Province plans to make legislative changes that will help transitional housing providers

May 26th, 2017 by Claudia Pedrero

Bill 124, the proposed Rental Fairness Act, 2017 passed its third reading in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario last week. This bill has received significant attention in the past few weeks for the important changes it could make to the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006 (the RTA).

The press has focussed on the fact that Bill 124, if passed into law, will increase rent controls to include units built after 1991 and require landlords who want to take over a unit for their own use to compensate a tenant or provide them an alternate unit.

However, there is another important change to the RTA which deserves attention: those providing transitional housing and rehabilitative or therapeutic services will be exempt from the RTA for tenancies that lasts four years or less.

This is great news for our transitional housing clients, and in line with our submissions to the Ministry of Housing on the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006 Transitional Housing Consultation.

Transitional housing is an essential resource for people who need supports to make the transition to long‑term independent housing. Providers typically offer low cost, temporary housing along with a range of supportive or rehabilitative services aimed at survivors of domestic violence or trauma, immigrants or refugees, or those in need of mental or physical health services. Many transitional housing providers help participants get the skills, education or treatment they need to move to more stable, independent living.

Unsurprisingly, transitional housing providers don’t have the typical landlord relationship with their program participants. In many cases, participants agree to take part in programs with a fixed end date, at which time they’ll move out. Some programs also require participants to follow certain rules as part of their program, such as curfews, guest restrictions and staying away from drugs and alcohol.

The RTA, which regulates residential tenancies in Ontario, outlines the rules and responsibilities of tenants and landlords. These include maintenance requirements, ensuring tenants’ right to privacy, reasonable enjoyment of their unit, and protection from unlawful evictions.

For many years, the RTA has exempted transitional housing providers if they provide “rehabilitative or therapeutic” programs as defined in the RTA. However, the exemption has applied only to programs of one year or less.

In other words, a transitional housing provider have been able to operate outside many of the RTA’s rules and enforce restrictions they believe are necessary for their programs, if the program lasts one year or less. If the program lasts longer and the participant is living on the therapeutic housing provider’s property, the full RTA rules have applied.

This has posed a problem for some of our clients who provide transitional housing. Many understand one year is too short for participants to successfully make the transition. As a result, many transitional housing providers offer programs lasting two years or more, and have made their tenancies subject to the RTA despite the rules in the RTA.

The change to the “rehabilitative and therapeutic” exemption in Bill 124 will allow transitional housing participants longer to achieve program goals. By offering the exemption, the legislature recognizes that achieving some of these goals may involve setting program restrictions (for example,. curfews, guest restrictions) that would normally be off‑side the RTA.  MPP Nathalie Des Rosiers (Ottawa‑Vanier) noted in her comments to the Legislature of Ontario:

The bill does provide for an expansion of the extension [Note: we believe she meant to say “exemption”] so that treatment could last longer than one year because many of the people coming from the street have spoken and have emphasized the point that some of the skills they need to acquire to go into permanent housing involve more than a short year, more than 12 months.

As we said in our submissions to the Ministry of Housing:

Extending the RTA exemption to tenancies […] would bring the spirit of the current section 5(k) exemption in line with the reality that some transitional housing programs need to be longer than one year in order to meet the needs and goals of participants.

The Rental Fairness Act, 2017 proposes to do just that by exempting programs that involve a tenancy of four years or less.

We hope these important proposed changes survive the legislative process. Check back for our updates on this issue!

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