Navigating the Complexities of Landlord and Tenant Law in the Times of Pandemic

Introduction

The Province of Ontario called a state of emergency on March 16, 2020.  A staged lock-down of the Province’s normal activities of business was called to contain the COVID-19 virus.  Among other tribunals, the Landlord and Tenant Board closed its doors to many of its services.  However, the Board still conducts telephone hearings and accepts new Applications.

The enforcement of evictions through the Sheriff is suspended.  The activities of the Board appear to be ground to a halt.

How This Impacts Landlords

As soon as the pandemic began and our economy began to shut down, many tenants across Ontario lost their jobs.  It was evident that many would be unable to pay their rent in April 2020.  A tenant movement across the province encouraged people to “keep their rent”, while our economy shut down.   Many small landlords have called our office for help.

What is Available During the Board’s Shutdown?

Just because the Board is shut down, it does not mean that rent is no longer owed and payable.  If you have a Tenant who stops paying rent at any time, before or after April 1, 2020, you can issue an N4.  In fact, we recommend that Landlords continue to issue Notices as required when Tenants test their limits.  At the same time, if non-payments only began after the pandemic, it might be a good idea to invite your Tenant to discuss the rent with you.

This is a time that you may wish to give your Tenant a break by either deferring all or part of the rent and allowing them to make it up later.  If you choose to do this, ask the Tenant how they have been impacted by the virus and make a temporary agreement.  We recommend that any agreement made be reduced to writing.  The reason for this is to avoid any misunderstandings when the pandemic lifts.

What if My Tenant Refuses to Cooperate or is Causing Problems?

If an Agreement is made and your Tenant continues to fail to pay, you can still file an L1 Application.  Even without Hearings scheduled, this protects your place in line for when the Board re-opens.  Sooner or later, a date will be set.  This also will show your Tenant that you are serious about collecting the monies owed.

If your Tenant is interfering with somebody’s rights or creating safety issues, you need to document this conduct.  It is very important to gather information about dates, times, witnesses and how the Tenant or Tenants interfered.  Notices on issues outside of rent arrears can be complex.  This is where you might wish to consult with us to assist you in drafting these Notices to ensure they are clear and effective.

What Happens if There is a Safety or Legal Issue at the Rental Unit?

Many Landlords fear that Tenants might see a suspension on evictions as an invitation to test their limits.  In some cases, Tenants conduct themselves in a way as to bring harm or safety issues to others in residential complex or the Landlord.  Others may persist or escalate their conduct to such an extent that Police get involved and others are put into a vulnerable position.

Fortunately, the Board has a process where either a new or an existing Application can be processed for an Urgent Hearing.  The Board created forms that can be used in these exceptional circumstances, particularly when an eviction can’t wait.  Ask your legal representatives at Browne & Associates Legal Services if your case might fit.

Is There Anything I Can Do Until the Pandemic is Over?

Notices can be issued and served.  Applications can be filed under any category.  Mediation in certain cases can be arranged by telephone between the Parties and a Hearings Officer at the Board.  Our office can assist you in all of these issues.

Please note that in person client meetings are limited at this point, but our office is equipped to meet by phone, email or even video in some cases to assist clients in getting their questions answered and work done.  Feel free to call us or send an email to us to see if we can help you with your matter.

How We Are Responding to the COVID-19 Crisis

COVID-19 F A Q

1.  What protective measures is Browne & Associates Legal Services taking during the COVID-19 Pandemic?

We are concerned about our clients, suppliers and those in our office by ensuring that we minimize any dangers during the Corona Virus (COVID-19) pandemic.  By keeping our offices clean, wiping down all meeting areas with disinfectant before and between any project will ensure all staff and associates work in a clean environment.   Only one or two associates will be in the office at any time to emphasize social distancing.

Each one of us is minimizing our own exposure and potential exposure to COVID-19.  If any one of us is feeling sick, we will work from home using telephone, Internet or video technology to communicate.  We will self-isolate if we become exposed to somebody else who is sick.  We are also avoiding any conferences, large gatherings of people or other public events where there is a potential for spread.

2.  Are our offices open to client visits?

We are open for regular hours for our clients to contact us by phone or video conference.   We have discontinued in person client visits when the province called the state of emergency on March 16, 2020.

