The lowdown on virtual showings, FaceTime interviews, moving companies and tenant rights during the pandemic
Moving in Toronto is a stressful experience under regular circumstances. During a pandemic, it brings a whole new set of challenges, ranging from how you view potential places to how to haul your belongings.
Like so many situations around COVID-19, the legality of in-person viewings is complicated.
The province is “strongly advising” that landlords avoid in-person showings to adhere to safe physical distancing measures. Some are following this directive and are only giving virtual tours, and are conducting interviews over FaceTime.
But many landlords are still doing in-person viewings since, legally, they’re allowed to enter a tenant’s unit if they provide 24-hours written notice and have a valid reason. “The province has released guidelines, but there aren’t any hard and fast rules so there are a lot of fights happening between landlords and tenants on this issue,” says Geordie Dent, executive director of the Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations.
At the same time, Dent notes that landlords need to comply with the Human Rights Code and health and safety standards. For example, an immunocompromised tenant could argue that an in-person showing poses a significant health risk and file a complaint.
If you’re working with a real estate agent, they might be able to arrange a solo viewing on your behalf.
Julia Metus, a downtown agent who works with tenants and buyers, says that she’s done FaceTime tours in condo units that aren’t occupied.
“I can use my phone to show them the baseboards to see how dirty they are or if the kick plate has chips in it, which are things you don’t get with a regular walk-through,” says Metus.
If visiting the space isn’t possible, Metus suggests checking out a condo’s rules and regulations or joining the building’s Facebook group to ask specific questions to get answers beyond what a virtual tour can provide. “I’ve joined these groups for clients and asked things like ‘What is the concierge like? Do they accept packages? Do you have water issues? Is Airbnb a big problem?’” says Metus.
Of course, houses and smaller buildings don’t usually have dedicated Facebook groups. In those cases, you could check private Facebook groups like The BLT (aka Bad Landlords Toronto) where people post about units with pests or other problems.
If you’ve browsed Kijiji, Craigslist or Facebook groups for listings, you’ve probably already seen these listings. (They’re easy to spot since most come fully furnished and have impressive photography.)
If you want to move into one of these units, be sure to sign an Ontario Standard Form of Lease, which will protect you under the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA). Otherwise, your landlord could evict you once the ban is lifted to put the unit back onto Airbnb or other platforms.
“Do not, under any circumstances, allow the landlord to convince you to complete the rental transaction on the Airbnb platform or other online rental platforms,” writes the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario. “Tell the landlord you will sign a lease through email or in-person and pay for your rent via cheque, e-transfer or cash payment.”
The amount of information landlords expect prospective tenants to submit with their applications has also increased during the pandemic.
Along with the usual references, first and last month and proof of employment, some landlords are now asking renters for up to five months rent upfront. That is illegal, but with Toronto’s low vacancy rate, most people are willing to do whatever they can to secure a good space.
“The ability to enforce your rights while looking for a place are almost non-existent in today’s market,” says Dent. “There are a variety of things a landlord can’t require, like your SIN and post-dated cheques, but when the choice is between enforcing your rights and actually having a place to live, 99 times out of 100 people are going to choose a place to live.”
When it comes to actually schlepping your stuff to your new unit, you can still hire movers. Moving companies are considered an essential service in Ontario and many are operating with enhanced safety measures. El Cheapo crews now all carry disinfectant spray and hand sanitizers, while My Ninja Movers are rescheduling any appointments with customers who are feeling ill or have travelled within 14 days of their move.
Rental truck companies like U-Haul and Budget are also still operating if you’d rather do the move yourself. Although both companies have upped their cleaning procedures, to be safe, wipe down the main touch points like the steering wheel, gear shifter and door handles when you first get in.
It’s usually pretty easy to find free boxes in Toronto from places like the LCBO or grocery stores, but that’s not advisable right now. (A recent study showed that COVID-19 can survive on cardboard for up to 24 hours). Instead, buy new boxes from places like U-Haul or rent plastic containers from Frogbox, a local company that delivers and picks up the boxes after you’ve unpacked.
When you finally finish moving into your new space, give it a thorough cleaning: sweep and mop the floors, clean out the cupboards and wipe down frequently touched spots like door knobs, light switches, faucets and appliance doors with a disinfectant.
Dent also wants to remind tenants that since there’s a current moratorium on new eviction orders, tenants shouldn’t feel pressure to move even if they said they would prior to the pandemic.
“If you’re supposed to move, but you’re afraid of contagion, legally you don’t have to move right now,” says Dent. “Even if you’ve given notice to your landlord, evictions are suspended so there is no way they can kick you out right now.”
But for those people who do need to move: be safe, maintain physical distance as much as possible, avoid touching your face, eyes and nose, and use hand sanitizer frequently.
Resident Expert is a column about renting, buying and owning in the city. Send your queries to realestate (at) nowtoronto.com. NOW writers will talk to relevant experts to get the answers. Letter writers will remain anonymous. Read previous columns here.
This column is not legal advice. You should not act or rely on the information provided. To ensure your interests are protected, retain or formally seek advice from a lawyer.