Violations of tenant rights, such as raising rent above the regulated amount, discrimination based on one’s identity, and over charging on rental deposits, are a major issue in Ontario. Although provincial and municipal governments have put policies in place intended to prevent this, it continues to be a problem — one that primarily affects marginalized communities. Informing tenants of their rights reduces the potential for violations and improves the renting experience for all.

While we want to clarify your rights as a tenant, covering every single one of them would be tedious. Instead, we will outline the basics of what rights you are afforded in the Residential Tenancies Act, the City of Toronto Bylaws, and the Human Rights Code.

Note that on a case-by-case basis, there are some exceptions to the rights beyond what we mention, especially in the case of care homes’ sites in mobile home parks and land lease communities’ most social and supportive housing; cooperative housing; and other special tenancies.

Demystifying common misconceptions

In Toronto, you have a right to a pet unless it is unauthorized by your condo rules — which you should look into if you live in a condo or apartment building — or a fellow tenant has a severe allergy which makes your having a pet dangerous to them. You also may not be allowed a pet if they are not legally considered a safe pet to keep in Toronto — a trait identifiable by Toronto bylaws — though this rarely is an issue.

You have the right to host guests or roommates as you please. You may charge a roommate part of your rent, and you may have your guests stay overnight for as long as you want, but you will be responsible for any damage that they may cause. You cannot rent out your entire space to someone and call them a ‘roommate’.

You also have a right to sublet your unit to another person for any period shorter than the term of your lease, but you cannot charge the person more than you are paying in rent. Your landlord can reject your request to sublet, but only with good reason.

Your lease may include additional clauses, but they cannot violate any of your rights, including those described above: the Ontario provincial website says that “any extra term which attempts to take away a right or responsibility under [the Residential Tenancies Act] is void (not valid or legally binding) and cannot be enforced.”

Finally, when it comes to being selected as a tenant, your landlord can only ask for a few things. While your landlord may ask for your Social Insurance Number (SIN), you are not required to give it to them as it is not required for any part of the rental process. In fact, asking for your SIN may be a red flag. They may ask for other information in order to perform a credit check, including your name and birthdate. They may also ask for your rental history, personal references, and the income information of yourself or a guarantor, though they are limited by law in the ways they can apply this information to their decision. Landlords may also ask for your photo identification, but they are required under federal law to inform you what they plan to use it for.

Rent and lease rights

Rent increases have become more confusing with the introduction of recent laws repealing some rent control measures. Generally, your landlord cannot raise your rent by any more than the annual guideline amount — which is 2.5 per cent in 2023 — and cannot raise your rent more than once per year. However, if you are in a building or an addition to a building that was occupied for the first time for residential purposes after November 15, 2018, your landlord can raise the rent by any amount, though still only once per year. Your landlord can also appeal to the Landlord and Tenant Board to claim they are facing a significantly higher cost of maintenance, for any reason, which could result in your rent being raised more than the guideline amount.

If your landlord does raise your rent, they must provide you with the relevant Landlord and Tenant Board Form, mandated because of its similar easy-to-understand structures to the Ontario Standard Lease.

Ontario law provides a structure for lease renewals that makes them easy for tenants. If you enter a fixed-term lease, your lease turns into a month-to-month lease automatically at the end of the original agreement, at which point you must provide at least a 60-day notice, in most cases, to end your lease. This provides a balanced liability on you and the landlord to respect when your contract ends.

Deposits are also a commonly misunderstood concept. Your landlord can only charge you for two kinds of deposits: a key deposit and a rental deposit.

The cost of a key deposit cannot be more than a reasonable value for replacing the keys you are given in your unit, which can range from $25 for a physical key to $250 for a key fob. Your key deposit should be used in case you lose your key. Otherwise, the deposit must be returned to you at the end of your tenancy.

The rental deposit will pay for rent at the end of your tenancy, and should cover your last month’s rent and only your last month’s rent. It should be kept on hand by the landlord until you decide to put an end to your lease. A similar rental deposit can be requested for the first month’s rent. Your landlord may ask you for more money for your rental deposit if your monthly rent increases under Ontario law, but they cannot ask you to put down a deposit for anything else, including damages.

The Ontario Standard Lease

The Ontario Standard Lease is a key part of your rights, as you must obtain a lease that follows the standard format in Ontario. It is written in an easy-to-understand format for your contract agreement, and contains reminders of many of your rights and responsibilities as a tenant. If you have questions about your lease, as long as it’s drafted as an Ontario Standard Lease, the lease or its appendices should include most of what you’re looking for. It explains clearly a majority of your rights as set out in the Residential Tenancies Act and is the go-to document for claims you may make against your landlord.

When searching for a rental, you may also be provided an Ontario Real Estate Association Form 400. While this form may set out many of the clauses of your lease, it is not a replacement for an Ontario Standard Lease, and you should be separately given an Ontario Standard Lease for your reference.

You should check to make sure that your lease is in the Ontario Standard Lease format. It is not uncommon for landlords — especially those targeting students — to completely undermine your rights and present you with a lease that has illegal clauses that cannot be enforced.

Where to go for questions and answers

You may still have unanswered questions and not know where to go. Or you may have experienced a violation of your rights and want justice. Either way, there are a few resources at your disposal.

The Housing Services team at the University of Toronto provides some information and guidance to students about their rights and responsibilities. You may also benefit in seeking aid from a community legal clinic like the university’s Downtown Legal Services’s housing law division.

While these teams can provide you with aid, they may also be overburdened by excessive demand for their services. Further, some rights may be difficult to fight for if no landlord will compete to afford you that right. Still, knowing what your rights are may help you in dealing with conflict and finding your way to living even slightly better.