However, we are encouraging our clients to contact us  to discuss any issue.  If you wish to retain us, we can provide services through e-mail, telephone and video.  This is the reality until the COVID-19 is finally under control.

We will try to keep up to date as much as we can.  However, keep in mind that many Court or Tribunal Hearings are being postponed or being converted to teleconference or video hearing.

3.  What if I have an upcoming Court or Tribunal Hearing?

Many of these hearings are being postponed, adjourned or in specific cases, heard over the telephone, particularly for Tribunals.  The Small Claims Courts have been closed until further notice, although filings are still accepted.  If you have a hearing coming up, we will notify you as to its status.

Our latest word from Small Claims Court is that on June 2, 2020, matters set for March 2020 will be re-scheduled or spoken to; June 3, 2020, matters scheduled for April 2020 will be re-scheduled; and June 4, 2020, matters scheduled for May 2o20 will be spoken to or rescheduled.

4.  What if I want to start a new case or a case is being filed against me?

To the best of our knowledge, we will still be able to file documents and issue them as usual.  Paralegals have formed a province-wide network of peers that will assist one another in getting documents filed, issued and served, until things return to normal.

If you are being sued or received a Plaintiff’s Claim, you can contact us and we can help you file a Defence and represent you throughout the process.

Please let us know if we can be of any other assistance to you during these difficult times.

 

Pros and Cons of Becoming a Landlord in Ontario

Landlording as a Business

Many prospective investors have asked me if it was worth their while becoming a Landlord.  They read the horror stories in the newspapers about tenants that overstay their ‘visit’ for months at a time.  These tenants squat while their landlords continue to pay the bills.  They read about tenants that have left their newly renovated properties in such a wreck that one wonders how they can find good tenants that would care for their property as they have done.

Prospective landlords also want to know how much to ask for in rent, as they do not want to overcharge or lose money.  Asking for too little over the long term might seem worth it to attract tenants, but over time expenses might absorb most or all of it.  Asking too much might not attract many tenants, or it might put one at risk of tenants falling behind in payments.  Striking that fine balance is a business decision all landlords have to make.  It is important to know that most tenants are decent people who will treat your property with care and pay their rent on time.

It is often only the ‘bad apples’ that we hear about when the media puts a spotlight on this issue.   Outside of credit checks and direct references, there are many ways a landlord can protect themselves, at least at the first level from nightmare tenants.

Red Flags

There are a number of red flags prospective landlords should look for when selecting tenants.   A ‘red flag’ is a sign that something is not as it should be, meaning perhaps this prospective tenant might not be your best choice.  Some of the ‘red flags’ are:

  • A prospective tenant approaches you in the middle of the month and tries to hand over a large amount of cash.  Quite often, this is a sign that somebody else evicted them using the shortcut of paying them off to move from their former premises.
  • The tenant claims to be ‘self-employed’, but does not appear to have visible signs of income or business ownership.  Even home-based businesses usually have an outgoing message on their phone introducing themselves.  If you contact them and they do not state their business name, you should wonder.  Also, ask for a business card.
  • References provided appear to be too enthusiastic in recommending the tenant.  Do they just want to get rid of them?
  • An employer reference’s telephone number is ‘out of service’.
  • Your prospective tenant claims to have ‘handyman skills’ that they are willing to help you with in your rental properties.  While it is tempting to have a built-in handy person, many times their ‘work’ becomes subject of a dispute.

How to Protect Yourself

As a prospective landlord, you need to take steps with every applicant to ensure you are not going to get duped.  First, it might be helpful to ask for a copy of your prospect’s photo identification.  This is not only to ensure that the person in front of you is who they claim to be, but the address on the identification should be noted.  If your prospect has not provided you with a reference for that address, you can check the tax register at city hall.  This can get the name and contact information for the landlord for that address.

Google your prospective tenant’s name, as well as check any Facebook or Instagram accounts.  See if your prospective tenant is saying things online that might concern you, particularly if they might have referred to an employer or former landlord in negative terms.  Compare any employment or educational information with what they provide you.

Take note of any license plates, as well as makes and models of any vehicles your prospective tenant might have drove in to come see you.  This information would be useful in the event you need to find them after they trash your place in the future or make a midnight move.

Get a credit check from strong prospects.  If your prospective tenant does not wish to complete the credit/application process, you do not have to offer them the rental unit.

