By Natalka Falcomer

The recent changes to Ontario’s Residential Tenancies Act aimed to address the myriad of issues created by the fact that living in cities is just not affordable. But these changes didn’t address a solution many tenants have found to dealing with the unaffordability crisis: roommates.



To live in places close to the downtown core, renters are squeezing in as many roommates as possible to help pitch in for rent. This is true even though rent rates are softening in the coveted downtown core.

This proliferation of roommates is unencumbered by the new act, which permits tenants to have roommates without advising the landlord or obtaining landlord approval. One could imagine the repercussions of this; landlords often find themselves in legal relationships with people with whom they’ve never met. And when they do, they wish they never had.

Notwithstanding the act’s explicit permission regarding tenants obtaining roommates without the landlord’s knowledge, a recent Real Estate Council of Ontario decision makes it clear that there are certain cases in which agents acting for tenants must disclose the presence of roommates.

Can a tenant be evicted for having a roommate?

As stated above, a tenant cannot be evicted simply for having a roommate. This is true unless a condo bylaw (or any other local bylaw) expressly prohibits the owner of the property from using a space for any purpose other than as a single-family unit. The number of roommates must violate the definition of single-family unit which, in some condominium bylaws, is defined as two couples. As such, it is incumbent upon an agent representing a potential tenant at a condominium to fully disclose if he intends to have roommates. Failure to do so may trigger a RECO complaint, penalties and other charges, as recently confirmed in a March 6, 2020 RECO decision.

The specifics of the RECO decision are as follows:

An agent representing three couples who wanted to live together found an MLS listing that would suit their interests. The MLS Listing dated May 15, 2018 stated the following:

  1. Condo bylaws allows single family occupancy only. [SIC]
  2. Credit check will be conducted;
  3. Job letter required with offer; and
  4. All deposit cheques are to be certified.

Throughout the negotiations with the landlord, who was also an agent, the tenant agent only listed four occupants in all of the paperwork. While the tenant agent did advise the tenants that they should all be on the lease, only four of the six tenants signed the lease agreement for the property. The third couple never signed the lease and moved in, presumably, as roommates. Shortly after the tenants took possession, the landlord discovered the presence of the third couple.

While roommates aren’t illegal according to the act and the landlord never indicated a restriction on the number of roommates, the condominium bylaws expressly stated that the unit could be used for single-family occupancy, which allows only two couples in the property. As such, since the tenants agreed to comply with the condominium by-laws, the couple was required to move out or the tenant was to be evicted (*this is an assumption as the outcome was not discussed in the RECO decision*). The landlord incurred significant costs as a result of this error, which gave rise to a RECO complaint.

Despite the tenant agent informing her tenants that disclosure would be prudent, and despite the fact that the act permits roommates, RECO found the agent in violation of her duties under the Code of Ethics – namely to act with fairness, honesty and integrity, failure to act in the best interests of her clients, failure to prevent error, misrepresentation and fraud and engaging in unprofessional conduct.

What’s the lesson for tenant agents?

Assume that, even if you are within your legal rights to not disclose to the landlord that the tenants on the lease may have roommates, you may be required to make such disclosure pursuant to the Code of Ethics. This is especially true if the condominium or local bylaws clearly defines the use of the property. If all else fails and you’re unsure as to what you are required to disclose, honesty and acting with integrity is always the best defence.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Hight time Landlords get together as the present Act is violating the basic right of Landlords. Some like adding roommates, so tenants keep adding and reducing their (original) Tenants per month rent. Plus renewal is Automatic , how on earth without an agreement tenants continue can only be an act of few Selfish people behind this Act. There are so many clauses all against forming a normal relationship between Landlord and tenant which should be a mutual agreement and not a tussel of war. Seems no thinking was done before forming this Act.
    Why then Landlords should even be asked to cooperate by renting out ? It’s time for Landlords

  2. Is a $12,000 fine really necessary here to drive home the point to the agent who earned less than $1000 commission on this deal? Sure, the agent needs to learn their ethical obligations to the client but isn’t the entire RECO complaint and discipline process and losing the commission enough in this case? I hope the agent appeals this decision. That is excessive on RECO’s part…shame on you!

