News / Toronto

New standardized rental lease aims to keep out sneaky illegal clauses (like no pets)

Promised under last April’s Fair Housing Plan, the document contains information on what a landlord can and can’t ask for.

Landlords can't ban tenants from having dogs (or cats and other pets, within reason).

Torstar News Service

Landlords can't ban tenants from having dogs (or cats and other pets, within reason).

No pets, no overnight guests, no babies.

These are just a few of the clauses Dania Majid, a staff lawyer at Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, has heard of landlords sneaking into leases.

While unenforceable under the province’s Residential Tenancies Act, they are all too common, she says, and one of the reasons why the province has developed a 13-page standardized lease.

The document was unveiled for the first time on Wednesday. Promised under last April’s Fair Housing Plan, it contains information on what a landlord can and can’t ask for (e.g., a key deposit is allowed while a security deposit is not).

Majid calls the standardized lease “an improvement” but worries a section on “additional terms” leaves room for landlords to put in more illegal things, like asking a tenant to mow the lawn.

“It’s concerning to us that those same clauses we fought so hard to get rid of can still creep their way back in,” she said.

Ministry of Housing spokesperson Conrad Spezowka confirmed to Metro in an email the template will apply “to most private rentals in Ontario, including single and semi-detached houses, apartment buildings, rented condominiums and secondary units (like basement apartments).”

A lease that doesn’t fit the template is still valid and enforceable as long as it complies with the Residential Tenancies Act, he added. But as of April 30, if tenants request the standard one in writing, landlords will need to provide it.

If a landlord doesn’t do that within 21 days, the tenant can withhold up to one month’s rent. If the landlord still doesn’t provide the standard lease within 30 days after the tenant stops paying rent, the tenant is no longer required to pay that rent back, he added.

Jim Murphy, president of the Federation of Rental Housing Providers of Ontario, said that while he wasn't “all that sure that we needed a standard lease," he appreciates the province has recognized it’s not “one size fits all” and left space for special situations like smoking rules. He sees the “additional terms” section as another opportunity for that.

Tenant advocate Geordie Dent, executive director of the Federation of Metro Tenants' Associations, praised the standardized lease for giving tenants "a primer on what their rights are."

“This is probably going to affect about a million contracts in five years,” Dent added.

But Majid worries Toronto's very low vacancy rate of one per cent makes for an environment where people don’t feel like they can push back against landlords, even with the new lease.

“The lack of affordable housing is the root of all these issues,” she said.

More on