Toolkit for Housing Service Providers: Housing Laws and Rights in Ontario

February 7, 2022

This toolkit provides key information that housing service providers must know about Ontario rental housing laws, rules and responsibilities, and how to apply them in order to uphold the right to housing in their work.

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Knowing the law

  • Laws that govern rental housing in Ontario

    As a housing service provider, it is important that you know the rules that govern your relationship to the tenants with whom you work. Some laws you should be aware of are:

    • The Residential Tenancies Act, which governs most tenancies.
    • The Housing Services Act, which adds rules and regulations for subsidized tenancies.
    • The Co-operative Corporations Act, which governs co-operative housing.
    • The Long-Term Care Homes Act, which governs housing in long-term care homes.
    • The Retirement Homes Act, which adds rules and regulations for tenancies in retirement homes.
    • The Human Rights Code, which protects everyone from discrimination and unfair treatment.

    The Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) is a comprehensive law governing most landlord and tenant relationships. It lays out the rights and responsibilities for tenants and landlords, 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 RTA and offences under the RTA.

    Finally, the RTA defines the role and functions of the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) as the exclusive body responsible to determine how the RTA must be applied. Both tenants and landlords can file an application with the LTB for tenancy disputes.

    The Housing Services Act (HSA) provides rules about subsidies for people who live in subsidized housing. In most types of subsidized housing, tenants 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. These individuals are not considered tenants under the RTA, but they still benefit from some of its protections.

    The Long-Term Care Homes Act provides rules and regulations for people who live in long-term care homes. These individuals are not protected under the RTA.

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

    The 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 protected grounds upon which individuals should not face discrimination. If a person is treated badly or 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 even though the person may be significantly impacted.

    The sixteen grounds that are protected when accessing and maintaining 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
  • Laws that govern social and Rent-Geared-to-Income housing

    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 and the rules about subletting or assigning a lease.

    The Housing Services Act (HSA) is the provincial legislation that covers the administration of social housing and RGI housing, and it also covers 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 authority to make certain decisions under the HSA.

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

    • Notice of an adverse decision.
    • The right to request a review of a decision.
    • Reasons that a person could be denied a subsidy or have their subsidy amount 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.

Understanding landlords’ human rights responsibilities

  • Accommodating tenants’ disabilities

    Accommodating a tenant means that structures, rules, and policies may have to be changed to ensure that people who are members of protected groups under the Code are able to fully enjoy equality and dignity in the exercise of their rights and responsibilities.

    Both landlords and tenants have duties and responsibilities during the accommodation process.

    In order to meet their responsibilities, landlords must:

    • Accept requests for accommodation in good faith.
    • Take an active role in searching for accommodation solutions.
    • Maintain confidentiality about tenant’s needs.
    • Grant accommodation requests in a timely manner.
    • Pay for any required medical documentation or information that they request from the tenant.
    • Bear the cost of accommodation up to the point of “undue hardship” (see details below).

    A tenant requesting accommodation also has obligations. They must:

    • Advise the landlord of their disability and accommodation needs in writing.
    • Provide information regarding relevant restrictions and limitations, including medical documentation.
    • Participate in discussions regarding possible accommodation solutions and work with the landlord on an ongoing basis to manage the process.

    Landlords may request medical documentation, but tenants are not required to disclose specific medical diagnoses. If requested, medical documentation must disclose enough information for the landlord to understand the tenant’s limitations and need for accommodation. Documentation should be treated carefully by the landlord, as it is personal information and should not be shared.

  • Understanding “undue hardship”

    Landlords have a duty to accommodate a tenant’s disabilities up to the point of “undue hardship”. This means that a landlord is only discharged of their duty to accommodate if they can demonstrate that:

    • The costs for making an accommodation would be so high that it would affect the very survival or change the essential nature of the landlord’s business.
    • No outside sources of funding are available to assist with paying for the accommodation.
    • Significant health and safety risks are likely to arise while making the accommodation, and these risks would outweigh any benefit of making the accommodation itself.

    Only these three circumstances can be assessed by a court or tribunal to determine whether an accommodation process would cause undue hardship. If a court or tribunal determines that undue hardship would be caused, a landlord is not required to make the requested accommodation. If undue hardship is not found to be a concern, the landlord is required to make the accommodation.

    It is not up to the person in need of accommodation to prove that the accommodation can be accomplished without undue hardship. The responsibility is on the landlord to demonstrate undue hardship.

    Finally, evidence of undue hardship must be objective and real (i.e. financial statements and budgets). Landlords may have to hire qualified experts and consultants to collect and present this evidence. Speculation is not persuasive evidence of undue hardship.

    If a landlord does not accommodate a tenant’s disability, the tenant has the right to bring an application to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.

Following rental housing rules

  • Repairs and maintenance

    A landlord is responsible to repair and maintain the rental unit. This includes items that came with the unit, such as appliances, as well as common areas, such as parking lots and hallways.

    The Residential Tenancies Act says that “A landlord is responsible for providing and maintaining a residential complex, including the rental units in it, in a good state of repair and fit for habitation and for complying with health, safety, housing and maintenance standards.”

    This obligation does not change even if the tenant has agreed to accept a unit “as is,” or was aware of a problem when they moved in, or even if the lease says something else about repairs and maintenance. The landlord is always responsible for repairs.

