Effective September 6, 2016, the Ontario government implemented changes to the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006, which impacts both landlords and tenants in an important – and perhaps surprising – way.
What Has Changed?
The Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act, 2016 amends the legislation to benefit tenants who are victims of sexual or domestic violence, by allowing them to abridge the normal rules around giving notice to end a lease, as a means of facilitating their leaving an unsafe living situation.
Whereas most tenancy arrangements call for the tenant to provide at least 60 days’ notice to terminate (which notice must be given prior to the end of the lease), the amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act, 2016 sets up a special notice provision that allows certain victims of sexual or domestic violence to end a tenancy within 28 days, and be relieved of their rent obligations afterwards. This abbreviated notice period can apply to monthly, yearly, or fixed-term tenancies.
How Do Eligible Tenants Take Advantage of These Changes?
In order to take advantage of these special provisions, the tenant must have endured sexual or domestic violence at the hands of a spouse or former spouse, live-in partner, someone they are/were dating, or a person related by blood, marriage or adoption who lives with him or her. The tenant must deliver or mail to the landlord a filled-out copy of two forms:
- Tenant’s Notice to End my Tenancy Because of Fear of Sexual or Domestic Violence and Abuse
- Tenant’s Statement About Sexual or Domestic Violence and Abuse
The second document, the Statement, requires the tenant to provide a signed and dated statement attesting that they or a child who lives in the rental unit have experienced sexual or domestic violence.
These forms are available on the Social Justice Tribunals Ontario website at: http://www.sjto.gov.on.ca/
Alternatively, the tenant may provide the landlord with a copy of a court order (such as a restraining order, access order, or a peace bond).
What Obligations Arise on the Landlord’s Part?
Once the required forms or court order have been supplied, the landlord must generally keep the information confidential and is subject to strict rules about disclosure to other tenants, police, immigration authorities, and child welfare agency representatives.
In addition to allowing the tenant to move out within the abridged 28-day time-frame, there are additional rules that govern the landlord’s ability to advertise during that period and to re-rent the unit after the tenant has moved out. Among other things, the landlord may advertise the unit for rent during that 28 days, but cannot mention or identify the specific unit in any advertisement until after that time. Also, the landlord can only show the unit to prospective new tenants once the prior tenant has already vacated.
Are there Penalties for Contraventions or Misuse?
The new provisions carry various penalties for a landlord’s breach of these requirements, including a fine of up to $25,000 for a personal landlord and up to $100,000 for a corporate one. However, tenants who try to misuse the special notice provisions or provide false information can be subject to identical penalties as well (under the Act’s existing provisions), and a complaint process is available to landlords who suspect such misuse.