know your rights, rental edition

After a week of looking at houses for rent, we found something we love and put down a deposit. My dread of moving has been mostly replaced with a mixture of resignation and excitement, as this will be a definite upgrade in our standard of living. Life is full of the unexpected. We're very fortunate in many ways - it could be way worse - and I don't want to lose that perspective.

This experience continues to be educational! In addition to the rental scams I saw on Craigslist, the basement disaster and our impending move have provided a refresher course (as if I needed one!) in knowing your rights and asserting them.

Know what you're entitled to

Last week, I emailed our insurance agent with a question, and was told that our claim would be disallowed - none of our losses covered - because we are not covered for flood. I was horrified. Sick to my stomach. What about our sewer backup rider? Our damage was from sewer backup, and we bought an extra rider expressly for that. The language is very clear and straightforward. It doesn't specify or exclude any cause of sewer backup, it just covers loss caused by it. Meaning, it doesn't matter if the sewer backup is caused by a flood. We still should be covered.  I managed to control my emotions and write a coherent email to the agent.

Lo and behold, she got back to me very quickly, saying she "went up the line" and argued on our behalf, and yes, we would be covered in full.

Her reply seemed awfully quick for "going up the line". Was she performing her company duty, attempting to deny coverage? Most people I spoke to thought so. After all, we know health insurance companies in the United States employ people whose sole task is to create obstacles to coverage, to make it so difficult that the patient or their family member gives up and goes away. (Whistleblowers have attested to this.) Obviously I have no proof that this agent was following that approach. It's just difficult for me to see the error as unintentional.

Know what they're not entitled to

We gave our landlord written notice that we were terminating our tenancy - that is, breaking our lease. He returned our rent cheques that would be unused,* but not our security deposit, which should be our last month's rent. LL told Allan that after we moved, he'll inspect the place and we can discuss the security deposit at that time. We knew this was his opening salvo in a move to keep our deposit.

I called to follow up, emphasizing that we need our deposit back (or used as our final month's rent, and the September cheque returned; it amounts to the same thing) in order to make a deposit on another place. He repeated the same line about an inspectionl I requested we arrange this inspection sooner rather than later, so I can get a handle on my finances. He agreed.

After we hung up, I had an idea. With a few seconds of Googling, I learned that what LL was suggesting is illegal under Ontario law. I sent this email.
Hi [LL],

As it turns out, we will have to change the way our last month's rent is being handled. We've learned that under Ontario law, our security deposit can only be used for the last month's rent. It cannot legally be withheld for damages, cleaning, or any other charges.

A summary of appropriate rent/security deposit procedures are summarized here by the Ontario Landlord and Tenant Board:


In particular, I draw your attention to these paragraphs:

Can a landlord charge a person a deposit or a fee to rent a unit?

Yes, a landlord can collect a rent deposit if it is requested on or before the day that the landlord and tenant enter into the tenancy agreement. The rent deposit cannot be more than one month's rent or the rent for one rental period, whichever is less. For example, if rent payments are made weekly, the deposit cannot be more than one week’s rent; if rent payments are made monthly or bi-monthly, the deposit cannot be more than one month’s rent.

The rent deposit must be used for the rent for the last month before the tenancy ends. It cannot be used for anything else, such as to pay for damages.

Does a landlord have to pay interest if a rent deposit is collected?

Yes, the landlord must pay the tenant interest on the rent deposit every 12 months. The amount of interest that a landlord must pay is the same as the rent increase guideline that is in effect when the interest payment is due. The guideline is set each year by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. Information about this year’s rent increase guideline can be found in the Brochures by Topic section of our website.

Note: Landlords may deduct the amount needed to update the rent deposit (so that it equals the current rent) from the interest that is owed to the tenant. See previous question.

If the landlord does not pay the interest owed to the tenant when it is due, the tenant can:
- deduct the interest from a future rent payment, or
- file a Tenant Application for a Rebate (Form T1) to the Board.

Can the landlord charge the tenant a damage deposit?

No. A landlord cannot collect a damage deposit that they would use if there is damage done to the unit. Also, a landlord cannot use the last month’s rent deposit to cover damages in the unit.

If the landlord finds that a tenant has damaged the unit or caused damage to the building, the landlord can give the tenant a notice and/or ask them to pay for the damages. If they do not, the landlord can apply to have the Board determine if there are damages and what should be done about them. For more information about the remedies available to a landlord if a tenant causes damage, see the Board’s brochure on Maintenance & Repairs. [end quote]

Accordingly, we are requesting that you return either our rent cheque dated September 1, 2013, or our security deposit in full, plus the interest required by law. If you believe there are damages to the house for which we should be reponsible, we will discuss and negotiate that as a separate matter, as required by law.

We need our security deposit returned promptly so that we can sign a lease on another house, and the law very clearly states that this is our right. Thank you in advance for your cooperation.

Laura & Allan
This LL is not a kid. He is not a novice. I'm quite sure he knows the provisions of the Ontario Residential Tenancies Act.

We can apply to the Landlord and Tenant Board to recover our money. Hopefully we won't have to, but we won't hesitate to do this if need be.

I'm not special

And so, there are two more examples of how you can be ripped off if you don't know - and assert - your rights.

Long ago, after one of these types of posts, a reader thought I was bragging about getting special treatment. Quite the contrary. My point is that we all must do this, and we all can. I know it doesn't come naturally or easily to everyone, but it does get easier with practice - especially if you've ever gotten the positive reinforcement of a good result. I share my stories to show that you can fight back, and that often you must fight back. You can know your rights and you can win.

One final note. When you're doing battle with a landlord or a utility or a telecom company, you need unassailable facts. Don't ask your friends, or if you do, don't rely on their opinions, even if they appear to have inside knowledge. Don't ask the folks who hang out at your favourite message board or social media site. And for dog's sake, don't ask Ask.com or Yahoo! Answers or something similar. Go online and go to the source. And if you're unsure how to find reliable sources online... ask a librarian!

* In Canada, as in many European countries, tenants give landlords a year's worth of post-dated cheques. Landlords deposit the appropriate cheque at the beginning of each month, and it's the tenant's job to see that the cheque will clear.

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