Welcome to Biz and Tech for dummies—where we explain otherwise complex subjects in the biz/tech world. This week we look into renter rights for all of you looking to move out sometime soon or for those of you renting right now.
By Ben Cohen
What rights do renters have in Ontario? I don’t know, I still live with my parents. They’re going to kick me out one day though, so I should probably figure it out. To help me get a grip on what stunts aren’t OK to pull when someone who doesn’t love you unconditionally owns your home, I called up award-winning Toronto real-estate agent Wayne Kahn.
We met at a Starbucks near his house early in the morning—way too early, but that’s just Kahn’s style as a go-getter. Kahn’s spent 23 consecutive years on the RE/MAX top 100 list, which puts him in the top 0.45 per cent of Canadian real-estate agents each year he achieves it. Kahn is also a landlord, which further establishes his experience and knowledge in rentals.
So, how can someone kick me out?
According to Kahn, a landlord can’t arbitrarily kick a tenant out. There’s a pretty straightforward piece of legislature called the Residential Tenancies Act that practically spells that out in all caps. There are only two ways that an honourable, due-paying renter can get evicted. Firstly, if the property owner finds a buyer for said property, they can give any tenants 60 days to get up, get out and make room. Secondly, if the landlord or a family member of theirs wants to move in, they can also give you 60 days to vacate.
But that’s not a free pass to be a jerk as long as you’re making rent. If the lease stipulates that the property is to remain smoke, pet or subletter free, and you infringe on that, then that’s grounds to be served a notice to terminate a tenancy.
What if something in my home breaks?
Get this: if a fixture in your home breaks, and it costs more than $50, you’re able to write a letter to your landlord (which they’re legally obligated to respond to) asking for it to be fixed. If they don’t reply, then you can contact the Landlord and Tenant Board and file a complaint.
Unfortunately, that almost never works.
“There’re a lot of slum lords in this city. [The Board] can’t possibly enforce this stuff. There are a lot of properties that need thousands of dollars worth of repairs, including mould, hazardous conditions, et cetera, and the landlords do nothing,” said Kahn.
Apparently, this is a tactic employed by property-owning skeeves to eschew rent rate increase laws. See, according to the provincial government, you can only raise the rent you’re charging up to 1.5 per cent per year. Say the area you’re renting in has just become gentrified, and you’re still paying pre-Whole-Foods-just-across-the-street rates. That’s not ideal for a landlord trying to maximise profits.
“[Landlords] can’t just say, ‘Get out, we want to rent the unit for a higher price.’ What they’ll do instead is just stop fulfilling their obligations, and eventually, the tenant will just get so sick and tired that they’ll move out.”
Can my landlord charge me a security deposit?
Here’s another fact that starts out sounding helpful but also has a loophole that’s widely used by landlords to circumvent it: It’s illegal to charge tenants a security deposit.
A security deposit is a deposit of money given to a landlord which acts as collateral in case of damages or payment failure.
“It’s not illegal to take a security deposit, but it’s illegal to request it,” said Kahn. “What [landlords] are doing is they’re calling it something else, like a “return-of-keys-fee,” a deposit reimbursed upon the tenant returning the keys to the apartment. And that’s legal to ask for, you can’t refuse that. If a tenant has something that has to come back to you, you can ask for a deposit.”
What if I refuse to leave?
To round things out, I’ll close with an exploit you can use to get back at those duplicitous homeowners: refusing to pay or leave. This is often referred to as squatter’s rights, the phenomenon that occurs when someone claims rights to a home by virtue of occupation, rather than actual ownership.
“‘Squatter’s rights’ is a bit of an oxymoron, they really don’t have rights per se, but it’s called that because they’re very hard to evict, it takes time, it has to go through the courts. You can’t change the locks on a tenant, nor can you force them out, lease or no lease,” said Kahn.
There is an inexorable unfairness surrounding renting property, that’s become clear after my talk with Kahn. The heroic sheen of the laws and legislators brought into existence to protect tenants is eclipsed by a bloating bureaucracy. Squatting isn’t the most appropriate way to combat landlord corruption, but in a world where your “rights” aren’t guaranteed, it’s certainly something worth keeping in mind.