Secure housing for renters: Canada’s obligation to protect the right to housing

March 15, 2023

Canada is experiencing an affordable housing crisis.  Rents have skyrocketed and renters are increasingly struggling to secure an adequate home that they can afford. In many instances, current provincial laws and policies have incentivized landlords to find ways to evict renters so they can charge higher rents for the next tenant. As a result, evictions are on the rise in many communities across the country.  

Renters across Canada need access to secure homes that they can live in for the long term. It is the responsibility of our decision-makers to ensure that renters have protections to stay in their homes. In doing so, the human right to housing is an important framework that decision-makers can adopt to protect tenants’ security of tenure – the ability to keep their homes and be confident that their homes are secure. In fact, under Canada’s National Housing Strategy Act (NHSA) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), Canada is obligated to respect, protect, and fulfill the right to housing. The obligation to protect the right to housing requires that our governments create laws and enforcement mechanisms to protect renters from interference with their homes. 

Specifically, eviction is only permitted under international human rights law if all the following are true: 

  • The eviction must have a legitimate objective. 
  • Eviction must be necessary to achieve the objective, and there must be no reasonable alternative.  
  • The consequences of eviction must be proportionate to the objective.

This is because international law recognizes that, like other human rights, adequate housing is fundamental to human dignity. It can only be restricted in circumstances where the restriction is justified in a free and democratic society.   

Provincial and territorial Residential Tenancies Acts partially protect renters’ right to housing.  For example: 

  • Landlords are prohibited from evicting tenants without following a legal process. 
  • Landlords can only evict tenants for specific reasons, such as rent arrears or bad behaviour. 
  • Landlords are required to meet basic maintenance standards and comply with other rules. 

However, there are large gaps in the protections afforded by residential tenancies legislation, where Canada has failed to protect the human right to housing.  To give just a few examples: 

  • Some renters, especially some of the most vulnerable who live in shared rooms or transitional housing, are denied any legal protections. 
  • Residential Tenancies Acts often allow landlords to evict tenants for their own convenience, such as to do renovations more easily. 
  • Many provinces and territories have inadequate rent regulations, so landlords can effectively evict tenants simply by raising their rent to unaffordable levels. 
  • Even where the law is intended to protect tenants, legal processes are often inaccessible or unfair, and consequences for delinquent landlords are not serious enough to deter illegal conduct. 

Because of these and other failures, Canada is falling short of its obligation under international law to protect renters’ human right to housing. 

How do we solve this issue?

To make housing security a reality in Canada, residential tenancies laws need to be updated and strengthened. To meet Canada’s obligation to protect the right to housing, we recommend that each province and territory amend its residential tenancies laws to: 

  • Limit the reasons a landlord can evict a tenant only to issues that cannot be resolved by other means. 
  • Strengthen rent regulations to protect tenants from economic evictions resulting from unexpected or excessive rent increases. 
  • Strengthen the remedies available to tenants, and the consequences for landlords, when a tenant is illegally evicted. 
  • Improve the accessibility, fairness, and expertise of residential tenancies tribunals. 
  • Conduct a full review of residential tenancies laws to identify and close other gaps in tenant protections. 

Everyone deserves to live securely in their home, whether they are a homeowner or rent their home.  A secure home is necessary for living with dignity and for individuals to fully participate in their communities and the economy.  It is our duty as a democratic society to ensure that everyone is protected from illegal, unnecessary, and unfair interference with their home.  

Learn more about Canada’s obligation to the right to housing

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