Reasonable Doubt: Winter Tips for Tenants

Winter brings special considerations for tenants. Although the laws surrounding residential tenancies do not change with the seasons, some issues are more prevalent during Canada’s chilly months.

I will debunk some common myths and offer some tips to prevent eviction from and damage to your rental unit. Please note that the comments in this article apply only to tenancies covered by Ontario’s Residential Tenancies Act (that is, rental situations where the tenant does not share a kitchen or bathroom with the landlord).

If you find yourself in one of the situations below, contact your local Community Legal Clinic for advice about your particular scenario.

1. Myth: you can't be evicted in the winter.

Fact: You absolutely can be evicted in the winter. There is no special rule about evictions in the winter months, provided you are being evicted for legal reasons.

2. Myth: if my landlord does not fix my heat, I can withhold rent.

Fact: You can never withhold rent, and you risk eviction if you do not pay your rent in full when it is due. If your landlord does not fix your heat, despite numerous contacts and attempts to have your landlord fix your heat, you can file a T2 application with the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB).

Obviously, it is a big problem to not have heat in Canada in the winter. But you do not have the right to stay in a hotel for the night if your landlord does not respond to your text in the first hour. But, if they do not respond at all and you have tried numerous times in various ways, you could be entitled to alternate accommodations and compensation. For any expenses you have  incurred related to lack of heat, save your receipts and include them with your application to the LTB. For other maintenance concerns of a less urgent nature, you can file a T6 application with the LTB.

On a practical level, filing a T2 application with the LTB and waiting for a hearing takes time. For more immediate results, contact your local Property Standards office and/or the Rental Housing Enforcement Unit (1-888-772-9277) for assistance in dealing directly with your landlord.

Myth: my pipes burst when I was away over the holidays. I don’t have to pay the very expensive repair bill.

Fact: There are situations in which you might be responsible for the expenses. Pipes can freeze even inside your house if there is poor insulation. Imagine the back room of your house is very cold and your landlord gave you a heater with instructions to leave it on to make sure the pipes do not freeze. You leave for the holidays and do not leave the heater on because of fire concerns, but you do not contact your landlord to let them know. You return to find the pipes have frozen and there is water everywhere. If your landlord had known you would be away, they might have come with a different kind of heater, or come by to run hot water through the pipes during your absence.

This is just one example, but it’s important to remember that if you are going away over the winter, it’s a good idea to tell your landlord, especially if your house or building is older. Those quirky house problems could be an expensive surprise after a relaxing week on the beach.

Myth: tenants are responsible for snow removal.

Fact: Landlords are responsible. That being said, you and your landlord might have made a special arrangement where you agree to shovel the walk for some kind of compensation, like reduced rent in the winter. Or maybe your landlord is 80 years old and you are simply able-bodied and kind.

But generally, the landlord is responsible for clearing the snow within a reasonable amount of time, which is usually dictated by municipal by-laws (in Toronto, it is within 24 hours of the snowfall).

Rachael Lake is a staff lawyer with Waterloo Region Community Legal Services, practising in the areas of Disability and Employment Insurance Law. Reasonable Doubt appears on Mondays. 

A word of caution: You should not act or rely on the information provided in this column. It is not legal advice. To ensure your interests are protected, retain or formally seek advice from a lawyer. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Waterloo Region Community Legal Services.