Ensure Legal Advice is Available

The life of a landlord can take many twists and turns.  However, you need to remember that first off, being a landlord is a business.  That means you have to treat your landlording services as you would in any other business.  Disputes do arise from time to time and when this happens, you want to ensure you have access to the best legal advice you can get.

Browne & Associates Legal Services Professional Corporation provides legal services to landlords to help them protect their investment and enjoy their properties.  If you have any questions, do not hesitate to give us a call.

TENANTS – A NEW EVICTION TRICK BY SOME LANDLORDS

Landlord and Tenant Disputes

Our office receives calls from Tenants who are bewildered after getting an eviction notice when they never got a Hearing at the Landlord and Tenant Board.  They ask me if it is legal to do this.  My answer to this as always, is “it depends”.

I will often ask the Tenant if anything had taken place between them and the Landlord recently.  Was there a Board appearance, a mediation, or did they sign an agreement to terminate (N11)?  We have been told by Tenants that their Landlords put them to duress to sign a form to say they will move by a particular date.  Many Tenants are not aware of what these Forms are.  When I ask them if they signed any forms, they often say, “Yes, I did.  Did I do something wrong?”.

No.  As a Tenant, you did nothing wrong.   You probably did not know what you were signing.  Many Tenants have not planned to move from their rental units before their Landlords came in to get them to sign.  One concern is if the Tenant does not in fact leave by the date set in the form, they can be evicted.  There will be no Hearing.  There will be no opportunity to present their side of the story to the Board.

What is an N11?  Do I have to sign one if my Landlord asks?

An N11 Form is an Agreement to Terminate a Tenancy.  This Form is useful with the new Standard Lease that is in place, especially when something unexpected happens.  A new job in a different City.  An acceptance to a university in a different province.  A Tenant gets married and wants to move in with their new spouse.  This Form is intended to give Tenants and Landlords an option to “break” a lease and allow the Tenant to move on.

Landlords are not supposed to use these Forms to address “buyer’s remorse” over a Tenant they rent to.  Many Landlords might want to jack up the rent.  They may want to move a friend or other family member in.  Or they may simply want a way around creating vacant possession in order to sell their home.

As a Tenant, you do not have to sign ANYTHING your landlord gives you.  If you are on a fixed term lease, you do not have to move.  Your Landlord cannot accuse you of anything solely on the basis that you did not sign the N11. You cannot get evicted because of this.

Why is this Becoming an Issue?

Under the previous government’s Rental Fairness Act, S.O. 2017, it is more difficult for Landlords to use old tricks to get tenants to leave.  If a Landlord wants to move themselves or family into the unit, they have to actually move into the unit and to stay at least a year.  They must also pay the vacating Tenant a month’s rent in compensation.  Prior to these changes, Landlords can just serve an N12, wait until the Tenant leaves and then simply double or triple the rent.

Similarly, Landlords have done “renovictions”, which include serving an N13, with 120 days’ notice.  Once the Tenant leaves, a fresh coat of paint is added and then the Landlord jacks the rent up.  Both of these tricks still take place, but Landlords know tenants are becoming wise to them.  Today, an N13 must be work that involves a city permit and to a larger extent, cannot be completed while a Tenant is residing in the unit.  There are rights to compensation and to reclaim the refurbished unit (at the same rent) after completion in many cases.

How Can I Protect My Tenancy?

Many Tenants live in low cost rental units that were obtained quite some time back when rents were cheaper and housing easier to find.  As long as you remain a Tenant in your current unit, with some exceptions, your rent cannot be raised above the annual guidelines.  The Rental Fairness Act, S. O. 2017 also extended rent controls to tenanted units that were built or used for residential tenancies to the present day.  Prior to this change, any rental unit built or used as a rental unit for the first time after 1991, was not subject to rent control.

Our new government has turned some of that around in November 2018.  Any new rental units built or used as rental units after November 2018 will not be rent controlled.  If you are in a rent-controlled unit, stay where you are.  If you recently moved into a rental unit, you must have a Standard Lease and your tenancy is protected for the term of the lease.

Finally, if your Landlord suddenly asks you to sign something … anything … do NOT sign it.  If you are unsure of what it is, take the document to a legal professional to advise you about your options.  If you already signed something or received an eviction notice in the mail, it is even more important for you to contact our office to help you fight to continue your tenancy.

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