In Canada, landlord and tenant laws are governed by the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA), which provides the rights and responsibilities of tenants, landlords, and the landlord’s agents involved in renting a residential premise.
When I bought my first property, I had roommates sharing the upstairs suite with me and had a separate tenanted suite downstairs. Until I had issues with tenants, I wasn’t familiar with the RTA. I had an epiphany when the landlords/tenants board told me I couldn’t keep any of the security deposit no matter how long it took me to clean because I hadn’t completed a move-in or move-out inspection. My bad. After that, I got hold of the RTA, read it, and aligned myself with professional organizations that helped me interpret and follow the act.
As a landlord, you are responsible for knowing the RTA rules and applying them in your dealings with your tenants. In short – it’s your go-to rule book for landlord/tenant laws. My experience has proven that you could easily become a victim of it if you don’t know it.
If you violate the rules of the RTA, you could be taken to either the Residential Tenancies Dispute Resolution (RTDRS) quasi-judicial tribunal or civil court. Both courts can issue fines, and at worst, your house could be shut down. If you violate the act and are taken to court, you can’t claim ignorance – judges do not look favorably on landlords who haven’t bothered to do their homework.
As you may have guessed, like all things legal, the RTA is a bear. It’s very long and involved, and it evolves with legislated changes. Whenever one change occurs in the legislation, it sets off a ripple effect as it did with the legalization of Cannabis. It is an act you will need to read and re-read to stay updated constantly.
In my years of being a landlord, I’ve found very few instances where I could go directly to the RTA to find a black and white answer on interpreting the act with my specific situation. Landlord/tenant associations such as CRRA and ARLA are so great for landlords because they talk to tenants and landlords day in and day out and are very familiar with many situations. This means they can tell you which direction the courts lean and your best course of action. To keep your knowledge current, having a current copy of the RTA and for support/interpretation of the RTA, joining your local landlord/tenant association will keep you in good shape. You can claim the membership fees on your income tax, but the best part is having a team of knowledgeable, friendly, helpful people in your court.
What can you expect to find in the RTA?
The RTA contains all the information you need to know about:
• Who the act applies to
• Periodic and fixed tenancies
• Obligations/covenants of landlords and tenants
• Remedies of landlords/tenants
• Security deposits, provincial court jurisdiction
• Residential Tenancy Dispute Resolution Service
I used to have a landlord in Edmonton who owned several properties. He was in his 70’s and would enter my rental house (and his other rental houses) whenever he felt like it without proper notification. He treated his rental properties as if he lived in them and the tenants were his house guests. He always used to say – “no one can tell me what to do with my properties!” He was wrong. Once you rent out your property to a tenant, you become a landlord, and rules or covenants must be followed. Both landlords and tenants have rights under the RTA.
You can download your copy from https://www.servicealberta.ca/pdf/RTA/RTA_Handbook_BW.pdf
Interpretation of the RTA
The RTA sets out the legislation in black and white – which is good. However, as a landlord, you are dealing with people and situations involving people, which involve many gray areas. Luckily, your local/municipal landlord/tenant resource centers can help you interpret the law as it relates to your situation within your city and your province.
Many municipal landlord/tenant associations offer RTA courses – I strongly recommend attending. They’re usually a couple of days and run by people who know the act inside out and have dealt with every possible situation for years.
The RTA applies to:
- Basement suites
- A trailer in a trailer park
- A hotel or motel room if rented for more than six consecutive months
- A rooming or boarding house (mostly)
Who does the RTA not apply to?
- Mobile home sites (they have their own Mobile Home Sites Tenancies Act)
- People who share the landlord’s residence as if they were part of the landlord’s family. For example you are the house owner, you are living in it, and renting rooms to tenants.
- A business premises with an attached dwelling. For example, a small grocery store with a residential space in the same building, that is rented under one agreement.
- Hotels, motels, trailer parks, tourist homes, vacation accommodations where a person lives for Less than six months
- Student residences at educational institutions
- Nursing homes and most supported living accommodations
- Correctional institutions
“Dale” has been renting the spare room in your house. It’s the 1st of the month, and Dale announces he decided he shouldn’t have to pay rent this month. You tell him if he doesn’t pay, he has to leave immediately. He says – “you can’t do that, I know my rights, I’m going to call the police, and they’ll force you to keep me.”
