Reasonable doubt: 10 important tips for tenants

How to avoid misleading language and misunderstandings about rules that lead to landlords taking advantage of you


As a tenants’ rights lawyer, I have reviewed hundreds of leases, and heard thousands of stories about tenants being taken advantage of, unknowingly paying illegal charges, and even being unlawfully evicted.

Here are 10 important tips you should know about your rights and responsibilities as a tenant in Ontario.

1) You cannot stop paying your rent even if there are maintenance or repair problems (including rodent or insect infestations) or if your landlord is not respecting your rights as a tenant. The following resource describes how to take legal action against your landlord if these problems continue. Always pay your rent to help protect yourself from eviction.

2) The only “security” deposit your landlord can legally collect is a rent deposit, often called a “last month’s rent deposit.” Your landlord may collect this deposit when you enter into a tenancy agreement/lease. If you pay your rent by the month, the amount of the deposit cannot be more than one month’s rent. Your rent deposit can only be used as rent payment for the last rental period before you move out.  

3) Damage” and “cleaning” deposits are illegal. Landlords cannot use your rent deposit to pay for damages, cleaning, etc.

4) Your landlord and/or lease cannot require you to provide post-dated rent cheques. As well, a landlord cannot force you to pay your rent in cash.

5) Your landlord must provide a receipt any time you make a payment. You should always request a receipt for your rent deposit, when you pay any amount of rent, or when you make any other payment to your landlord.

6) Your landlord may try to collect charges and/or fees that are illegal, including “late payment” fees and charging extra rent for guests staying with you. Both of these, and many other “charges” and/or “fees” are illegal and prohibited by the Residential Tenancies Act.

7) If you signed a one-year lease, you can continue to live in your home on a month-to-month basis when your lease ends if your lease has not been renewed or terminated. Your landlord cannot make you renew or re-sign your lease and your landlord cannot change the terms of your lease without your permission.

8) As of May 30, 2017 rent control has been expanded to most private rental units in Ontario. This means that, with some exceptions, the maximum amount your landlord can increase your rent is the amount set by Ontario’s Rent Increase Guideline. Find out more here.

9) Your landlord cannot increase your rent until at least twelve months have passed since either the day your rental unit was first rented to you or since your last rent increase. This is called the “12 Month Rule.” In addition, a landlord cannot raise your rent without first giving you at least 90 days written notice.

10) Tenants can be evicted during the winter.  There’s an urban myth that a landlord cannot evict you in winter. This is untrue. 

It’s important to know that in Ontario, most but not all tenancies are regulated by the Residential Tenancies Act. There are exceptions. If, for example, you live in social housing, Co-Op housing, or you share a kitchen and/or bathroom with the owner/family member, the rules may be different for you and the above tips may not apply. 

Here are some more helpful resources.

Community Legal Education Ontario and Your Legal Rights both offer free, practical, plain-language legal information to those who face barriers accessing the justice system. Information is available in a variety of languages and formats. 

The Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario and the Tenant Duty Counsel Program offer “tip sheets” to assist tenants facing eviction. Low-income tenants can also get help from their local legal aid clinic.

The Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations runs a free Tenant Hotline (416-921-9494) with services available in more than 150 languages. Tenants can ask questions, receive information about their rights and referrals to available resources. FMTA also runs a Fairlease Project where tenants can download and share a copy of what a good lease looks like. 

Jonathan Robart is a tenants rights lawyer at Scarborough Community Legal Services. 

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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