Yukon housing advocates are calling for more education about fixed-term residential tenancies, and the rules that go with them.
Fixed-term leases are for a strict period of time, and can include a move-out clause, meaning there is no requirement for either the landlord or the tenant to give notice or discuss continuing the tenancy two or three months ahead of the end date, which can catch some renters off guard.
Fixed terms were officially included in the newest Residential Landlord and Tenant Act, which came into force at the beginning of 2016.
Since that time, both the Residential Tenancy Office and the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition say they are getting calls from people who are unsure which type of tenancy they are in, and are surprised fixed terms are allowed at all.
'When you're signing that agreement ... that's almost your notice'
According to the Act, tenancies in Yukon can either be periodic or fixed-term. Periodic tenancies can be week-to-week, month-to-month, or year-to-year. There's no set end date and the tenancy keeps going until either side gives notice. The majority of Yukon renters are on periodic leases.
Fixed-term tenancies are less common.
"The easiest way to think about it," says Shane Hickey, the director of the residential tenancies office, "is when you're signing that agreement at the outset, that's almost your notice to end the tenancy."
Lars Hartling is a Whitehorse landlord who uses fixed-term leases. He says they can provide stability for both landlords and tenants. "Both parties are locked in," he said.
He also says that because the Yukon rental market is so competitive, he has nearly always been able to find a new tenant when a renter has needed to leave a fixed term early.
A number of other provinces and territories only allow fixed-term tenancies that automatically continue as month-to-month. British Columbia has just committed to introducing legislation to outlaw fixed-term leases that require the tenant to move out at the end of the term. Landlords there were using fixed-term leases as a way around rent controls, though Yukon has no rent controls to start with.
Tenants can be on the line
Meg Grudeski, the housing coordinator at the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition, says a handful of people have come to them with concerns about fixed-term leases.
"For the most part, the assumption is that the dates on the lease are sort of guidelines, and that things can be renegotiated, or that things would run into a month-to-month," she said. "Not necessarily that the end date on the lease is actually when people have to be moved out by."
If tenants need to move out of a fixed term-lease, they or the landlord will need to find a subletter, otherwise they will be legally on the line for paying the rent for the rest of the tenancy, regardless of how much notice they give their landlord.
Frank Bachmier, a director on the board of the Yukon Council on Aging, says it alarms him to think of seniors being stuck in a fixed-term lease. If they fall ill, and end up in the hospital or long-term care, they might legally be on the line for paying the rest of the rent.
"That's a pretty heavy burden," he said.
There are also concerns about fixed-term leases and tenants in violent relationships.
"Sometimes with a fixed-term lease folks feel as though they might have to stay there until the term is up, even if it isn't a safe situation for them," said Esther Armstrong, housing navigator at the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre.
She says it's important tenants know "there are options if someone wants to leave a fixed-term lease early. For example, the tenant and landlord can come to a mutual agreement to end the tenancy."
Make sure you read and understand your agreement
Grudeski worries that because the housing market is so tight right now, people may not feel they can ask for terms they are more comfortable with.
"People are in situations where they're very excited to just get a lease," she said. "There maybe isn't the feeling like they can question what's going on."
Residentials tenancies director Hickey says fixed term tenancies need to be "clearly communicated at the outset."
He recommends using the template agreement on the Residential Tenancies Office website. If the tenancy is a fixed term, with a set move-out date, tenants have to initial next to the date to show they fully understand the parameters of the agreement.
"Tenancy agreements can be sort of long and people should take the time to read them to make sure they understand them," he said. "If they have any questions they they're certainly free to contact us."