    In most parts of the province, property standards are in place that landlords must follow. These can vary depending on where the property is located, but could include rules around garbage, heat, pest management, exits and the number of people who can live in a unit. In locations where no local property standards by-law exists, the provincial Regulation 517/06: Maintenance Standards applies.

  • Pest control and management

    Pest control is a normal part of maintenance that all landlords must carry out, and the interior and exterior of all properties must be kept clear of pests.

    In Toronto, large apartment buildings have higher standards for pest control. In those buildings, once a landlord becomes aware of pests, they must:

    • Eliminate pests and prevent their spread into other areas of the property.
    • Inspect the common areas of the property at least once every 30 days.
    • Inspect any area where the presence of pests has been reported, within 72 hours of receiving that information.
    • Keep pest management records and post them on tenant notification boards.
    • Not rent any unit with pests to new tenants.

    Further, Toronto landlords of apartment buildings with three or more storeys and ten or more units must post pest management plans including documentation of pest control services, a schedule, service standards, and product information related to pest control activity.

    Tenants must allow their landlord or a pest control company to do their job so that pest control treatment can be done. For instance, this might include the tenant preparing their unit for treatment by moving furniture away from the wall or allowing a pest control company to enter their unit. If a tenant needs help to prepare their unit, they should tell their landlord. If they need help because of a disability, the landlord must accommodate them.

  • Heating and air conditioning

    Requirements around the exact temperature and dates that units should be heated vary across Ontario and also depend on the type of housing. The standard temperature is around 20 degrees. In Toronto, rental units must be kept at a minimum of 21 degrees from September 15 – June 1. This rule does not apply to common areas.

    If air conditioning is provided by the landlord and the air conditioning unit breaks, the landlord must repair it at their own cost because the air conditioner is considered to be part of the rental unit.

    The rules around maintaining an air conditioner are much more complicated if the air conditioner is not provided by the landlord, but the tenant wants it. The first step is to look at the lease. If the lease does not mention an air conditioner, the tenant is allowed to have one. The landlord could require that the air conditioner be safely installed, for instance by a professional. If the lease says that the tenant needs permission to have air conditioning, the tenant is required to get permission from the landlord before installing an air conditioner.

    Whether or not a landlord can charge a fee for air conditioning depends on who pays for electricity. If the tenant pays for electricity, the landlord cannot charge a fee for air conditioning. If the landlord provides electricity in the lease, the landlord can charge the tenant a fee for air conditioning. The amount charged cannot be more than the actual cost to the landlord and it must be “reasonable.”

    Sometimes air conditioning is necessary as an accommodation for a tenant’s disability. For instance, a tenant’s asthma could be exacerbated by heat and an air conditioner could be an appropriate accommodation. In that case, the landlord may have to pay for the cost of the air conditioner, the electricity, or both.

  • Entering a tenant’s unit

    To enter a unit in order to carry out renovations or maintenance, a landlord must provide the tenant with written notice, which must be delivered 24 hours in advance and include:

    • The time they plan to enter (which must be between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m.). The time of entry must be reasonable, which depends on the circumstances.
    • The reason why they are entering.

    A landlord may enter a tenant’s rental unit without notice:

    • In cases of emergency;
    • With the tenant’s consent; or
    • If both landlord and tenant agree that the tenancy will be terminated, or a notice to end the tenancy has been given, then the landlord may show the unit to prospective tenants from 8:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. In these circumstances, landlords must make reasonable efforts to provide advance notice.

    A landlord’s agent, superintendent or person hired by the landlord may also enter on the landlord’s behalf.

  • Pets

    If a prospective tenant discloses that they have a pet before a rental agreement is signed, a landlord is allowed to refuse their 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.
  • Guests

    Tenants have the right to decide who comes into their home and a landlord cannot control who visits a tenant. A landlord cannot raise the rent or charge a fee because a tenant has guests. When a tenant has guests, they are responsible for the actions of their guests. If a guest causes property damage, for instance, the tenant who invited them to the property could be responsible for that damage.

    The issue of guests becomes more complicated in RGI housing because rent is based on the income of tenants who live in the unit. In RGI housing all tenants must be provided with a copy of the housing provider’s guest policy. A guest policy that does not allow any guests is not legal.

Implementing the right to housing

  • A few ways housing service providers can implement the right to housing

    As a housing worker, you have the power to implement the right to housing through the decisions you make, and you can also encourage your organization to implement right to housing principles as well. All of us, regardless of our relationship to power, can take steps to acknowledge and strive for a fully realized right to housing in Canada.

    As a housing worker, consider how decisions you make affect your clients or residents. Are you able to use your discretion to enable a more flexible and human rights approach to your clients? Can your organization create and implement housing that ensures a right to housing approach and prioritizes those most vulnerable?

    Some examples of this approach in action include:

    • Providing mechanisms for tenants to challenge practices they feel are unfair.
    • Enabling participation in decision making by impacted communities, including tenants.
    • Building policies and practices that align with and promote tenants’ right to housing.

    Where you have the power to do so, use resources to act with urgency to fulfill the right to housing. Finally, we can all advocate to government and those in power to fully realize this important right.

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