Some Myths About Ontario Tenancy Rules

by Mr. Cheap

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I’m often amazed at fundamental misunderstandings landlords and tenants have about the laws governing tenancy in Ontario.  I’m not a lawyer, but to the best of my knowledge the information in this post is correct (and if any commentators correct me, I’ll make corrections in the post).  This post shouldn’t be taken as the complete rules governing tenancies (please see the Residential Tenancies Act for more information).

Myth #1:  The end of the lease is the end of the tenancy

When I was coming up at the end of my first year where I’m currently living, I found out from the women who live upstairs from me that the landlord had offered to let them move into my unit.  After I got in touch with her, it turned out her assumption was that since I hadn’t told her I wanted to sign a new lease that I’d be moving out at the end of the year.  It took repeated communication, but eventually she realized that just because the lease was coming to an end didn’t mean I had to vacate.

The default condition if neither the tenant or landlord has given the other notice of terminating the tenancy is for a fixed period tenancy to turn into a month-to-month tenancy at the end of the lease.  I’ve never actually looked into the detail of HOW to structure a tenancy such that it ends at the end of the lease (I’ve wanted tenants to stay as long as possible), but I believe there are ways to do so (I’ve had friends get summer leases where someone else has already rented the place for Sept 1st).

She repeatedly asked me to sign another years lease or move out and I kept telling her that wasn’t how tenancy laws work.

Myth #2:  Landlords can increase rent when they want by whatever amount they want

Ontario basically has a fairly tight rent control in place.  There aren’t any rules on what rent you can charge when a tenant first moves in (it’s whatever the market will bear), but once a tenant has moved in they get quite a few protections.  First and foremost the rent can only be increased once per year (either 12 months from when the tenant first moved in or from the last rent increase).  A landlord must provide 90 days notice of the rent increase, and can only increase the rent by a set percentage (which varies each year, for 2010 it’s 2.1%).

In order to provide notice of the increase, an N1 form is provided by the province with the required information.

This only applies to older buildings.  For newer buildings it is possible for landlords to increase the rent however much they want (with 90 days notice, only once per year).  [See comments for more details]

Myth #3:  Tenants can leave whenever they want

Although it can be challenging chasing down (and getting money) from tenants who violate this, tenants are required to provide 60 days written notice when they want to leave a property.

Traditionally the 1st of the month is a popular day to start (and end) tenancies, but there’s nothing magical about this date (and if a tenant wants to give notice to move out mid-month they have every right to do so).  If the landlord is providing notice of the termination of the tenancy, it must be for the day a period of the tenancy ends (end of the month for a month-to-month tenancy).

Myth #4:  Landlords can’t enter the unit

Some tenants have the mistaken belief that during their tenancy the landlord can never enter the unit.  In addition to entry for number of maintenance and clerical task, the landlord can also legally enter the unit to show it to perspective tenants.  It is even possible for the landlord to enter the unit without notice in case of emergency.

Myth #5:  Landlords can’t evict tenants

It isn’t EASY for landlords to evict tenants (there are a LARGE number of rules that need to be carefully navigated), but it can be done.  There are some weird urban legends (one popular one is that tenants can’t be evicted in the winter:  they can be).

In a post a while back a commenter left a number of comments about his “air tight” strategy for preventing a landlord from evicting him.  With respect to the commenter, I don’t think he realizes that it will actually be an arbiter deciding how the rules are enforced (not him).  He seems to expect that he can demand any and all evidence he wants from the landlord.  The relevant clause refers to good faith, which I interpret as meaning unless there is evidence otherwise the board will take the landlord’s intentions at face value.  Ultimately, if a landlord really wants a tenant out and is willing to put the time and money in to make it happen, I suspect they can get the tenants out of a property.

Given the trouble and expense involved, if it’s possible to convince tenants to voluntarily move, that is certainly better (and even if they have to be paid a bit of money, it will probably be cheaper).

Myth #6:  Withholding rent is a reasonable response to something bad the landlord does

Some tenants have the mistaken belief that if the landlord is doing something wrong, it entitles them to stop paying rent.  This isn’t how the legal system works.  Just because one side isn’t entirely holding up their end of an agreement, doesn’t give the other side immediate permission to drop their end.  Say a landlord isn’t making required repairs, the correct response is to lodge a complaint against them with the landlord tenant board, NOT to withhold rent.  If a tenant doesn’t pay rent, while the landlord may get in trouble for not doing maintenance in a timely manner, the tenant may also get in trouble for non-payment of rent (the maintenance problem won’t justify non-payment).

There are some more excellent highlights from the residential tenancy act in the comments of a previous real estate post.

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{ 51 comments… read them below or add one }

51 CAUTION

I am AMAZED at all the “legal” advice floating around on this site!

If in doubt, contact your provincial Landlord Tenant Board (they likely have a website and toll-free number).

In some cases legal advice (from a qualified legal professional) may be required.

Many situations are subject to interpretation. The idea is to stay within the law and respect each party’s entitled rights. It might be a smart idea to DO EVERYTHING IN WRITING!!! It’s an easy way to eliminate “He said – She said”. Doing your homework before taking action can also mitigate any recourse down the road.

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