By Harry Fine
It should never have happened this way. It’s true that written tenancy agreements for Ontario’s residential landlords have been confusing and inconsistent. Many leases are jam-packed with illegal clauses, confusing provisions and in some cases, there is no written lease at all.
Some small landlord investors are of the mistaken belief that it was easier to terminate tenancies if there is no written lease. A lot of landlords also confuse the term lease with the concept of lease term. So yes, confusion abounds, but now it gets worse, not better.
Now, for all new residential tenancy agreements that are signed (with a few exceptions), landlords must use Ontario’s new Standard Form Lease. This lease attempts to remove some confusion from the current chaotic state of affairs. No homemade leases are allowed! Its use is mandatory for condos, apartment buildings, single-family homes, rooming houses and basement apartments. This lease also replaces the agreements Ontario Realtors traditionally have provided.
The provincial lease has two parts. The first has some basic provisions along with a place for signatures at the bottom. The second part is an appendix, but really, it’s just an explanation on some of the finer points, including some details about what provisions may or may not be legal. In Ontario, you cannot contract out of the Residential Tenancies Act (the RTA), so landlords and tenants signing the new lease can be assured that what they are signing is enforceable through the Landlord and Tenant Board.
While well-intentioned, the lease is extremely bare-boned. The standard form lease tries to be all things to all people and ends up being suitable for no one. Because it tries to be generic enough to fit all tenancy situations, it ends up fitting no tenancy situations.
Fortunately, the government is permitting additions to the lease in the form of an appendix that the landlord may draft. But keep in mind, the provisions in the appendix cannot contradict what’s in the lease and cannot violate the terms of the RTA.
The standard government lease, being inaccurate, incomplete and confusing, will likely cause more litigation and confusion. I can almost guarantee you that if you use it on its own, you will have misunderstandings with your tenant, or find that you are without a remedy when you need one. If you are interested, here’s a link to a blog I did analyzing the required lease.
The government could have resolved the issue of illegal clauses and ignorance of basic tenancy rights by creating a mandatory appendix, required to be attached to every new lease, with the same penalties to landlords if they failed to provide it as there is for failing to deliver this new lease to a tenant. However, the Ministry of Housing chose to use a hammer to swat a fly. By doing so they further confused an already confusing regulatory system.
Prudent landlords will need far more than the Standard Form Lease to protect their interests. Our firm and others are providing clients with appendices to be used in conjunction with the Standard Form Lease. As a landlord, don’t even think about using the standard lease on its own.
If you are interested in finding out more, take 15 minutes to view my free YouTube video on the new standard lease, and how you can protect yourself.