  3. I am sure the added 78 clauses will have no bearing on the Residential Tenancy Agreement.

    Under a lease agreement the owner is transferring the rights of that property to the tenant for a specified time period. In my opinion this comment is that of an unhappy landlord that has difficulty transferring rights to a tenant of a property they own. If investing in rental properties is is best to leave the emotional side of dealing with tenants out of the equation. For every bad Tenant storey out there there are thousands of good ones. I would suggest to find a better tenant. And maybe perform a bit more due diligence to avoid taking on an investment with a bad Tenant. As a Buyer you have that right to pass on that investment. You make it sound as though this bad Tenant was thrust upon you with no choice in the matter. As for that realtor they should have passed on representing those tenants that were not acting honestly. I know many Realtor’s that will not jeopardize thier registration or integrity for a transaction. And that , in my opinion. Is the path to follow.

  4. The vast majority of realtors engaged in tenancy agreements are not trained or knowledgeable enough to do this kind of work. The Residential Tenancies Act is brutal against landlords. I added 78 clauses under Section 15 of Ontario’s standard tenancy agreement just to deal with the anti-landlord deficiencies of that agreement.

    A realtor failing the landlord or tenant client that results in a complaint to the Landlord and Tenant Board will almost certainly face a 6-to-12 month wait time for a court resolution. The aggrieved landlord or tenant will almost certainly look to the realtor and their brokerage for restitution. Most brokerages require their agents to indemnify them from all consequences of any action by one of their realtor members. However, RECO may still hold the brokerage responsible for some consequences regardless of the realtor’s actions.

    The legislation surrounding roommates is a complex minefield fraught with legal dangers. A landlord and/or realtor could be held accountable if they interfered with a tenant’s right to have people live in the unit with them. You can’t insist on any information about the new occupant. Such a demand would be interfering with the tenant’s “right of quiet enjoyment.” In the case, Cunningham v. Whitby Christian Non-Profit Housing (April 15th, 1997), the landlord attempted to prevent a boyfriend from entering the property in which the tenant lived by harassing the tenant with warning letters, removing her parking spot on lease renewal, and serving a notice on her boyfriend that he was trespassing as per the Trespass to Property Act. The General Division of the Ontario Court held that the landlord breached the covenant of quiet enjoyment when they denied the tenant her right to an occasional guest and awarded an abatement of rent of 15%.

    Where this right gets ugly and can threaten the safety of others in a building is exemplified in the case of Radokovic v. Stoney Creek Non-Profit Housing. The landlord was found in breach of the law for issuing a trespass notice against an abusive and threatening ex-husband even though the landlord had issued the notice with good intentions and out of concern for the safety of others and the property.

    Therefore, the right of the tenant to have any guest they please, regardless of behaviour or potential threat, outweighed the right and safety of every other person, including children and those who can’t help themselves, in the building.

    I personally had a case where I inherited a legacy tenant who was suspected of dealing drugs. The tenant permitted homeless people and “crackheads” to visit his rental unit to use bathroom facilities and to permit some of the visitors to stay for an extended period of time. I suspected they were “customers” of the tenant. The tenant also allegedly permitted two prostitutes to service customers in the unit.

    The police stated they couldn’t do anything since these “occupants” hadn’t broken any tenancy laws. I’m pretty sure the other tenants in the building, especially the elderly and those with children, would have appreciated a more robust definition of the law at that point. We consequently had a couple of great tenants forced by the precarious circumstances to move out. I suggested to them that the sole responsibility for them being forced to move out was the politicians who created the ambiguous and self-serving tenancy laws.

    I contacted two municipal by-law departments about overcrowding and both told me that they don’t enforce landlord complaints but only act on tenant complaints. The only time they’ll investigate overcrowding is if it represents a significant threat to other tenants but there’s no definition of what a significant threat is.

    Separately but related, I’m also fairly certain that the MLS listing requiring “Job letter required with offer” is a breach of the Human Rights Code that could have very serious consequences for a realtor, their landlord client and the realtor’s brokerage. The requirement strongly implies that anyone on government assistance or some other unidentifiable source of income such as seniors perhaps or students, won’t be considered.

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