Starting a tenancy – Ontario housing law basics

February 16, 2022

  • What laws in Ontario govern my tenancy?

    As a tenant in Ontario, it is important to know which laws apply to the type of housing you live in. Some of the laws that may impact your tenancy are:

    • Municipal property standard by-laws – these vary depending on where you live in Ontario
    • Municipal building, fire and electrical codes – these consist of rules that ensure landlords maintain safe housing

    The Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) is a law that defines what landlords and tenants are, and sets rules around their rights and responsibilities, tenancy agreements, repairs and maintenance, eviction and tenancy termination, rent and utility costs, care homes, mobile home parks and land lease communities. It also outlines the administration and enforcement of the law and offences under the RTA.

    The RTA also defines the role and function of the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) as the exclusive body responsible to determine how the RTA must be applied. If tenants have concerns about their landlord or their tenancy, they can file an application with the LTB. When landlords want to evict tenants, they must also file an application with the LTB.

    The Housing Services Act (HSA) provides rules related to subsidies for people who live in subsidized housing. Tenants who live in most subsidized housing are protected under the RTA and the HSA, as well as any additional rules set by their service provider, which is typically their municipal government.

    The Co-operative Corporations Act provides rules and regulations for people who live in co-operative housing. Other rules are found in each housing co-operative’s own by-laws. Members of housing co-operatives are not considered tenants under the RTA, but they still have some rights and responsibilities under it.

    The Retirement Homes Act provides rules and regulations for people who live in retirement homes. These individuals are protected under the RTA.

    The Ontario Human Rights Code protects individuals from discrimination when dealing with a private organization. The Code does not protect every type of unfair treatment. Instead, it identifies different grounds upon which individuals should not face discrimination. If a person is treated badly or unfairly but their treatment is not connected with one or more of the protected grounds, then it is not considered discrimination under the Human Rights Code even though the person may be significantly impacted.

    The sixteen grounds that are protected when accessing housing are:

    • Disability
    • Race
    • Colour
    • Ancestry
    • Place of origin
    • Citizenship
    • Ethnic origin
    • Creed (religion)
    • Receipt of public assistance
    • Gender Identity
    • Gender Expression
    • Sex
    • Sexual orientation
    • Marital status
    • Family status
    • Age

    Municipal by-laws determine whether basement apartments are legal in a community, and they also establish residential property standards. For example, municipal by-laws can set rules for minimum temperatures in a home, as well as how many people can live in an apartment.

    The Ontario Fire CodeBuilding Code and Electrical Safety Code each set standards related to the construction and safety of different types of buildings.

  • What laws govern social and Rent-Geared-to-Income housing in Ontario?

    The Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) applies to most social housing in Ontario, including Rent-Geared-to-Income (RGI) housing. However, some parts of the RTA do not apply to tenants in social housing, such as the rules about rent increases, subletting or assigning a lease.

    The Housing Services Act (HSA) is the provincial legislation that governs the administration of social housing and RGI housing. It also governs community-based planning and delivery of housing and homelessness services with provincial oversight and policy direction. Service managers (who are often municipal governments) and housing providers have the power to make certain decisions under the HSA.

    The HSA also outlines certain rights related to processes for determining eligibility for RGI housing such as:

    • the notice of an adverse decision
    • the right to request a review of a decision
    • reasons that a person could be denied or have their subsidy lowered

    Finally, each service manager has written policies and procedures that govern things like determining household income, rules for filling vacancies and for record keeping. In Toronto, these policies can be found in the RGI Administration Manual.

    Some housing co-operatives and non-profit housing providers also provide rent-geared-to-income housing. Whether the HSA applies to these subsidized units is largely based on where the funding for the subsidy comes from.

  • How can I find out if I am considered a tenant under the Residential Tenancies Act?

    It is important to find out if you are considered a tenant under the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) because if you are not considered a tenant then the protection and rules of the RTA do not apply to you. Most people who pay rent to a landlord for a unit are considered a ‘tenant’ by the RTA because the definition of a tenant is very broad.

    There are, however, exceptions to this definition. The most common exceptions are if you live in:

    • a unit where you share a kitchen or a bathroom with your landlord
    • a housing co-operative
    • a long-term care home
    • accommodation that is being used seasonally or for a vacation, for example a hotel or a campground
    • a unit that you share with roommates, if you don’t have a lease directly with the owner of the unit, although this depends on the arrangement

    If the definition of a ‘tenant’ does not apply to you, or if one of the exceptions above excludes you, you may not have the rights and protections afforded under the RTA. Specifically, this means:

    • you may not be able to file an application with the Landlord and Tenant Board to enforce your rights under the RTA
    • you may not be covered by the rules that regulate rent increases
    • your landlord may not need to follow any of the eviction procedures outlined in the RTA
  • Who is considered a landlord under the Residential Tenancies Act?

