Ontario's new standard lease could crack down on 'wild west' rental agreements

A tenant's group is applauding Ontario's move to create a standardized residential lease form, saying it will help tenants steer clear of illegal terms.

Tenant's group hopes province's standard lease form will prevent 'rampant illegal terms' in agreements

Ontario tenants and landlords are required to use a standard lease for all residential rental agreements beginning April 30. (Pawel Dwulit/Canadian Press)

Ontario has created a new, standard lease form to be used in almost all residential rental agreements beginning April 30.

That's great news for renters, says Geordie Dent, executive director of the Federation of Metro Tenants Associations, which began calling on Ontario to create a standard lease back in 2012 after a tenant came to them with the suggestion. 

"Right now, the system we're under is the wild west," Dent told CBC Toronto on Wednesday. "We're hoping that this is going to clean all that up."

There is no standardized form for rental agreements in Ontario at present, with landlords and tenants creating their own agreements or relying on a patchwork of downloadable online forms.

The result, said Dent, is plenty of illegal terms showing up in the province's leases.

Illegal terms 'on almost every lease' 

Clauses that don't allow pets, require post-dated cheques, or stipulate the landlord can give a tenant notice that they have to leave at any time are all void, he said.

"Almost every lease in Ontario, you could find something illegal," said Dent, adding his group's tenant hotline receives calls "every day" about illegal clauses in rental agreements.  

Geordie Dent, with the Federation of Metro Tenants' Associations, says it's extremely common for illegal terms to pop up on Ontario leases. (Paul Smith/ CBC Toronto)

The province's new lease, designed to be "simple" and "easy-to-understand," will collect basic information about rent, deposits, and utilities, according to a news release from the province.

The Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario (ACTO) is concerned about one section lurking near the bottom of the form, called "additional terms."

"The 'additional terms' section of the new standard form lease may allow problem clauses found in old leases to creep back into the new standard lease," said ACTO staff lawyer Dania Majid in an email to CBC Toronto. 

"Even if a tenant is savvy enough to spot an illegal clause, the lack of affordable housing and low vacancy rates leave tenants with little bargaining power to negotiate with the landlord," she continued. 

Penalties for landlords

Leases already in place that don't use the new template are "still valid and enforceable," so long as it is consistent with the Residential Tenancies Act, wrote Ministry of Housing spokesperson Conrad Spezowka in an email. 

Meanwhile, the standard lease will be mandatory for new tenancies in single and semi-detached houses, apartment buildings, rented condos, and secondary units like basement apartments.

Tenants whose landlords fail to provide a new standard lease following a written request are allowed to withhold rent, Spezowka explained. 

If you ask your landlord for the lease, they have 21 days to provide it. After that, you can withhold up to one month's rent — giving your landlord another 30 days to provide the lease. If they still don't, you don't have to pay the rent back. 

It won't be required for "most social and supportive housing, retirement and nursing homes, mobile home parks and land lease communities, or commercial properties," the release said.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story indicated that tenants with pre-existing non-standard lease forms could request the new lease from their landlords. In fact, only landlords entering into new rental agreements on or after April 30 are required to use the new lease.
    Feb 08, 2018 9:27 AM ET