Changes to tenant-landlord rules will be in effect by month’s end

Alterations to caps on increases, eviction and maintenance procedures take effect Jan. 31

Jackie Alvarez

As of Jan. 31, tenant-landlord legislation will get an overhaul when the Ontario Residential Tenancies Act replaces the Tenant Protection Act.

AMS Municipal Affairs Commissioner Ryan Quinlan-Keech said the new legislation won’t affect student tenants very much, but it should be an opportunity for them to educate themselves about their rights as tenants, and to ensure their landlords are up to date on the current legislation.

“If they’re dealing with a landlord who is referencing the Tenant Protection Act … they may not be on the ball for other things, as well.” The new legislation provides further recourse for tenants dealing with unresolved maintenance issues on the rental property, including the option, in extreme cases, for
tenant to pay all or part of his or her rent directly to the Landlord and Tenant Board.

“The first thing they should always do is talk to their landlord, because your case isn’t very good unless you talk to the landlord,” said Sonya Rolfe, manager of landlord-tenant relations for the province’s ministry of municipal affairs and housing.

Rolfe added that a tenant’s first action on neglected property maintenance should be to phone a municipal inspector to take a look at the problem. The inspector can require the landlord to fix the problem right away.

“If you feel that you have lived with poor maintenance for some time and you want some kind of remedy, then you apply to the [board],” Rolfe said. To do this, tenants submit an application to the board, indicating what the problems are. They also have to pay a $45 filing fee which is covered by he landlord if the tenants’ application is successful. Joan Jones, the University’s town-gown relations co-ordinator, said she hopes students will keep in mind the act’s existence, if not its entirety. “The most important thing to know is, you’re protected; it doesn’t matter what you sign—you can’t sign away our rights,” she said. “Another thing that’s really important to know is about maintenance,” she said.

Jones said that, as far as she’s aware, this is the first time the province has made provisions for tenants to pay part or all of their rent to the board in the event of a serious unresolved maintenance problem. “I think that’s really good,” she said. “You still have an obligation to pay your rent. … Paying to the board is a really good condition for students who have bad living conditions.”

Jones said this new legislation won’t affect students very much: as short-term tenants, they usually move out after a few years. When the house is vacant, the landlord is free to set the rent as high as he market—in this case, the students—will bear. “It’s a slight opportunity for landlords to take advantage, whereas if they were in a bigger centre with long-term tenants, it would be harder to do hat,” she said. “It’s usually up to the tenants [to monitor rental increases and decreases]. I don’t imagine [the government has] the capacity to do that.

“Unfortunately, there just isn’t the manpower to monitor landlord behaviour.” Quinlan-Keech said students should consult himself, Jones or Queen’s Legal Aid when taking steps against a negligent landlord, especially in the case of outstanding maintenance issues. “I would advise students not to stop paying rent until they have gone to see Queen’s Legal Aid or Joan Jones or myself,” he said. “There’s a process, it’s a little bit easier … but it’s still not a case where just out of the blue you stop paying rent. “The last thing we want is for students with maintenance issues to stop paying rent and then be evicted entirely.” Quinlan-Keech said that for the most part, students don’t approach the Tenant Relations Board unless brought there by their landlord.

“Students now under the new legislation need to know the tribunal is there for them and it can help them out,” he said. “I hope we can see a change with the way students, a) are aware, and b) utilize the board.” Quinlan-Keech said a lot of students don’t pay attention to tenant-landlord legislation.

“It’s because of that that we have this culture of entitlement among the worst landlords in the student area who have just treated students with impunity for so many years,” he said. “We have to … get the message out to students that you don’t need to accept poor-quality housing.”

In the new legislation, the cap on rent increases is now tied to consumer price index—currently 2.6 per cent. This will make it cheaper for tenants to stay in the same house, because the rent can’t be raised over a set amount.

There is also a provision allowing for a rental increase over and above the current limit in order to pay for a capital expenditure. But landlords are obliged to lower the rent again when the capital expenditure is paid off. Rolfe said a member of the Landlord and Tenant Board will decide upon a time then the rent must be lowered back to previous standards. However, it’s up to the tenant to
ensure this decrease occurs, which may not happen in transient student housing.

