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The 165 Ontario Story

Tenant Strategy

Last Update: 2023-10-17

Times are changing. Today's world is becoming less and less "consumer friendly" as prices rise and availability falters. Most major companies are now driven entirely by profit --that is: by greed-- and most will put far more effort into pleasing their investors than their clients.

We can see this new economy at work in Ontario's rental housing market. Today's building owner is not really a landlord in the traditional sense. With the growth of Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) most landlords have moved away from long term investments and now focus on the quick buck from the stock market. Setting aside social and moral concerns, many now feel entitled to take money from their tenants so they can give better returns to their shareholders.

With these shifts in the rental marketplace, tenants and landlords now find themselves naturally at odds. While the owner is all about profit, the tenant is concerned with the affordability and stability of their home.

Make no mistake here: An apartment is as much a home as the castle on the hill. Tenants have their entire lives in their rental units, just as surely as they would in that castle. Most can no more pick up and leave than the lord of the castle. Thus, a rental home is as worthy of care and defence as any castle.

So here are my top 10 tips for rental tenants in Ontario...

#1 - Know your rights

In Ontario a tenant's rights are protected both by the Residential Tenancies Act and the Ontario Human Rights Code. You should be familiar with your rights and obligations under both laws and, most importantly, you should be prepared to defend those rights, using Ontario's Tribunals if necessary. The alternative is a slow creep in which you end up giving away all but the most basic rights and sometimes even they are threatened.

#2 - Don't be timid

I repeatedly see tenants who put up with maintenance problems, bad living conditions, even broken stoves and refrigerators, simply because they are timid about asking for repairs. In fact, this is one of the bigger reasons apartment buildings become "run down" over time. Tenants aren't reporting issues and the landlord is actually unaware of the problems inside each unit.

Another example is the tenant who accepts new landlord policies, no matter how ridiculous, rather than speaking out against them. Silence is not in your best interest -or that of other tenants- and unless you are willing to stand up and speak out, whatever situation you are in will only get worse.

#3 - Organize with other tenants

When you move into a building, you need to immediately connect with the local tenant's association.
If there isn't one: start one.

It is true that a lot of what goes on in these groups is somewhat unhelpful. But when there is a real issue such as an Above Guideline Increase, Renovictions, withholding services, etc. it will be the strength in numbers that makes all the rest worthwhile. Making yourself heard, with the other tenants backing you, is always better than being the only person to tackle the problem.

#4 - Tenants have tenure

Your landlord may own the building or complex, but as part of the rental contract he has agreed to give you control over your unit. It is thus not a simple matter to evict you or change the terms of your rental. This gives you "tenure" in the building or complex and puts you on an equal legal footing with your landlord in any serious disputes. When there is a need to defend this tenure, you should do exactly that: stand your ground as an equal.

One example of this is the number of tenants who will not organize because they fear eviction. Your tenure protects you. You have control over your unit and your life and it is actually illegal for a landlord to interfere with the legal activities of tenants, individually or as a group.
(See the Residential Tenancies Act, Parts 22, 23 and 233)

#5 - Be ready to drop anchor

Ontario's Rent Increase Guidelines for occupied units will protect you from the constant uphill creep of rent for vacant apartments. Your best bet is to capitalize on this by finding a rent controlled place you like and simply staying put. The limit on rent increases will protect you from large or random spikes in your rent. Over time your rent, while still slowly increasing, will fall further and further below the current "free market" pricing for similar units.

Moving every couple of years does little more than keep you at the top of the rent scale.

#6 - Learn to handle renoviction

"Renoviction", Eviction For Renovations, is one area where you need to exercise your tenure by immediately declaring your "right of first refusal" in writing. While you may need to relocate temporarily, during renovations, this gives you the right to move back into your original unit, usually at your original rent. When handled correctly you should also receive compensation for moving expenses.
(See the Residential Tenancies Act Parts 50 Through 55)

#7 - Never move into renovations

Too many tenants have fallen into this trap.

Towards the end of renovations, landlords will put on a big rental push to fill the building again and often they will use the "newly renovated" and "brand new appliances" hook to get your attention. However; most major renovations are followed by Above Guideline Increase (AGI) applications. If you live in the building 90 days before the renovations are completed, you can -and probably will- be named on the application. You could easily end up paying free market rent plus the provincial guideline increase plus the AGI by the end of your first year.
(See the Residential Tenancies Act Part 126 with special attention to part 126(14))

#8 - Avoid bidding wars

You will only end up driving up your own rent.

Simple question: How do you know there actually are other tenants bidding against you?
Simple answer: You don't.

#9 - Don't rent without seeing

There have recently been numerous reports of scam artists either renting out places they don't control or renting the same place multiple times. If you cannot do a walk through viewing of the vacant unit, don't rent it.

#10 - Ask a lot of questions

Moving to a new apartment isn't just about the walls and cupboards. When viewing an apartment, you should ask questions and you should expect answers. Try to gather information about the building, the neighbours, building condition, planned or current renovations, the age of the building, the landlord... just about any and all information you can gather while viewing can be used to help you make your decision.