Changes to the Residential Tenancies Act protecting tenants from violence and abuse come into force September 6: new tenant rights and landlord responsibilities

August 23rd, 2016 by Claudia Pedrero

On September 6, 2016, changes to the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006 (RTA) will come into force as a result of Bill 132, the Sexual Violence and Harrassment Action Plan Act.

In short, these amendments will allow tenants concerned for their safety or that of a child to give only 28 days notice to terminate their tenancy. The changes also impose serious responsibilities on landlords to keep information confidential.

These legislative changes come on the heels of the 2015 provincial government campaign “It’s Never Okay: An Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment”, intended to illustrate the government’s no‑tolerance stance on sexual violence, sexual harassment and domestic violence. Stemming from this, Bill 132, introduced by Ontario’s Minister for Women’s Issues, amends six provincial statutes to make Ontario’s laws more consistent with a zero‑tolerance position.

The changes to the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006 are aimed at ensuring the safety of survivors of sexual violence and removing financial barriers to help ensure survivors of harassment and violence can leave unsafe living environments quickly.

A New, Shorter Termination Period

The RTA will soon allow tenants who have concerns for their safety or the safety of a child living in the household, to give 28 days notice to terminate their tenancy. This is down from the current requirement to give 60 days notice for most tenancies. The changes apply to monthly, yearly, and fixed‑term leases.

To end their tenancy on short notice, tenants will have to provide their landlords with a restraining order, access order or peace bond issued within the last 90 days, and a signed statement stating they or their child has experienced domestic or sexual abuse. For a complete list of the types of orders that can accompany a tenant’s statement see s.47.3(1) of the RTA’s new provisions.

Landlord Confidentiality Requirements

Under the new RTA rules, a landlord who receives a notice to terminate a tenancy on the basis described above is obligated to hold that information in strict confidence. A landlord must pay special attention to protecting the privacy of a tenant who reports abuse or violence to ensure the tenant’s safety. For example, when communicating with the tenant regarding move‑out, the landlord must contact the tenant directly, not send correspondence to the unit nor disclose to co‑tenants that notice was given. Also, sharing information about the tenant’s notice or supporting documentation with a superintendent, property manager or agent of the landlord is strictly on a need‑to‑know basis. Violating a landlord’s confidentiality obligations will be an offence under the RTA, which can result in a fine of up to $25,000 for an individual and up to $100,00 for a corporation, and/or an order for damages against the landlord from the Landlord and Tenant Board.

The legislative changes will also restrict a landlord from advertising or showing the unit to prospective tenants until after the tenant who gave the notice vacates.

Do these Changes Apply to Non‑Profit Co‑operative Housing Organizations?

The new, shorter termination notice option that will soon be available to tenants under the RTA, will not be available to members of housing co‑operatives.

The Ontario Co‑operative Corporations Act, 1990 (the CCA), not the RTA, governs the procedure for co‑op members wishing to give up their membership and occupancy rights, a procedure that is usually stated also in the co‑op’s occupancy by‑law.

Under Section 171.8.1 of the CCA, members are required to give at least 60 days written notice to the co‑op of their intention to terminate occupancy rights and membership. If a member vacates their unit before the end of the 60‑day notice period, the co‑op is entitled to re‑possess the unit, but the member who left is obliged to pay housing charges until the end of the notice period.  However, co‑op boards can always consider waiving the notice requirement if they feel it makes sense in the circumstances.

This exemption could result in the unintended outcome of making it more difficult for co‑op members to quickly and safely leave an unsafe living environment when necessary.

Co‑operatives facing a request to withdraw where the board knows or suspects that violence or harassment forms the basis for the withdrawal should likely consult a legal representative.

Tenants & Housing Providers Take Note

These amendments to the RTA will soon affect tenants and landlords across the province. Everyone should be aware of their rights and responsibilities when they come into force.

Filed in: Housing

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