    The Residential Tenancies Act’s (RTA) definition of a landlord is “the owner of a rental unit or any other person who permits occupancy of a rental unit.” The RTA also says that a landlord can be a person who acts as a representative for the owner of the rental unit, for example a family member or an employee of the landlord.

    A roommate or another tenant of the same rental unit is not considered a landlord.

    The RTA says that a landlord is not “a tenant who occupies a rental unit in a residential complex and who permits another person to also occupy the unit or any part of the unit.” In other words, if you pay your rent directly to another tenant who lives in the same unit as you – for example, a roommate – that other tenant is not considered to be your landlord under the RTA. In this scenario, you are in a different type of relationship that is not covered by the RTA. You may be in a licensee-licensor relationship, instead of a landlord and tenant relationship. If you find yourself in conflict with the person you pay rent to in this type of situation, you may want to seek legal advice or information.

  • I have applied to a rental unit and the landlord asked me questions that I think might be discriminatory. What can I do?

    Everyone in Ontario has the right to rent and live in a rental home without discrimination. For example, it is against the law for a landlord to refuse to rent to you because you have children, you are from another country, you have a mental or physical disability or because you practice a particular religion.

    The Ontario Human Rights Code does not protect you against every type of unfair treatment. Instead, it identifies different grounds upon which individuals should not face discrimination. If a person is treated unfairly but the treatment is not connected with one or more of the protected grounds, then it is not considered discrimination under the Human Rights Code.

    The sixteen grounds that are protected when accessing housing are:

    • Disability
    • Race
    • Colour
    • Ancestry
    • Place of origin
    • Citizenship
    • Ethnic origin
    • Creed (religion)
    • Receipt of public assistance (housing only)
    • Gender Identity
    • Gender Expression
    • Sex
    • Sexual orientation
    • Marital status
    • Family status
    • Age

    If you think you have experienced discrimination in housing and it is connected to one of the grounds listed above, you can file an application with the Human Rights Tribunal.

    When a complaint is filed with the Human Rights Tribunal, they will determine whether or not the Code has been violated. Applicants that file with the Human Rights Tribunal may need to attend a mediation session or a hearing and provide evidence of their complaint. If the Tribunal determines that there has been a violation of the Human Rights Code, the Tribunal may order a remedy, for example financial compensation.

    If you have faced discrimination in housing, or would like more information about filing a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal, please get in touch with us:

  • What are the rules around deposits?

    When signing a new lease, many landlords in Ontario will require a new tenant to provide a payment to cover the first month of their tenancy, as well the last month of their tenancy. This is known as a first and last month rent deposit.

    If you are renting month-to-month, the landlord will hold onto your last month rent deposit for the duration of your tenancy, and it will be applied to cover the rent for the final month that you are renting the unit. A landlord cannot charge more than one month’s rent for the rent deposit.

    A landlord can also charge a new tenant for a key deposit. This deposit cannot be more than the cost of a replacement key.

    In Ontario, landlords are only allowed to request an upfront deposit for rent and keys. It is illegal for landlords to charge a damage deposit or a pet deposit. It is also illegal for landlords to require that you provide post-dated cheques.

  • What are the rules around pets?

    If you disclose that you have a pet before a rental agreement is signed, the landlord is allowed to refuse the rental application. After a tenant enters a rental agreement, a landlord cannot evict them simply for having a pet, even if the lease has a “no-pets” clause.

    If a current tenant’s pet causes a problem – for instance making unreasonable noise, causing severe allergic reactions, presenting a danger or causing damage – then a landlord could insist that a tenant get rid of their pet.

    However, there are two exceptions:

    Certain pets may not be allowed under city by-laws, and condominiums can make rules about pets, but the rules must be applied equally to tenants and owners.

    If a pet is a support animal they must be allowed under the rules regarding reasonable accommodation, up until the point of undue hardship.

If you need help in your housing, we may be able to assist you.

The Canadian Centre for Housing Rights (CCHR) provides free, individualized services to renters in Ontario who are facing challenges in their housing.

Learn more about Ontario renters’ rights and landlord responsibilities.





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This page was produced as part of the project entitled “Implementing the Right to Housing in the Supportive Housing Sector” which receives funding from the National Housing Strategy under the NHS Demonstrations Initiative. The views expressed are the personal views of the author and CMHC accepts no responsibility for them.

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