Skyrocketing rents, low supply and little oversight from beleaguered landlord and tenant boards: The situation is getting desperate for many looking to rent.
Data from Rentals.ca show average rents across Canada have risen by 20 per cent since the onset of the pandemic, and cities like Toronto have seen a 20.5-per-cent, year-over-year increase in rent for a one-bedroom as of May.
Philippa Geddie, supervising lawyer at the University of Toronto’s Downtown Legal Services, says renters in Toronto now sometimes choose to live in a home that is in disrepair, since moving would be too expensive and alerting an landlord could cause them to get displaced while renovations take place or evicted on unfair grounds.
Provinces have different laws around tenancy, so The Globe has compiled a short list of tips around rental laws in five of Canada’s most populous provinces.
“Trash fire” is the phrase that Ms. Geddie uses to describe the situation at Ontario’s landlord and tenant board. Wait times of two years are not uncommon for tenants, which drastically undermines their ability to protect their rights if they feel they are being unfairly evicted, Ms. Geddie says.
She has two main pieces of advice to new renters to avoid being exploited. First, she says people need to be aware that rental units built after 2018 are not rent-controlled, meaning landlords can hike the rent by massive amounts. People can avoid these units to avoid nasty surprises down the road, she says.
Her second tip is never to prepay rent. It’s illegal for landlords to ask for this, but legal for a tenant to offer. International students will often offer to prepay to beat competitors on the advice of an agent, but may later find that their apartment is much worse than advertised. Tenants in this scenario would have a hard time getting a refund for these issues.
Ms. Geddie also says it’s common for landlords to renovate a place simply to force a tenant to vacate. But tenants aren’t always aware that they have the right to move back in after the renovation is complete. If that’s what tenants want to do, they must write to their landlord before leaving the unit saying they intend to return.
Quebec has long been seen as a haven for cheap rent, but Arnold Bennett, director of the advocacy group Housing Hotline, says rents have increased greatly during the pandemic.
Mr. Bennett says Quebec has strong tenant rights for one group in particular: low-income seniors. People who fit into this category and who have been living in their rental for more than 10 years cannot have their house repossessed by a landlord for personal use.
And similar to Ontario, tenants have a right to return if their landlord forces them to vacate a rental for large renovations.
One unique part of rental life in Quebec is that contracts generally end on July 1 (this used to be mandated). Today, many contracts still follow this schedule, and chaos ensues each year on Canada Day, especially on the streets of Montreal.
Mr. Bennett warns those new to Quebec who have a July 1 moving date to remember that it’s a national holiday, so many stores will be closed and movers will generally charge double the usual rate.
Megan Tweedie, a lawyer with Access Pro Bono Society of British Columbia, says one of the most common ways to end a tenancy in the province is for a landlord to give their tenant two-month’s notice that they intend to use the space for personal reasons.
But she says many renters aren’t aware that in this scenario they are almost always entitled to be paid a full month’s rent by the landlord. This will especially help in the search given the current rental environment in B.C.
Ms. Tweedie says people who suspect that their landlord is lying about their personal-use claim can also dispute it within 15 days by filing online. By doing so, the renter can continue living in their home until they get a hearing with the province’s landlord and tenant board, which can take months.
The housing market in Alberta has remained relatively stagnant compared with other parts of the country, and rents have remained low as a result.
However, University of Alberta associate professor Anna Lund says the province’s housing laws generally skew in favour of landlords. For example, Alberta doesn’t have any sort of standard rent-control rules, except that landlords can only increase rent once a year. However, that increase can be as high as they like.
Alberta does share some standard tenant rights with other provinces, such as protections against human rights discrimination and the abatement of rent if the premises aren’t delivering on promises from the landlord.
However, she says the fact that 82 per cent of applications to Alberta’s landlord and tenant board are by landlords shows there is sense among most renters that there’s no point in waging a fight when they feel wronged.
Allison Fenske, a lawyer with the Public Interest Law Centre, says there’s a growing trend for landlords at larger buildings to charge higher fees than normal if an apartment isn’t left spotless when a tenant moves out. But she says people don’t realize that’s illegal and those fees can be fought.
Charges cannot be punitive in nature and must only reflect the actual cost of a service, Ms. Fenske says.
Long-term tenants should also be aware that landlords are required to make certain cosmetic updates for regular wear and tear once a tenant has lived in a space for roughly five to seven years, she says. This can include a fresh coat of paint or a new carpet.
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