As a tenant, do you know who is responsible for damage done to the property you are renting?
The BC Residential Tenancy Act says that the landlord must make sure that the property is “suitable for occupation,” while the Ontario Residential Tenancies Act similarly dictates that the unit be in “good state of repair and fit for habitation.” This means that landlords are responsible for the repair of the unit, including such things:
- Electrical systems;
- Plumbing systems;
- Heating systems;
- Door locks; and,
- Structural items such as, ceilings, floors and walls.
Landlords are also responsible to repair anything else that may be included in the rent, such as:
- Appliances; and,
- Outbuildings such as garages or sheds.
But the tenant is responsible for a few things, too. For instance:
- Keeping the unit clean.
- Notifying your landlord if something needs to be repaired or if other issues arise, such as the dreaded bed bugs.
The responsibility for maintenance of the home is shared by both the landlord and the tenants. If you, as the tenant, don’t make the necessary repairs, you could be on the hook for the cost of the repairs when they are completed by the landlord.
The basic requirements of the landlord for any rental property are:
- The property must meet health and safety standards required by law
- It must have all the services and facilities outlined in the tenancy agreement
- It must be in good repair
As the tenant, you are responsible for:
- Any damage caused by you or anyone else living in the unit (pets, too)
- Any damage caused by any visitors to the unit
- Maintaining a reasonable standard of cleanliness both in the unit, and in the surrounding common areas
Repairing regular wear and tear is NOT your responsibility. That is the landlord’s responsibility.
Condition Inspection Report
In BC, you and your landlord will need to complete a “walk through” inspection of the home prior to your move in. This time will be your opportunity to note any existing damage, so you don’t get blamed for it later. The landlord needs to arrange a date with you, after the previous tenant has moved out and before you move in, when the unit should be empty. This could be a fairly short window of opportunity, so try to be flexible when finding a time that works for both of you. You can have someone else attend in your place, but you must first provide the name of that individual to the landlord.
Look for any damage such as stains on the carpet, cracks in the walls, missing or damaged light fixtures and so on. Take photos of any damage you see, and keep these with the inspection report in case of a dispute later. Be sure ALL existing damage is listed.
This time is also a good opportunity to talk about the locks. If the landlord hasn’t changed the locks since the last tenant, you can request that they do so before you move in. Landlords in BC are required to change them if you request it and must bear the full cost, while in Ontario there are no such laws in place—however, you can often reach an agreeable compromise on changing locks through open conversation.
If this unit is fully or partially furnished in BC, an inspection needs to be done on the furnishings as well. Be sure to note any scratches, dents or other marks. You can add extra pages to the report if necessary, to record the information regarding the furnishings.
Both you and the landlord must sign and date the inspection report. If you have any comments, be sure to note them on the form before you sign. Within 7 days, the landlord must get a copy of the inspection report to you.
If there are two or more landlords or two or more tenants, there is another form listing all the applicable names and addresses which must likewise be filled out.
It is also a requirement in BC that an inspection be done at the end of your tenancy. The landlord must send a copy of this report to you within 15 days of your moving out and the receipt of your forwarding address.
There are no firm bylaws in place in Ontario requiring an inspection take place for the rental property or its contents before your tenancy begins or after it has come to a close. Many renters and landlords alike still consider it good practice to schedule a walk through before keys change hands in order to avoid later concerns over who’s responsible for any damage to the property, however, and will often follow this practice up with another review at the end of their occupancy.
Asking for repairs
When you notice something that needs to be repaired, you should let your landlord know verbally or in writing. Failure on a BC landlord’s part to complete necessary repairs could result in a dispute resolution hearing, which may then lead to an order to fix the property or their having to pay compensation to you.
If an Ontario landlord fails to complete the repairs, you can then report the problem to local government, the Rental Housing Enforcement Unit or file an application with the Landlord and Tenant Board. Your landlord could then be taken to court for not following bylaws or the municipal government may complete the work and add the cost to your landlord’s property taxes.
What happens in the event of an emergency? The Residential Tenancies Act is quite specific about how these are to be handled. First, a definition:
“repairs that are: (a) urgent; (b) necessary for the health or safety of anyone or for the preservation or use of residential property; and, (c) made for the purpose of repairing: (i) major leaks in pipes or the roof; (ii) damaged or blocked water or sewer pipes or plumbing fixtures; (iii) the primary heating system; (iv) damaged or defective locks that give access to a rental unit; (v) the electrical system; and, (vi) in prescribed circumstances, a rental unit or residential property.”
Before anything happens, it’s the landlord’s responsibility to post the name and phone number of whoever should be called in case of emergency. If a disaster occurs, and emergency repairs are required, you can have repairs done on your own, only under the following conditions:
- Emergency repairs are needed.
- You’ve tried at least twice to call the emergency contact number provided to you.
- After those two attempts, you give the landlord reasonable time to make the repairs.
