Ontarians fed up with battling their landlord over contentious terms they didn't realize were hidden in the fine print of their lease will soon be getting some reprieve.
On April 30, it will become mandatory for most residential landlords to use a 13-page standardized lease agreement, recently unveiled by the provincial government in hopes of protecting tenants from being tricked by lengthy agreements rife with illegal clauses and language that is hard to understand and often winds up in litigation.
Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario lawyer Dania Majid breaks down the basics of the new lease and what renters should be aware of:
WHY HAS THE PROVINCE INTRODUCED A NEW STANDARDIZED AGREEMENT?
Before the new agreement, a lease would look drastically different from one landlord to another. There was a huge range of what was included and excluded. Even with corporate or professional landlords, their leases contained several illegal clauses that tenants were signing in these long, legalese-type documents. The hope was that by creating a standard form lease that excluded all of these illegal clauses and harmonized what a big landlord and a small landlord would put in front of a tenant, it would be simpler, clearer to read, easier to understand, and both parties would know what the rent was and what was being offered or included in that rent.
Right now most major cities, including Toronto, have low vacancy rates, extremely high rent and an affordable housing crisis. The agreement is trying to level a very unbalanced playing field for tenants and landlords, and close a gap in negotiating power between the two parties.
WHAT SHOULD I LOOK OUT FOR IF I'M A TENANT SIGNING THE NEW LEASE?
There is a section at the end of the new lease that allows a landlord to attach a document with additional terms not already in the lease. The standard form lease is comprehensive enough, so a landlord should not need to add any terms. But what we might see creep in -- which is what we were trying to get rid of -- is things like regulating guests and how many you can have and how long they can stay, and clauses around maintenance like requiring a tenant to do work around the premise like mowing the lawn, shovelling the driveway and undertaking minor repairs inside the unit.
Other things that could slip in there are issues around privacy and when the landlord can have access to the unit, penalty fees, additional processing fees or application fees. A tenant shouldn't be paying damage deposits, more than one month's rent in advance, interest on arrears or penalties on missed rental payments, and they shouldn't be expected to waive their liability or their landlord's liability for maintenance and repair issues.
WHAT ENHANCED RIGHTS DO TENANTS HAVE WITH THE LEASE?
There is a provision that if a tenant requests a copy of their lease and doesn't get it within 21 days, they can withhold one month's rent. If the landlord doesn't produce it after that month, the tenant wouldn't be required to repay it. It is a small enforcement method built into the agreement to ensure tenants get a copy of their leases and know what they sign. If they never get a copy of their lease, they get 60 days' notice to terminate the tenancy early.
WHAT KINDS OF PROPERTIES DOES THE LEASE APPLY TO?
This will apply to residential tenant properties, but not care homes, mobile home parks, land lease communities and most social housing. There might be some exclusions under co-operative housing as well.
IF I HAVE A LEASE SIGNED BEFORE APRIL 30, DO I NEED TO SIGN A NEW ONE?
All old leases remain valid. The only thing that remains to be void is any illegal clause that might have been contained in them.
WHERE CAN I RECEIVE MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE NEW LEASE?
Visit ACTO.ca's tenant resources page. If you're in Toronto, the Federation of Metro Tenants' Associations has a hotline for questions, and if you are low income, you can contact your community legal clinic.
The interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.