With rental prices in the housing market averaging an all-time high of $2,000 per month, and with virtually zero vacancies, affordable units for students involve strict competition in Toronto. The university’s Housing Services is a resource that helps students navigate the housing market, encouraging students to read and understand their rights as tenants.

For many students, the start of the new school term means trying to negotiate their way through the Toronto housing market for the first time. Without prior experience or knowledge of the rights codified in the Ontario Residential Tenancies Act (RTA), student renters may fall into a trap of signing leases that violate their rights.

Places4Students, a partner of the University of Toronto Students’ Union, is an online classified website that allows landlords to advertise their units to student renters. As a partner with various schools across North America, the organization also works to educate students on their rights as renters to ensure they stay protected. As part of this mission, Places4Students has outlined key aspects of Ontario’s RTA, particularly regarding the concerns most prevalent to students. The major findings include:

1.       Your landlord cannot include a “no pets” clause as part of your tenancy agreement. Exceptions to this include pets that cause significant damage to the unit, pets that disrupt the reasonable enjoyment of other tenants, and in units where another tenant has an allergy.

2.       Your landlord cannot prohibit you from having guests visit or spend the night in your dwelling, as long as it does not pose a significant disturbance to others in the unit.

3.       A landlord must give 24 hours notice before entering your unit. Exceptions to this include emergency situations, if you consent to entry when they arrive, if your lease includes cleaning services at regular intervals, or if a landlord is showing the unit to prospective tenants between 8:00 am and 8:00 pm and with reasonable notice upon agreement of your lease termination.

4.       You are not responsible for damages unless they are directly caused by you or your guests. This includes repairing faulty appliances and general maintenance issues.

5.       Your landlord cannot require postdated cheques, nor can they automatically withdraw rent payments from your account. Additionally, you are entitled to rent receipts upon request at no additional cost.

The RTA also prohibits landlords from accepting security deposits, with the exception of payment for the last month of rent, as well as a refundable key deposit.

Clauses that violate the rights outlined in the RTA can be reported to the Landlord and Tenant Board, which works to resolve disputes between landlords and tenants while educating all parties on their rights and responsibilities in lease agreements. Additionally, the Rental Housing Enforcement Unit is a separate provincial body working solely with the enforcement of offences. Convictions can carry a maximum fine of $25,000 for individual landlords and $100,000 for corporate housing providers.

In a statement to The Varsity, a representative from Housing Services reminded students that they should “be sure to inspect the unit in-person before signing any agreements or giving any money.”

Housing Services provides various workshops and programs aimed at familiarizing students with the Toronto housing market. The service hosts regular “Rent Smart” workshops, designed to introduce students to the RTA, their rights as tenants, and their responsibilities for inspections, repairs, deposits, leases, and evictions. For cases of disputes, Housing Services also recommends students be in contact with Downtown Legal Services, U of T’s Faculty of Law community legal clinic, which provides free legal counselling to students.