Is Dale’s room rental in your house covered under the RTA?
Under the RTA, both landlords and tenants have duties.
Your responsibility as a landlord is to keep the property in good working order and ensure it is a safe place to live. A landlord has a duty to “maintain a habitable premise” by:
- Maintaining all common areas
- Ensuring all electrical, plumbing, heating, sanitary, ventilating and air conditioning systems are maintained/running
- Supplying running water, hot water and heat
- Providing trash receptacles/ensure trash is removed regularly
- Taking reasonable steps to remove snow/ice from the entrance/driveway (this can be included in the lease as the tenant’s responsibilities unless it is a condo building/apartment building/townhouse with a public driveway)
A tenant has a responsibility to:
- Pay rent when it’s due
- Not interfere with the landlord or tenant’s rights within the premise
- Not perform illegal acts
- Not endanger any persons
- Not do significant dames to the property
- Maintain the property in a reasonably clean condition
- Vacate at the expiration/termination of the tenancy
Tenants’ duties also include:
- Reporting any damage
- Keeping the driveway, entrance, and or parking area clean
- Paying for repairs or replacements due to misuse or neglect from the tenant/tenant’s guests
Tenants sometimes get nervous about calling for maintenance issues because they are worried they will have to pay for anything they report. To help them understand that’s not the case, I have two examples that have served me well:
- If you (tenants) throw a plate through the window, you’ll have to pay for it.
If the building settles and there is a stress fracture on the window, I’ll pay for it.
- If the toilet is 15 years old and doesn’t flush properly, I’ll pay to replace it.
If your (tenant’s) two-year-old child flushes a squeaky toy down the toilet, and I have to pay a plumber to repair it, you pay for it.
Your tenant calls because the washer isn’t working. You send in a repair person who tells you the cause is change blocking the hose. Who is responsible for paying?
You can be hard and fast with the rules or exercise leniency. If I have a long-term tenant who hasn’t caused me any grief, sometimes I’ll pay even if it’s their fault. I let them know that even though they should have to pay technically, I’ll let it go this once because they have been such good tenants. However, moving forward, if the same issue occurs, it will be their responsibility. I sometimes do this to foster goodwill with my long-term tenants. It’s your call.
Cleanliness has countless interpretations for numerous people. In university, I had a roommate who worked for years at McDonald’s. Cleaning was part of her job, and they trained her to clean to meet industrial/food safety standards.
Home, however, was a different story. She was raised by parents who literally never cleaned. Coming from a German background where the expression “cleanliness is next to godliness” was a creed, not cleaning was beyond my comprehension. They also never fixed anything when it was broken. When we first became roomies, she couldn’t understand why I was constantly cleaning, and I couldn’t understand why she never cleaned. Eventually, we sat down and figured out what needed doing and who did what. From my roomie experience, I learned you can’t expect someone to think the same way you do unless the same parents raised them in the same environment.
As a landlord, I have a cleaning checklist, a move-out cleaning checklist, and a schedule of move-out fees. Tenants read through, sign, and date these checklists when they sign the lease. Spelling everything out from the onset ensures there is less chance of misinterpretation. Since everyone keeps a copy, you can prove you provided the expectations to the tenants before they moved in, and they agreed to them.
Like it or not, laws are part of the real estate business. As you well know, countries have laws, too, and when you live in a particular country, you must follow the law or ignore them and risk the not-so-great consequences. As a landlord, you can choose to ignore the RTA and have it come back and bite you in the ass later. Ignoring the RTA doesn’t make it go away, unfortunately. The alternative is to learn and understand the RTA rules and apply them to your property rental business to have a more peaceful life as a property investor—your call.
Do you know the answers to the scenario questions? I’d love to hear them firstname.lastname@example.org
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Nelda Schulte is a property investor who is passionate about helping investors who self-manage have profitable investment properties through resources and education. If you struggle with the wrong landlord forms, or worse yet, no landlord forms check out Nelda’s 10 Essential Editable Landlord Forms that help you separate the good tenants from the bad and increase your property’s profitability.