Taming wild rental leases

Starting April 30, a standardized lease will aim to clarify obligations of landlords and tenants

Like many in Toronto, Augusto Camilotti, an international business student at George Brown College (GBC), has been dealing with the trials and tribulations of the city’s wild rental market.

As newcomers with few connections, international students can face additional obstacles in the process of finding a place. A year ago, when Camilotti came to Toronto from Brazil, to secure the apartment he wanted he paid three months rent in advance on top of first and last month. 

In Ontario, it’s illegal for a landlord to ask for deposits in addition to first and last month’s rent. 

 “That’s a big problem that we have, especially if we are talking about a country or a city that represents some cultures and it’s open to immigrants, right? You should make the process especially easier and clear for everyone,” said Camilotti.

Currently, there is no a standardized lease in Ontario, which allows landlords include clauses that could be illegal. But beginning April 30, Ontario is introducing a new mandatory standard lease for private residential rentals.

In an interview with The Dialog, Peter Milczyn, Ontario’s minister of housing, said the standard lease ensures that every tenant in Ontario will understand in plain language what they’re signing, as well as fix the lack of a standardized contract.

“It starts out very clearly what the obligations and responsibilities are,” he said. “It also starts out the basics of what constitutes a legal lease in the province of Ontario.”

Common illegal clauses on leases include restrictions on pets and visitors, as well as late payment fees for rent. 

Camilotti, who came with his wife and his two kids of six and three years old, was concerned when his lease stated the building he was slated to move in to didn’t accept babies. 

“One of the clauses says that they do accept the kids, but they cannot be babies, and babies were between quotes,” said Camilotti.

Matt Danison, CEO of rentals.com, said the new mandatory lease will clarify the relationship between renters and landlords.

“The biggest thing is, it’s a lot easier to understand, and it will bring a lot of transparency for both sides of the party.”

The new lease is a 14 page fillable form with information such as names and addresses, total rent amount, due date, and any rules or terms about the rental unit or building. It also summaries the rights and responsibilities of both tenants and landlords, and explains what can and cannot be included.

The lease will also be available in 23 languages, which Milczyn hopes will help “newcomers in understanding what they are signing, and what they should or should not sign, what their obligations are, and what the landlord’s obligations are to them as well.”

Section 15 of the standard lease outlines that renters and landlords can agree on additional terms. While the section also states that the terms cannot violate Ontario laws, Danison said that tenants should be cautious of what landlords might try to add in that section.

Andria Lewis-Alexander, co-ordinator of student life and housing services at GBC, said she likes the clarity of the new lease. For students, Lewis-Alexander said it’s important to take time to check out different properties and visit neighborhoods at night, so you have a good sense of what your options are.  

“And whatever you do make sure you get something in writing,” she said.

“We will help (students) go through it step-by-step and try to explain (the lease) as best as we can, so that they are clear on what you’re getting, what their rights are, or what they’re signing,” Lewis-Alexander said.

According to the Ontario government, there are approximately 1.25 million private rental tenancies in Ontario and an estimated turnover of 19,000 units a month.

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Taming wild rental leases