The Rental Housing Act and Unfair Practices Regulations outline landlords’ responsibilities when ensuring the habitability of a rental property. To advise clients correctly, take note of this outline
1. ENSURE REASONABLE SECURITY MEASURES ARE IN PLACE
While landlords are only obliged to ensure doors and windows can be adequately locked, escalating crime levels may deem it fair for tenants to expect a security gate or access control measures. When tenants cover that expense, it is also unreasonable for the owner to deny the request.
State-of-the-art alarm systems are not the landlord’s responsibility and are not legally essential for tenancy. If the landlord incorrectly guarantees the current installation is functioning, however, he or she can be liable for security breaches.
2. TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR DAMAGE AFTER A BREAK-IN
Since this damage is beyond the tenant’s control, landlords cover the repair costs and can approach their individual insurer. Tenants are advised to insure their personal belongings, however.
3. OUTLINE PAYMENT OF UTILITIES IN WRITING
A written lease detailing who pays utilities and how they are paid is critical to avoid disputes. Rising electricity costs means that, if the rental property does not have a prepaid meter, landlords should consider installing one. Historically, tenants registered their own electricity accounts and were liable for payment, but the landlord held the ultimate responsibility for the bill. Where tenants absconded, unsuspecting landlords took the knock.
Municipalities now insist the owner’s name be on the account. If it is delivered to the rental property, landlords should request a copy and simply take the tenant’s word that the account is being settled each month.
Ideally, landlords should redirect the account to their home address and bill the tenant for utility costs – or convert to an e-billing option if the municipality offers one. Tenants are entitled to view the original bill and utility readings.
4. ASK FOR A DEPOSIT UPFRONT
The initial deposit, typically one month’s rental and an amount to cover unpaid utilities, covers damages to the property. Tenants cannot use their deposit in lieu of the last month’s rent. When moving into the property, the tenant and landlord jointly inspect it for damages. During the rental period, landlords must hold the deposit in an interest-bearing account and tenants can request statements showing their capital and growth.
When moving out, the parties repeat the inspection tour and, if no damages are found, the deposit plus interest must be returned within seven days. If there are damages unrelated to normal wear and tear, the deposit less the repair costs must be paid within 14 days of the property being returned to its initial condition.
5. DRAW UP A SOLID LEASE AGREEMENT
Critical to every tenant-landlord relationship is a properly constituted, legally sound lease. This means it has no modifications, specifically legally binding verbal agreements, without written back-up. Leases must adhere to national legislation and consumers cannot be contracted out of their basic rights – the lease cannot allow owners to remove doors or cut off utilities for unpaid rent.
The Consumer Protection Act also allows tenants to cancel leases with 20 days’ notice, but landlords can specify a reasonable penalty clause.
Grant Rea is a RE/MAX Living certified residential rentals specialist. RE/MAX is a leading global real estate franchise company that operates in almost 100 countries
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