“If the tenancy switches hands, this provision is no longer meaningful because the new rent isn’t based on anything because the rates aren’t controlled by anything.” Under new legislation Rolfe called “pay
and stay,” tenants being evicted because of not paying their rent can void the eviction order by going to the tribunal and paying the rent anytime before the actual eviction. “Before you actually get evicted from your house, before the sheriff comes and changes the locks … if you pay up by then you’ll void the order,” Rolfe said. In cases where tenants are sharing a property with their landlord and the landlord wants to evict them for causing a disturbance, the process is expedited to a 10-day notice period from the previous 20 days, and the current “remedy period”—under which, if the disturbances ceased in seven days the eviction was voided—would end, Rolfe said.

A landlord would still have to prove his or her complaints in front of the board, however.

Jones said one addition to the legislation expedites the eviction process for tenants committing willful or severe damage to the property.

“Willfully damaging the place is [for example] if you have a party and people decide to have a contest to punch holes in the wall,” she said. “I think willful just has to have some kind of intent. Negligence, I
suppose, could fall in there, as well. “If you leave the windows open and go away for weeks on end with rain coming in, that’s not showing due care of the property.”

Students need to be aware of how they can be evicted if they damage rental property, Quinlan-Keech said. “If a landlord evicts you, that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook [from paying rent].

… Students have had parties, damaged the property and been evicted and still been on the hook for the rent.” The new legislation also allows the landlord to enter the property to inspect it with 24 hours notice, whereas previously this was only permitted if the purpose was to fix a specific problem or if it was specified in the lease.

Rolfe said landlord will be allowed to make inspections with 24 hours notice provided that it’s not “unreasonable.” “There’s no real definition [for what is reasonable], but if you felt your landlord was harassing you or being unreasonable in the timing or how often he was entering your unit, you could file an application saying he was interfering with your enjoyment of the unit,” she said.

Renting from a property belonging to your housemate’s family may not be as attractive as it seems, Quinlan-Keech said—especially following the new legislation expediting the eviction process in these circumstances.

“There have been situations where people have rented with people whose parents own the house and they have been evicted without process.”

Quinlan-Keech suggested students renting from their housemates’ family members ensure they get a separate contract detailing their rights under the lease. “You really need to spell those things out
in the event where your housemates decide they don’t like you anymore,” he said. “You need to recognize there are legal implications to living in that kind of situation.” Jay Abramsky is president and general manager of Keystone Property Management. He was the recipient of the AMS Key to
the Ghetto award last year, nominated by students for having the best student rental properties.
He said he doesn’t think the new legislation will affect students’ typically short-term tenancies, and that students should still focus on the housing program Queen’s has with several landlords in Kingston.

The program creates a partnership between Queen’s and landlords who pay to have University inspectors assess their property. Once up to standards, the property comes recommended by the
evidence of inspection on the University’s accommodations listings website.

“Keystone is very much a part of that program and landlords that understand the importance of good maintenance and highquality student rentals are part of that,” he said.

Abramsky said he doesn’t think it likely many landlords of student houses will apply for rental increases above the limit to pay for capital expenses.

“They would more than likely, with a student rental, wait for the tenants to leave rather than go through the process of applying for above-average increases.” What Abramsky suggested is more
important for students to worry about is checking up on rental and utilities increases, so as to avoid any unpleasant surprises when paying their bills.

“It’s important for students to understand they’re now consumers in the marketplace,” he said. “The student government does its best to establish this every year … but for the most part it’s just one more lesson for students coming to a new environment.”

Most students still don’t understand much of their leases or the government’s tenant legislation, Abramsky said. “You should know who your cotenants are because if there’s a problem, even if you’re paying your rent, it’s your problem, too.” Abramsky said he tries to maintain open lines of communication between tenants and landlords at all times, so that any problems are dealt with sooner rather than later. “When you have a problem with your landlord you should be communicating it
both verbally and in writing … so they can’t say they never got it from you and they have to act on it.
“Otherwise, there’s a problem.”

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