U of T students living on campus are entitled to certain rights, which are outlined in various legal agreements and laws. For example, when students agree to live in a U of T residence, they are required to sign occupancy agreements, each with their own terms and conditions.
In this article, The Varsity breaks down three important legal documents — residence-specific occupancy agreements, the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA), and Ontario’s Human Rights Code — for students to understand their rights as tenants and the protections these acts and codes have for their residents.
According to a U of T spokesperson, each residence’s occupancy agreement outlines the rights and responsibilities of student tenants. All students living on residence must sign an occupancy agreement specific to their college or campus.
The fine print of these agreements outlines how students must act while living in residence and discloses important information to students. For example, signatories of the University of St. Michael’s College occupancy agreement effectively acknowledge that certain college’s facilities “contain asbestos in one form or another.” Although older buildings often contain asbestos, a U of T spokesperson assured The Varsity that facility operators ensure the asbestos poses no risks to students and staff.
To prevent the spread of bedbugs, the Trinity College, Innis College, and Chelsea Hotel occupancy agreements specify that, if bedbugs are detected, residents won’t be relocated to a new room.
Of the agreements covering residences at UTSG, only the Chelsea Hotel occupancy agreement specifies that “every effort will be made to address maintenance issues in a timely manner.” No other occupancy agreement commits the university to maintain rooms in any specific condition of livability. “Though it may not be noted in Occupancy Agreements, all residences address maintenance issues on a priority basis,” wrote a U of T spokesperson.
The Residential Tenancies Act
The provincial RTA was first passed in 2006. This act requires Ontario landlords to simplify the language of leases, limits the amount that landlords can increase rent, and allows tenants to appeal conflicts to an independent tribunal or court of justice. According to the act, landlords must also keep living accommodations in good condition and reimburse tenants if landlords evict them because of renovations.
The RTA does not apply to residences provided by educational institutions, provided that “the living accommodation is provided primarily to persons under the age of majority, or all major questions related to the living accommodation are decided after consultation with a council or association representing residents.”
According to the U of T spokesperson, “All of our student residences have a residence council, association or committee which provides students with the opportunity to voice concerns and consult on all elements of the residence experience, such as residence life activities, furniture replacement needs, utilities, and rate increases.”
Residences meet this requirement in a variety of ways. Some colleges, such as Woodsworth and University College, consult formal residence councils on student issues. Other colleges, such as Trinity, do not consult residence councils but instead bring questions related to residence to various elected student leaders.
Human rights protections for tenants
Although university residences are not covered under the RTA, they are subject to Ontario’s Human Rights Code. This document affirms renters’ right to “equal treatment in housing without discrimination and harassment.” Under the Code, landlords can request rental or credit history but cannot use a lack of rental or credit against a potential tenant. The Code also prevents landlords from filtering potential tenants based on whether they meet a certain rent-to-income ratio.
Landlords must also accommodate any of their tenants’ special needs up to the point of “undue hardship.” Students living in residence can register with U of T’s Accessibility Services to request accommodations.
According to U of T’s Office of the Ombudsperson, students with concerns about their university residence should first try to contact the Dean of Students or Director of Residence for their specific building.
If the problem is not resolved, the next steps depend on the college and campus where a student lives.