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Illegal lease terms

Note: The following information relates specifically to for-profit rental housing (renting from an individual or business corporation) in Ontario.  This includes renting an apartment unit, a house, a rooming house, basement apartment, condo apartment, etc.
The rules for Social Housing (TCHC), Non-Profit housing, Co-operative housing, Student dormitories, shelters, jail/prison, care homes, renting from another renter (not a landlord), or renting a space where you share a kitchen or bathroom with the landlord can be different.
Sometimes the processes are the same, and sometimes they are completely different depending on the type of housing you live in.  For questions related to these types of housing please call our tenant hotline or check this page for more info.

Many landlords include illegal terms in leases in Ontario. While some provisions in a lease are illegal outright, others are simply unenforceable under the law.

Illegal provisions in the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) are void, which means that they can be ignored – it’s as if you didn’t sign them.  Even if your lease has illegal provisions, the legal provisions will still be valid and enforceable unless the Landlord and Tenant Board says otherwise.

In 2018, the Ontario government introduced the Standard Lease.  All tenants who began their tenancies after April 30, 2018 can request a standard lease under the law, even if their tenancies are verbal/oral.

While the introduction of the Standard Lease has helped eliminate a number of illegal provisions under the law, many tenants signed agreements before it was brought in and many landlords continue to try to add illegal and unenforceable provisions to leases.


Common Illegal provisions in a lease

These are provisions that tenants can usually ignore:

  • Illegal rent increases
  • Illegal rent deposits
  • Cleaning fees
  • Key deposits greater than the cost of the key
  • “Seasonal” Air-Conditioning fees
  • Requirements to pay cleaning fees
  • Requirements that tenants do any maintenance
  • Requirements to pay for any maintenance
  • Requirements to pay for garbage or the garbage-portion of the water bill
  • Requiring tenants to do snow-shoveling
  • Requirements to permit automatic debiting or direct deposit
  • Requirements for post-dated cheques
  • Allowing the landlord to give you “general notice” to leave
  • Banning subletting
  • Some restrictions on Assignment
  • Requirements to Renew your lease
  • Refusing to provide receipts
  • Unilaterally allowing the landlord to change services


Un-enforceble Provisions

These are provisions that, while not outright illegal under the RTA, have no means for the landlord to enforce. Tenants can usually ignore these provisions:

  • Requirements for contents insurance (Requirements for liability insurance are allowed)
  • Outlawing cannabis cultivation outright
  • Outlawing smoking outright
  • Restrictions on legal activities in your unit
  • Limitations on guests (note: these are allowed in social and non-profit housing)
  • No-Pet provisions

It gets complicated

Unless specifically allowed under the act, most lease provisions that try to restrict what tenants do can be ignored.

The exceptions are activities that:

  1. interfere with the reasonable enjoyment of other tenants or the landlord
  2. are illegal
  3. cause damage to the unit

For example, while landlords can’t ban smoking outright, they can ask you to stop if the second hand smoke is interfering with another tenants reasonable enjoyment of their unit.

Additionally, while growing a cannabis plant is legal under the law, selling cannabis illegally could be grounds for eviction.

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