If you have had to initiate emergency repairs on your own, the landlord is entitled to take over and complete the repairs at any time. The landlord will be responsible to reimburse you for any emergency repairs that you’ve had completed at your own expense. You need to provide your landlord with a claim for reimbursement, receipts for the repairs, and a description of the emergency. The costs must be reasonable, and the damages cannot have been caused by you or your guest.
The Ontario Rental Tenancies Act does not have any information on emergency repairs, so it’s in your best interest to discuss the risks and best practices associated with vital, time-sensitive fixes that may arise during your tenancy prior to moving in.
Bed bugs and other pests
We all know that bed bugs have become a huge problem globally. These little insects feed on your blood to survive. They hide in all kinds of places including chairs, couches, dressers, mattresses, and box springs. They can even be found behind paintings and along baseboards.
Your landlord is generally responsible for insect control, and should address any such problems immediately. You are required to cooperate with pest control instructions, or face possible eviction.
How do you know if you have a bed bug problem? Bites on arms and legs are one sign. They’ll look like small red bumps. Black or red marks on the pillow, mattress, or box spring are another sign. There may even be small tears in the fabric. You should notify your landlord immediately if you notice any signs of bed bugs. The sooner you get on it, the easier it will be to get rid of the little pests.
After your landlord arranges for an exterminator, you have some responsibilities as well:
- Launder everything you can, including clothes, blankets and towels. You should use the high heat setting when drying to help kill bedbugs.
- Wrap and seal the mattress, box spring and pillows. Most experts recommend purchasing a mattress encasement cover.
- Use re-sealable bags to store the laundered clothes, bedding, towels, etc.
If your landlord fails to act once you have notified them of a bed bug problem, Ontario renters can obtain assistance or advice from a legal clinic or from the Landlord and Tenant Board. You can also file a maintenance application with the Landlord and Tenant Board, which may demand remedies such as a rent freeze or an order requiring the necessary repairs be made until the problems are solved.
Improvements to the rental unit
If you decide you would like to make some improvements to your rental property, BC law requires that you contact your landlord first. If you make changes to the unit without consent, when you vacate the unit, you must return it to its original condition. If you don’t, then your landlord can return it to its original condition and charge you for any costs. Another option, if the value of the unit is now reduced because of the changes made by you, is that your landlord can claim from you for the amount of the reduction in the value of the unit.
And if you make improvements which increase the value of the property without first getting the okay from the landlord, you may not legally be entitled to reimbursement of those improvement costs when you move out. The best bet is to be sure to get an agreement with the landlord in writing before you begin any improvements.
Details on you making your own improvements to the property are not covered in Ontario’s Rental Tenancies Act, unfortunately, but it does have a great deal of information on what to do if your landlord is planning such significant renovations that they would require your eviction from the property. You are required to be given a formal notice of termination of tenancy, including a full 60-day notice delivered to all tenants, and in these circumstances you and your evicted roommates will be given first right of refusal to resume your tenancy once the period of improvement ends.
If these repairs are not being ordered under the authority of the Residential Tenancies Act or another governing body, the building contains five or more units and you are not interested in exercising first right of refusal once the repair is completed, the landlord will be required to provide a comparable rental unit you deem acceptable or to give the equivalent of three months rent in compensation.
Repairs and roommates
As mentioned, tenants are responsible to repair any damage they or their guests have caused, not including wear and tear. If you have a roommate, you should have an agreement between you regarding who will repair what. If damage is caused by your roommate, it should be repaired by the roommate. If that person refuses to repair it or moves out before repairs are done, however, you could be left with the bill. If you are both on the same rental agreement, you are jointly liable not just for paying the rent, but also for the costs of any damage caused by either of you. That means that even if any damage is caused by your roommate who has now skipped town, you will be responsible for the cost of any repairs.
Entering the rental unit
If your landlord needs to make repairs, or enter the unit for any other reason, unless you allow access, your landlord needs to give you written notice a minimum of 24 hours in advance. If you have moved out or abandoned the unit, your landlord can enter without notice.
Your landlord can also enter the unit if necessary to protect life or property when an emergency exists.
In Ontario, your landlord can also enter your rental unit without prior notice if they are showing it to a prospective tenant after a mutual agreement to an end of your tenancy, and then only between the hours of 8 am and 8 pm and if they have made a reasonable attempt to notify you beforehand.
The Residential Tenancies Act says that you have the right to “quiet enjoyment”. A loss of “reasonable enjoyment” may include:
- Threatening behaviour by the other occupants of the building, or by the landlord;
- Ongoing noise;
- The landlord entering the premises without giving notice, or entering too frequently; and/or,
- Restriction of services by the landlord, like water or electricity.
If any of these things occur, your landlord may be required to pay you compensation.
Know what you’re getting into
Before you sign a lease on the dotted line, know what the rules are regarding repairs, maintenance, and improvements. If there is anything you’re uncertain about, contact the Residential Tenancy division of the applicable level of government in your area.