06/22/2016 10:32 EDT | Updated 06/22/2016 10:59 EDT

Do You Know Your Rights? Ontario Rental Laws Could Be Changing

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Close up of lease agreement empty document with pen

How much do you know about your legal rights as a tenant? Are you aware of the consequences if you don't pay your rent on time? Do you know much notice you need to give your landlord if you plan on moving out?

Chances are that even if you have been renting for a long time, you may not know all that much about the legalities of renting an apartment or condo. There is much more to a landlord-tenant relationship than just a contract, and understanding your rights and responsibilities is vital to keeping you where you want to be, at the amount you want to pay (or at least agreed to). That being said, there are horror stories on both sides of the relationship, and chances are someone you know has had their share of issues either with a tenant or their landlord.

While some associations feel that the Ontario Residential Tenancies Act currently favours tenants (although associations representing tenants will disagree), there are proposed changes being debated that could shift the power back into the hands of the landlord. One of the biggest proposed changes affects the ease at which landlords can evict tenants, and many are debating what the aftermath of these purposed laws could be.

The current provincial government is suggesting changes to the Residential Tenancies

Act in an effort to improve the affordable housing situation in the province. Essentially, the government believes that more rental units on the market will lead to more affordable housing options, a simple game of numbers. The more units on the market, the more affordable options right?

The idea is that the government wants to encourage more people to become landlords. By giving landlords more power, it will be easier (or more tempting) to become a landlord and thus increase the number of landlords. Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Ted McKeekin was quoted in a CBC article stating, "Many people don't want to rent out space because they don't want to deal with problem tenants." The following changes were purposed to help increase the number of landlords thereby creating more options for tenants and increasing the number of affordable housing units.

Many disputes boil down to whomever has the ball in their court from the legal side of things.

Evictions for Smoking

One proposed change would give landlords the ability to evict tenants for smoking in non-smoking units. At the moment, landlords cannot evict tenants for smoking even though they signed a non-smoking lease. On the surface this change seems logical enough, but proving this would be difficult (how many cigarettes need to be smoked to warrant an eviction?), as many conflicts between landlords and tenants tend to be.

However, many disputes boil down to whomever has the ball in their court from the legal side of things, and if the landlord has the legal rights, it will be naturally easier for them to flex their muscle and evict tenants. When the law is on your side, so is this power.

Advocacy groups for tenants believe that landlords shouldn't have the power to evict tenants, or rather are fearful the power could be abused. This creates the problem that evicting tenants (especially on "debatable" actions like smoking) gives landlords the power to willfully evict current tenants and charge new tenants more for the same place. So this same argument can be used against making housing more affordable as many tenant associations think the proposed changes would actually increase rent. Therefore, this change would arguably lead to increases in costs, while marginalizing a section of the population who choose to smoke.

Recently Alto Rentals, a new rental development by Realstar , a well-known Canadian landlord, was touted in the Toronto Star and by non-smoking rights association groups for offering the first non-smoking building in Toronto.

Annual Rent Increase Amounts

One of the biggest changes would be amending the law that states landlords cannot increase rent on a yearly basis by more than 2.5 per cent. At this point the provincial government dictates what the annual raise in rental amounts can be. The Ontario Government just released the 2017 rent increase guideline, which was set at 1.5 per cent. Naturally, if landlords are able to increase their rent by more than this amount, expect rent prices to increase, especially in high-demand areas like downtown Toronto.

Prohibiting Pets

Whether or not your landlord allows pets is also being debated, and a blanket ban on pets is being discussed. If landlords are allowed to fully ban pets, rent may not necessarily increase, but it may become harder for the pet-owning segment of the population to find a place to call home. If there are fewer renters, demand would dip and therefore rent fees could lower as a result, though it's hard to imagine this rule making a substantial, measurable impact either way.

Overall, whether or not these proposed changes become legal, the only way rent will decrease as a result of the proposed laws is if there is a substantial increase in the number of new listings. It's tough to imagine that the ability to evict a tenant for smoking or banning pets would substantially affect rental prices when compared against much larger issues like the Canadian dollar, employment numbers or supply and demand.

Geordie Dent from the Federation of Metro Tenants Associations said that "A lot of these things seem like landlord giveaways" and at the moment, the government is still weighing in on the 15 proposed changes. The proposed changes were discussed under the veil of helping small landlords feel comfortable renting their properties, thereby creating more rental apartments across Canada on the market and increasing the number of affordable housing options. If these goals are achieved, it could create a win-win situation for both landlords and tenants. Imagine that!

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