Hunting for an apartment is tough, and it can feel like the landlords are holding all the cards. In Canada, there is a lot of protections for tenants, from being discriminated against when finding an apartment or a house to rent, to ensuring you don’t get taken advantage of when living at a rental or moving out. These vary from region to region, and even between cities there are some variations in what protections are extended. Here are the specific rights that you have as a tenant living in Ontario.
When looking for an apartment, while landlords can check that you have enough money to pay the rent, they are not allowed to discriminate based on how you get your money (for instance, employment insurance or social assistance). They can ask about your job, but cannot require that applicants have a job or work full time. Your S.I.N. number should not be requested, as some of the information on a S.I.N. could be used to discriminate, and it is not needed for renting housing.
The human rights code prohibits discrimination on the following grounds:
• Race, colour, or ancestry
• Place of origin, ethnicity, or citizenship
• Sex (including whether or not you are pregnant, gender identity), sexual orientation
• Marital status or family status
• Disability, or receiving public assistance
Rent deposits are legal, but only if they are requested on or before the day that the tenant moves in, and the amount can not be more than one month’s rent if renting per month (if renting by the week, it cannot exceed a week). The rent deposit can only be used as the last month’s rent, not as a damage deposit. Key deposits are legal only if they are refunded when the keys are returned, and the cost of a key deposit cannot exceed the price of replacing a key. If you damage your unit, the landlord can seek reimbursement for the costs to fix it, but only after damage has been done.
It is legal for the landlord to request information such as your current residence, rental history, employment history (and a letter of employment), personal references, or income information. Once you have moved in, if your apartment has cockroaches, bedbugs, mice, or any other pets, it is up to the landlord to get rid of them and to make repairs to stop more from coming in. Your landlord cannot revoke or interfere what is dubbed “vital services”, which includes access to water, electricity, and heat, even if your rent is overdue.
If a landlord needs to enter your unit, they need to give 24 hours written notice, citing the reason they need to enter (except in case of emergency or if you agree to let them in without notice). Tenants cannot change the locks without the landlords approval, or add additional locks that could stop the landlord from entering in the case of an emergency. Landlords can only increase the rent once every 12 months, and must give 90 days notice before doing so.
Have something that needs fixing or another issue that requires their attention? First of all, you need to talk to your landlord about the issue. Keep a log of when you speak to them about issues, and what the issues are. Snapping some photos on your smart phone may come in handy as well if they are reluctant to make fixes. If your landlord is refusing to take action, don’t stop paying your rent; this could be grounds for eviction. If it is an issue that may impact other tenants, talk to your neighbors. If after repeated conversations the landlord still refuses, investigate wither the issue is violating local property standards or rental by laws. It is common for municipalities to have inspectors capable of ordering a landlord to make repairs or do clean up. If where you live does not have any inspectors, you have the option of bringing it to the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. You can also bring your case before the Landlord and Tenant Board, which is effectively a specialized court designed to settle disputes between landlords and tenants. If you decide to bring it before the board, treat it like a court case, and bring lots of evidence. Any witnesses, photographs, recordings, reports, work orders, letters, agreements in writing, or any other evidence that will help make your case should be brought along. Prepare notes in advance with everything you want to bring up so you don’t omit certain details. The board could order your landlord to do repairs, return some rent, reimburse tenants for costs incurred to do the work themselves, pay to fix or replace property of the tenant that was damaged due to any issues, or pay expenses incurred due to the issue (for example, meals in restaurants due to issues with a fridge or stove).
If your rent cheque bounces, your landlord is within their rights to have you reimburse them for the charge the receive from the bank, as well as an additional admin fee of up to $20 (as well as the original rent which was not paid).
If you want to move out, you need to give at least 60 days of written notice if you are renting monthly or on a lease (on a lease you have to stay until at least the last day of the lease). A tenant and landlord can together decide to end a tenancy early, but if you do this, you should write a written agreement.
Sources & more information:
Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario
Community Legal Education Ontario
Landlord and Tenant Board
Ontario Human Rights Commission