In Ontario, the Residential Tenancies Act is the primary piece of legislation that governs the landlord-tenant relationship and outlines specific rights and responsibilities for each, including rules about rent increases and evictions. The Act also establishes the Landlord Tenant Board, a special administrative tribunal mandated to resolve disputes between landlords and tenants.

Tenants Under the Residential Tenancies Act

The Residential Tenancies Act applies to tenants who live in rental housing, except people living in emergency shelters, long-term care facilities, and student residences. It also does not apply to people who do not live in a distinct unit or who have not entered into a lease. 

Permitted Requirements for Tenant Applications

Landlords are allowed to request a variety of information from prospective tenants, including:

  • The tenant’s employment status and earnings
  • How many people will be living in the unit
  • Whether the tenant is a smoker
  • How many pets the tenant has

Certain background checks are also permitted, including credit checks and references from previous landlords. The landlord may also require a tenant to provide a guarantor or co-signer if there are concerns about the tenant’s ability to pay rent.

If the landlord is not satisfied with the prospective tenant’s responses to these inquiries, they may decline their rental application.

Prohibited Landlord Inquiries

Conversely, there are some things a landlord is not permitted to ask a prospective tenant, including:

  • Whether they are pregnant or have children
  • Their marital status
  • Their religion or ethnic background
  • Their sexual orientation
  • Whether they receive public assistance
  • Whether they have a disability
  • Whether they are a Canadian citizen

A landlord may not discriminate against a prospective tenant by requesting information about or declining their application on the basis of these protected grounds. A landlord who incorporates these inquiries into their rental considerations can face liability under the Residential Tenancies Act and the Human Rights Code.

Lease Terms & Renewal

A lease, or tenancy agreement, is a contract between the landlord and tenant. Basic terms included in most leases include the duration of the tenancy (often 12 months), the amount of rent payable, the landlord’s name and address, and any inclusions in the rent (for example, parking, cable or utilities). In most cases, the lease must be based on the standard form template under the Residential Tenancies Act. A copy of the lease must be provided to the tenant within 21 days after the tenancy starts.

If a tenant wishes to move out, they must provide written notice to the landlord at least two months in advance of the lease’s end. If the lease expires with no termination or renewal by the landlord or tenant, the lease converts to a month-to-month tenancy with the same terms.

Rent Payments, Increases & Damage Deposits

Tenants must pay the entirety of their rent on the day it is due. Upon request, landlords must provide a tenant with a receipt for any rent paid. They may not require post-dated cheques or pre-authorized debit payments. 

Landlords may collect a rent deposit, which cannot exceed the cost of one rental period (usually one month). The rent deposit must be applied as the tenant’s final rent payment. Key deposits are permitted but cannot exceed the actual cost of key replacement. Other deposits, such as damage deposits, are not permitted under the Residential Tenancies Act.

Landlords may only increase rent once every 12 months and no earlier than 12 months after a lease commences. The maximum permitted increase is set by the Ontario government, although the landlord may apply to the Landlord Tenant Board for permission to charge a higher increase. The tenant must be notified of the rental increase in writing at least 90 days before the increase takes effect. Note that this rule does not apply to certain new buildings or units built after 2018.

Notice of Entry Into a Rental Unit & Maintenance

Except for extreme emergencies, landlords must give a tenant written notice at least 24 hours before accessing a unit. Landlords can only enter the unit to fix something, conduct a maintenance inspection, or show the unit to prospective new tenants if the existing tenant has given notice that they are moving out. 

Landlords are obligated to keep units in good condition and comply with all applicable health, safety, and housing standards. They are responsible for repairing broken appliances and fixtures, as well as getting rid of pests such as mice or bug infestations. Tenants are responsible for fixing any damage that they (or their guests) cause, such as damage to a wall.

Landlords are responsible for the maintenance and cleaning of common building areas as well as yards. They are also responsible for snow removal on walkways and driveways or parking spots.

Utilities

Landlords are required to provide access to hot and cold water, electricity, heat, and fuel (such as natural gas). The landlord cannot turn off these services, even if the tenant has not paid rent. Whether or not the landlord or tenant pays for these services can be set out in the lease.

Eviction

Evictions must follow a specific process under the Residential Tenancies Act, which offers tenants several opportunities to try to fix the situation. Landlords are not permitted to change locks or cut off vital services without an order from the Landlord Tenant Board (which, in turn, must be carried out by a Sheriff).

Notices of Eviction must follow the prescribed form from the Landlord Tenant Board. Tenants who receive a Notice of Eviction are not obligated to move out immediately. The notice merely sets down a timeline for a hearing before the Landlord Tenant Board, which will then determine whether the eviction will proceed.

Contact Tierney Stauffer LLP in North Bay and Eastern Ontario for Experienced Representation with Residential Lease Disputes

At Tierney Stauffer LLP, we pride ourselves on our client-focused and personalized approach to residential lease disputes. Our team has extensive experience representing clients in residential real estate issues before administrative tribunals and in court. Call us at 1-888-799-8057 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.

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