Knowing your Rights as a Tenant
By: Rory Sullivan
Whether you’re an undergraduate or graduate, you will most likely be looking into renting an apartment during the school year. The stereotype about your first apartment is true - many student apartments are ((in lack of a better word) crap. And expensive. But it’s like a right of passage! Moving out is a huge deal, and both you and your parents want to make sure you’re moving into a place that not only is safe but also has a responsive landlord. Unfortunately, many landlords take advantage of their student tenants because we tend to not know our rights. So before signing a lease, make sure to look at the VERY important information every student should know below!
The landlord is only allowed to increase rent on the anniversary of your lease signing (ex. you signed May 1st, 2020, therefore, he can only increase your rent on May 1st, 2021). They can only increase the amount by the Provincial guidelines, which change every year based on inflation. In 2020, a landlord could only increase their tenant’s rent by 2% that year. Pay attention to the guidelines that are released in 2021 to make sure your landlord isn’t overcharging you!
Landlords must provide a 90-day notice before they increase a tenant’s rent.
Landlords CANNOT ask for a security deposit, pet deposit, or a deposit for damages. They can only ask for last month’s rent, which cannot be more than one month’s rent. This cannot be used for anything other than the last month of your tenancy (ex. if your landlord wants to use it for damages).
It is important to note that a landlord CANNOT evict you based on owning a pet. There are no laws against a landlord refusing to rent to a tenant based on their pet ownership, but a landlord cannot do anything AFTER the tenant has signed the lease. The exceptions to this rule are if the pet causes allergies to other tenants or the landlord, if the pet creates excessive noise, if the pet is considered a ‘dangerous species’, or if the local by-laws prohibit it.
The ‘no pet’ clause in a rental agreement has no legal power. In Ontario, this clause is considered void and cannot be legally enforced.
DAMAGES AND REPAIRS -
A landlord is responsible for ensuring that the rental unit is well-maintained and free of vermin. But what does this mean?
Well-Maintained: This means that the landlord must ensure that the rental unit complies with housing standards, as well as health and safety standards. Use this link to get a complete list of the housing standards in Ontario.
Free of Vermin: Vermin means anything from rats to mice to bugs. If there is an infestation in your unit, you must report it to your landlord immediately. This is their responsibility and if they choose to ignore it, they will be breaking provincial law.
Though there are housing standards for Ontario, make sure to look into your municipal housing standards as well, as there might be a little bit of a difference. Here is a summary of what a landlord is responsible for during your tenancy:
Municipal property standards (+ health, safety, and maintenance).
Fire safety regulations.
Local building codes.
A landlord MUST provide at least 24 hours’ notice before they enter the rental unit to complete a repair. A tenant can either accept or deny this request.
A landlord is responsible for any damage in the rental unit UNLESS it was caused by the tenant or anyone they allowed to be in the unit (ex. guests, the result of a party, etc).
In the case of the eviction, a landlord must provide notice to the tenant. For example, if you signed a yearly or monthly lease, a landlord must provide you with a notice of 60 days. Less when it is in the case of a weekly or daily rental, which isn’t common for students. A hearing under the Landlord Tenant Board of Ontario is then held to determine whether or not the eviction was justified and lawful.
Your landlord has no right to take any action, such as remove your property, from the rental unit until there is approval from the Board.
Though you do not need a lawyer for this type of hearing, you should think about looking into legal representation if this is a serious and complex matter. Resources will be listed at the bottom.
LEASE AGREEMENT -
The only Lease Agreement that holds any legal power is the Residential Tenancy Agreement (Standard Form of Lease). This document has been required since 2018. Any other rental agreement you sign for your landlord is void - it holds no legal weight at all.
Make sure you get a copy of the signed lease for your files. A landlord is required to provide one within 21 days.
Use this link to look over a blank copy of the RTA - this is what your landlord must provide you. Anything other than this has no legal power.
Obviously, as a tenant, your main and most important responsibility is to pay on time. Usually, this is the first of every month, but it may differ depending on your rental agreement.
The tenant CANNOT withhold rent if the landlord doesn’t do repairs.
DAMAGES AND REPAIRS -
Fix any damages caused by the tenant or anyone they let onto/into the rental unit.
Report all damages IMMEDIATELY to the landlord.
Keep the rental unit reasonably clean and maintained.
The tenant must seek the approval of the landlord before they can sublet their room/apartment.
Tenant is responsible for any other mutually agreed-upon items/terms (ex. utilities).
The tenant cannot get the locks of the unit changed without the landlord’s approval.
*These are some of the main Landlord and Tenant responsibilities. If you have any other questions that are not addressed here, please consult the list of helpful resources at the end of this blog!*
TIPS FOR STUDENT RENTERS:
Document EVERY step of the renting process. This means photos of the apartment from before you moved in, photos of any damages, and any emails/messages between you and your landlord. If you ever have to go to a Landlord-Tenant Board hearing, you want to make sure you have every piece of evidence possible.
Try to keep a friendly relationship with your landlord. As student renters, there are often (true) stereotypes about us, so it is important to remain responsible tenants to keep a good relationship with landlords. The worst thing is having to live in a unit owned by a landlord who doesn’t trust, or dislikes, you and/or your roommates.
Communication is key. Even the smallest damages/issues must be reported to your landlord as soon as possible. If you wait to report something, your landlord could use this against you later on (ex. make you pay for it).
Know the difference between tenancy agreements. Students tenants will often sign what is called “Joint Tenancy”, which means that all parties are equally responsible for the unit. For example, if one roommate doesn’t pay the rent, all the others are held responsible as well. Read this for more detailed information.
WHO TO CONTACT?
You might be wondering who you should contact if you need any advice or help on a landlord-tenant issue. Below are some resources that can help:
Check out your university’s legal clinic! They will often offer free legal advice to students, so make sure to look into it if you’re on a budget.
For more serious issues, use this link. This will take you to the Ontario Ministry of Housing, which details how to file a report and the full process that follows. Use this toll-free number (1-888-772-9277) to call the Rental Housing Enforcement Unit for more information.
The Landlord-Tenant Board of Ontario is another great resource for information. You can use this link to contact them about filing a report, or you can use their website to look into FAQ and the hearing process.
Renting in Ontario: Your rights (Government of Ontario)
Helping Students Find A Home Away From Home (Places4Students)
I hope this post provided you with some important knowledge you can use for when you start renting your own place! Don’t let yourself be taken advantage of by landlords who are used to ripping off their student tenants. Educate yourself and know your rights as a tenant!