For persons experiencing sexual or domestic violence and/or abuse, the greatest risk of harm occurs when the person attempts to flee the relationship. If you or someone you know is in this situation and needs to leave, changes to the Ontario Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) are designed to make that easier by shortening the time it takes to break a lease and by protecting the confidentiality of tenants fleeing violence.
Below is some important information you need to know if you or someone you know needs to break their lease because of an abusive or violent relationship.
I’m experiencing domestic violence and/or sexual abuse and need to flee my abuser. Can I break my lease?
The new changes to the RTA allow a tenant to break a monthly, fixed-term or yearly lease if they, or a child living with them, are experiencing any of the following types of violence or abuse:
- Bodily harm
- actions that cause a tenant or child to fear for safety
- forced confinement
- sexual violence or
- unwanted contact, communication, observing or recording of the tenant or child by the abuser.
More detailed legal information about the above can be found here.
The lease may be broken if the tenant or the tenant’s child has experienced or is experiencing any of the above types of violence or abuse by one of the following:
- a spouse or former spouse
- a person living with the tenant in a conjugal relationship outside marriage
- a person who the tenant is or was dating or
- a person who lives with the tenant and is related by blood, marriage or adoption to the tenant or a child who lives with the tenant.
What papers do I have to give my landlord to break my lease?
The following two forms from the Landlord and Tenant Board’s website provide all the necessary information to the landlord. Both of these forms need to be completed, signed by the tenant or their representative and given to the landlord:
The above tenant’s statement can be replaced by other court documents, such as a restraining order issued under the Family Law Act or a peace bond issued under the Criminal Code. The restraining order or peace bond must have been issued no more than 90 days before a tenant gives the notice of termination to their landlord.
The tenant’s statement does not require the tenant to identify the abuser by name or specify the type of abuse or violence they are experiencing. Tenants will not have to prove, at any hearing at the Landlord and Tenant Board, that any violence and/or abuse happened or that they fear violence and/or abuse if they continue to live in their apartment. It is, however, against the law for a tenant to give their landlord a tenant’s statement if it does not apply to the tenant’s situation.
How long do I have to wait before I can break my lease?
Tenants who give notice under the new rules may move out immediately, but they have to pay any rent that is due until the date in the notice of termination. To break a lease under the new RTA changes, the tenant needs to give their landlord the above notice and supporting papers at least 28 days before the date they want to break their lease. The termination date does not have to be the last day of a month or the end of a lease.
What about confidentiality? I don’t want my abuser, or anyone else, to know that I’m moving out.
The recent changes to the RTA help protect the confidentiality of the tenant and/or tenant’s child experiencing violence or abuse.
Landlords are forbidden (with very limited exceptions) from telling anyone that the tenant is breaking their lease if the tenant gave notice under the new RTA changes. Landlords are also forbidden (again with limited exceptions) from giving anyone a copy of the notice of termination and supporting papers. A landlord can tell the superintendent and/or office manager that a tenant is breaking their lease if the superintendent and/or office manager needs to know this information to perform their job. The above confidentiality rules apply to superintendents and/or office managers.
In addition, landlords are restricted from identifying the apartment address when advertising to fill the vacancy until the tenant that is breaking the lease has moved out. Landlords are not allowed to show the apartment to prospective tenants until after the tenant experiencing violence or abuse has moved out.
I live with my abuser and we are both on the lease. Can I still break the lease?
The RTA changes ensure that the tenant can terminate their portion of the lease without having to tell their abuser or any other co-tenants. Landlords are not allowed to tell a co-tenant (including the abuser) that a notice of termination has been given until after the termination date and after the tenant experiencing violence and/or abuse has moved out.
Note that the tenant who breaks their portion of the lease forfeits their portion of the last month’s rent deposit. As well, all remaining co-tenants can keep their lease or have the option to terminate their interest.
The new changes to the RTA are an important step in the right direction. However, sexual and domestic violence and abuse lead to long-term financial, social, economic and health consequences for survivors and their children. Persons fleeing violence or abuse are at risk of homelessness and need much more than the ability to break a lease to help ensure their safety. Access to emergency and affordable housing and financial resources to pay for new housing are crucial. Please consider contacting your city councillor, member of provincial parliament, and member of parliament and advocate for more shelter space, increased funding for emergency services for survivors of domestic violence, and public educational initiatives.
Resources for people experiencing sexual or domestic violence and/or abuse:
Find a comprehensive list of resources for support and information here.
Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic: offers legal representation, professional counselling and multilingual interpretation to women who have experienced abuse.
Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children (METRAC): Legal information and education for vulnerable women and community service providers.
24 hour hotline resources:
- Assaulted Women’s Hotline (available 24 hours):
- GTA: 416.863.0511
- Toll Free 1.866.863.0511
- TTY: 416.364.8762
- Toll Free TTY: 1.866.863.7868
- Mobile: #SAFE (#7233)
- Multilingual hotline for male survivors of domestic abuse (available 24 hours): Toll free 1.866.887.0015
- Emergency shelter intake: for information on numerous shelters in Toronto with direct admission. For 24 hour intake hotline, call: 311 or 416-338-4766 or toll-free 1-877-338-3398.
- Shelter Safe (Ontario): An online resource for women and their children seeking safety and shelter from violence and abuse.
- Nellie’s Women’s Shelter: Nellie’s runs a shelter, housing, outreach and other programs for women and children experiencing homelessness.
Care and treatment resources:
Ontario Network of Sexual Assault / Domestic Violence Care and Treatment Centres: a network of Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Care Centres providing access to medical and legal services for all survivors, men and women, of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Jonathan Robart is a tenant’s rights lawyer at Scarborough Community Legal Services. Twitter: @jonathanrobart. Reasonable Doubt appears on Mondays.
A word of caution: You should not act or rely on the information provided in this column. It is not legal advice. To ensure your interests are protected, retain or formally seek advice from a lawyer.
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