Stacking the deck against Ontario landlords
Remember the early-’90’s thriller Pacific Heights? A young San Francisco couple buy their dream house and rent out a portion to help pay the mortgage. When slick Carter Hayes — played by an oddly menacing Michael Keaton — rolls up in a Porsche and fancy suit, he seems like the perfect tenant. Twenty minutes later, Hayes becomes a slippery cockroach-breeding con artist who changes the locks on his door and quickly becomes a domestic bête noire.
It’s a made-up Hollywood tale — yet an instructive one. Consider that if Carter Hayes took up residence in an Ontario apartment building, the province’s 2007 Residential Tenancies Act would make it very difficult for his landlord to kick him out. Who knows: He might even be able to claim his cockroaches as protected “pets.”
The law appears to have been drafted on the assumption that all landlords are rich and greedy. Under the Act, a tenant can allow anyone to move into his or her unit indefinitely. So after you sign a lease for, say, a one-bedroom apartment, you can invite your unemployed buddies to come stay with you — forever. The Act does not require you to give names, addresses or references to the landlord. Even if you decide to move out, the scrubs can stay behind until they are formally evicted, which requires a court order … which, in some cases, the landlord cannot obtain because he doesn’t even know what name to put on the eviction notice.
Oh, and if your tenants feel like trashing the apartment à la Charlie Sheen while they live there — or just before they leave — they can. Tenants in Ontario are not required to pay a damage deposit, so if a tenant damages the property and the landlord discovers this when (or just after) the lease is up, the landlord has to spend his own time and money taking them to Small Claims Court. However, since tenants don’t have to give a forwarding address, the landlord can’t serve them court papers. As a result, either new tenants pay for the damage through increased rents, or (as is more likely) the landlord pays out of his own pocket.
Unlike normal contracts, Ontario residential leases are fairly meaningless unless they mirror the specifications set out in the Residential Tenancies Act exactly. For example, many landlords understandably do not want tenants with pets. Even if this restriction is expressly written into the lease, the Act allows tenants to bring in as many pets as municipal regulations allow. Which is lot: The City of Toronto Municipal Code states that a person can keep up to six of any combination of dogs, cats, ferrets and rabbits at any given time in their home.
The only thing worse than the Act is the Landlord and Tenant Board, which appears to be a body set up specifically to help tenants exploit their landlords. For example, even if a tenant just flatly refuses to pay rent, he/she is guaranteed a hearing under the Act. Further, if a tenant contacts the board and says he/she can’t make it to the hearing on the scheduled date, the hearing is postponed. This can happen repeatedly, and in the meantime the tenant continues to live rent-free in the property.
If the hearing ever happens, the tenant can completely blindside the landlord by bringing up random maintenance-deficiency claims. The claim does not have to be true or even make sense, and the tenant does not have to inform the landlord of the “deficiency” prior to the hearing. Nevertheless, on this basis, the board can award money to the tenant at the hearing — which often happens when landlords are trying to evict deadbeats.
Throughout all of this Kafkaesque ordeal, the landlord must play nice and be extra careful not to cause any offence. Repeatedly asking for the rent may be construed as “harassment” or “interference with reasonable enjoyment” of the property.
Roger Ebert called Pacific Heights “a horror film for yuppies.” But most Ontario landlords aren’t rich folks. They’re just small business people trying to get by. But thanks to the Residential Tenancies Act, they spend a lot of their time feeling as though they’re this close to …
Well, I’ll let you watch the movie.
Read more: http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2010/12/07/iman-sheikh-stacking-the-deck-against-ontario-landlords/#ixzz1813fKmLz