Landlord considers criminal checks, warns of rent increase because of bad tenants
'We are all tightening up ... to a level that's never been seen before'
A landlord in Windsor, Ont. is considering criminal and financial background checks as a way to weed out problem tenants who don't pay all they owe.
Trashed units, unpaid rent and a lengthy repayment process are all common complaints from landlords in Windsor.
"It's leading to financial hardship for landlords. It honestly is," said Randal Morawetz, President of R.A.M. Property Management.
'Huge write-offs' for landlords
Morawetz oversees more than 150 properties in Windsor-Essex, with a total of nearly 600 tenants. He said the only way he and others in the industry can deal with "huge write-offs" is to raise the rent for everyone.
It's leading to financial hardship for landlords. It honestly is.- Randal Morawetz, President of R.A.M. Property Management
"I have owners who are breaking even. I have some buildings, we are making a little bit of money on them. But not the huge, 50 per cent margins that people perceive," he said.
Others in the industry agree that landlords are often on the hook for unpaid rent because of a lengthy resolution system.
"There's a lot of times that the tenants get away with this," said Kimberly Binder, a paralegal in Windsor who spends most of her time representing landlords in a variety of disputes.
Even if an adjudicator with the Landlord and Tenant Board orders a renter to pay a specific amount, they sometimes don't. The landlord must take the matter to civil courts to actually collect or have a chance at garnishing their wages.
There's a lot of times that the tenants get away with this.- Kimberly Binder, paralegal
For the landlord, that means more time and money spent as they attempt to recoup their losses.
Last month Morawetz accepted $1,000 cash from a tenant who owed more than $3,000. That deal meant the tenant moved out and the landlord was guaranteed to see some repayment, without having to waste more time and money in civil court.
More than 200 syringes found in unit
Morawetz said another big expense for landlords is tenants who leave behind a massive mess. He said one recently vacated one-bedroom unit had more than 200 used syringes scattered all over the floor.
"[It's] willful damage. We have no immediate recourse to have the tenant correct those damages. In most cases, it lands right back on the landlord to correct it and try to see restitution afterwards," Morawetz said.
Criminal checks being discussed
The province recently announced a new standardized lease that comes into effect next month. It will clearly spell out obligations for both tenants and landlords and will also keep illegal terms, such as a no-pet clause or requiring post-dated cheques, out of the lease.
Morawetz admits the standardized lease will help, but he wants to take things one step further.
"We are all tightening up our tenant application criteria to a level that's never been seen before," said Morawetz.
"Background checks, criminal checks, these are being discussed amongst landlords as a wanted item."
We are all tightening up our tenant application criteria to a level that's never been seen before.- Randal Morawetz, President of R.A.M. Property Management
This month, R.A.M. Property Management started a new screening process that requires some financial records at the outset. After that, the company whittles down a list of applicants to a few prospective tenants who get a face-to-face interview.
Criminal record checks can be discriminatory
The Ontario Human Rights Code states that asking for a criminal record check from renters can be discriminatory in some cases, but in other circumstances it might make sense.
For example, in a case where a single mother is trying to rent out a room, requiring a criminal check could be reasonable because of safety concerns – in such cases landlords are advised to get permission from their tenants before completing the check.
There are also limits to how credit checks can be used. Using past financial history against prospective tenants in a way that creates "systemic barriers" or singles certain people out can be discriminatory, according to the code.