Masters, I looked at homes where people were renting out rooms. Without fail, I found that each one had the attitude “I want your rent, but I don’t really want you living here”. One landlord complained about the current tenant having a boyfriend spend the night without asking his permission, and another told me the place was air conditioned, but HE would decide when the AC was on or off.

It doesn’t work this way. If someone is paying money to rent a place, they rightfully expect to be able to live there (ideally without a tyrant telling them 500 things they can and can’t do). It’s not a universally agreed upon perspective, but I view my tenants as customers. I won’t be able to say yes to EVERY request they make, but I certainly want them to be happy in their tenancy (and hopefully remain for as long as possible).

I’m not sure that Ontario has the right balance, but a tenancy agreement *IS* a legal contract, and the rights of both parties need to be protected.  In Ontario, and in most other places, legal protections ARE automatically put in place (even if there isn’t a written contract.  These need to be understood, even when property owner doesn’t view the rental situation they’re offering as “that serious”.

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