The DLS Housing Law Division has just completed four years of litigation to win back thousands of dollars that were illegally collected from three University of Toronto international students and then kept by their landlord, who still has not paid them back. If you’re a student renter, read on to avoid having this happen to you!
In late summer 2014, three international students answered a rental ad that a local landlord had placed on the University of Toronto Housing Services’ off-campus housing website. When the students visited the home (in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood, and divided into several apartments) to sign a lease, the landlord instead presented them with a “Booking Agreement” for a nine-month term of occupancy, requiring that the tenants
pay their rent make their ‘payments’ in a front-loaded instalment schedule. The document also claimed that the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006 (“RTA”) did not apply, that the landlord was an “innkeeper”, and that the students were each required to do chores for several hours per week as part of their agreement.
By December 2014, the students were complaining about a pest infestation, lack of heat, and daily harassment by their landlord. She had collected most of their rent for the entire term, so she told them to get out. They did move at the end of December, but she kept all of their money. The students visited DLS the next semester, and we filed their Landlord and Tenant Board (“LTB”) applications that summer.
The landlord managed to drag the case out for the next four years by:
- attending hearing dates and asking for an adjournment to hire a lawyer, claiming she did not understand what the case was about
- delaying the scheduling of hearings by going on trips overseas for several months at a time
- ending hearings early by scheduling her transportation from the LTB in mid-afternoon
- initially convincing an LTB member that her home was a “bed and breakfast” and that the international students didn’t deserve the protection of the RTA because their “real” home was in another country
- firing her lawyer after the tenants had the first LTB decision reversed
- hiring a new lawyer who attempted to appeal to Divisional Court in the middle of the hearing
The LTB, overwhelmed by staffing shortages, often took several months after a hearing date to even try to schedule the next one. From the final hearing, the LTB took eight months to issue its decision.
The final LTB order provides that:
- since the RTA applied to this tenancy, it was illegal for the landlord to collect a damage deposit and irregular front-loaded “instalment” payments instead of a regular monthly rent (where the deposit must be no greater than one month’s rent)
- since the landlord ended the tenancy early in December 2014, she should have returned all of the money attributable to January-May 2015
- since the landlord harassed the tenants and interfered with their reasonable enjoyment of the rented unit, she was ordered to refund an additional 10% of their rent
The landlord has decided not to appeal. As of the date of this post, she also has not yet paid a cent of the $7000+ that she owes.
Lessons for renters
- As a renter, you should be familiar with your basic legal rights under the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006 – a law that protects tenants in Ontario. Visit yourlegalrights.ca for easy-to-read explanations of rent control, security of tenure, and other tenant rights.
- Just because your landlord says you are not covered by the RTA, does not make it true. The RTA applies to most rental situations, and there are very narrow exceptions. Signing an agreement (saying the RTA does not apply) does not matter. You cannot “contract out” of the RTA.
- If the RTA applies to your rental situation, you cannot be required to pay more than one month’s deposit (which is your last month’s rent) in advance. Beware of landlords who request three, five, or even twelve months of rent up front. A tight rental market will lead you to difficult choices. But the more money you put in your landlord’s pocket, the more you’re risking that they will keep that money in a situation where they are required to refund it.
- You have one year from the date that your landlord did anything illegal to file an application to the LTB. This deadline comes sooner than you think, so get legal advice soon if you think you might need it.
- The legal process is frustrating. Traditionally, the LTB is an efficient tribunal for evictions and landlord applications, which make up about 90% of the cases that the LTB hears. But tenant’s applications can often take years to finish, in part because an LTB member may look at what you are seeking and say “it’s just money”.
- Because you may need to give evidence to the LTB years down the road – after memories have faded – keep good documentation of your tenancy issues. If you think your landlord is harassing you, communicate with them in writing (including by email or text message) and save backup copies of that correspondence. If you notice any maintenance problems, take lots of photos and keep them organized by date and subject. If you feel that your apartment has inadequate heat, buy a thermometer, hold it in the centre of the room, and take a clear photo of the thermometer.
Special thanks to the four generations of our now-alumni who worked tirelessly on this case, the law students continuing collections efforts, UofT Housing Services for agreeing to de-list the landlord in question, and our clients who gave us permission to share this story.