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Repairs and maintenance of rental properties in Ontario

This article summarizes some key laws related to repair and maintenance of residential units in the province of Ontario. We’ve used the Ontario Residential Tenancies Act and other publicly available legal resources to research this article. This article is only intended as an information resource and is not a substitute for qualified legal advice. Rental laws are always changing and you are responsible for performing your own research into the laws that apply to your unique situation. If you have legal questions or concerns, please contact a lawyer who specializes in rental laws in Ontario. 

What are landlords and tenants responsible for repairing in Ontario? 

Landlords are responsible for maintaining and repairing rental properties. This includes taking care of pests, appliances and common areas, such as parking lots, laundry rooms, elevators, hallways, driveways and garbage areas. However, tenants or their guests break anything on purpose or by being careless, they are responsible for either fixing it themselves or paying for the repair. In addition, tenants are legally responsible for keeping the rental unit clean (see below).

Are landlords responsible for gardening and snow shoveling?

If the rental property is an apartment, condo or apartment within a house, it is the landlord’s responsibility to mow the lawn and shovel snow from the walkway and sidewalk. If the property is an entire detached house, the law is not clear about who is responsible for outdoor work like lawn mowing and snow shoveling. It’s best to include this in the lease agreement so there are no surprises for anyone come winter.

Are landlords responsible for fixing clogged drains and toilets? 

This is a common cause of disagreement between landlords and tenants. Over time, drains often get clogged with normal wear and tear. Accumulated grease, hair and coffee grinds are the most likely offenders. Toilets are less likely to clog unless you put naughty things down them, but tree roots are the culprit more often than you’d think. Technically, landlords are responsible for ‘drainage and sewage’. However, they are not responsible for damage caused to these systems by tenants.

If you are a tenant, before you call your landlord consider how the drain or sink came to be clogged in the first place – and remember that the plumber knows all  your filthiest secrets. If you have lived there for years and are careful about everything that goes down there, call your landlord and say so. But if you suspect it might have something to do with all the cat litter, condoms and tampons you’ve been flushing (the string does the damage), then you should offer to cover it. If it’s truly a mystery, consider trying to negotiate responsibility for the clogged toilet with your landlord based on the cause of damage as diagnosed by a ‘neutral’ plumber (i.e. not the landlord’s best friend). If you just moved in, make sure you spell out that damage done by past tenants is not your fault (20 years worth of flushed tampons has nothing to do with you if you’ve lived there 6 months…).

Are landlords responsible for putting the garbage out for collection? 

Responsibilities regarding garbage collection aren’t addressed in the Ontario Residential Tenancies Act. It is usually up to the landlord and the tenant to work out an agreement at the beginning of the tenancy as to how the garbage and recycling will make it to the curb for collection each week.

Tenants are responsible for keeping their rental unit clean

‘Clean’ is a concept that is up for interpretation. Some will understand this to mean there is not a dish is out of place, while others define it by whether you can see the floor. Section 33 Ontario Residential Tenancy Act states that ‘The tenant is responsible for ordinary cleanliness of the rental unit’. If the tenant fails to maintain the unit to this standard then a landlord may serve them Notice of Termination and if the situation is not corrected you could be evicted.

If something breaks, tell your landlord!

You would be surprised how many things never get fixed because landlords never know it’s broken. As soon as you notice something in need of repair, write or talk to your landlord about what is wrong and ask to have it fixed. It is sometimes helpful to take photos of the problem. If you keep a written record over email or repair forms, this can come in handy later if there is a dispute.

If your landlord doesn’t reply or is late in responding, follow-up. Ask your neighbours if they are having similar problems. You might be able to get more done if you work together, especially if the problems are in common areas.

What should you do if your landlord isn’t fixing something?

If your landlord does not fix the problem, you can call your local property standards or by-law department, or your town or city hall, municipal office, or local councillor. Many cities, towns, and municipalities have inspectors who can order your landlord to make repairs or to clean up your building. If there are no inspectors or by-laws about housing standards where you live, you can call the Investigation and Enforcement Unit (IEU) at 1-888-772-9277 or visit their website.

Applying to the Landlord and Tenant Board about maintenance issues

If your landlord still does not fix the problem, you can apply to the Landlord and Tenant Board. The Board is like a special court that decides disputes between tenants and landlords. When you apply, the Board will schedule a hearing where you and your landlord can each present your case to a member of the Board.

It is up to you to convince the Board member about the problem. It is very important to bring evidence to your hearing, for example, witnesses, photos, audio or video recordings, inspectors’ reports, work orders, letters, or anything else that can help you prove your case to the Board member. You might want to make notes and take them to the hearing so you can remember everything you want to say.

If the Board agrees that there is a problem, the Board could order your landlord to:

  • do any needed repairs or maintenance,
  • not raise your rent until the repairs are done,
  • give you back some of your rent for the time the repairs are not done,
  • pay you back if you had to pay for the repairs or do them yourself,
  • pay to fix or replace any of your property that was damaged because of the repair problem, or
  • pay any reasonable expenses you had because of the repair problem, for example, if you had to eat in a restaurant because your fridge or stove was broken.

You can also ask the Board to let you move out without giving proper notice, if the conditions are very bad. The Board can also make any other order that it thinks is reasonable.

It is best if you apply to the Board within one year of noticing the problem. In some cases, you might be able to apply later than this. You can apply to the Board even if the problem has already been fixed or if you have moved out. A community legal clinic or lawyer can help you apply to the Board. Click here for information about getting legal help.

The Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario (ACTO) has a tip sheet called T6 Application about Maintenance. It explains how to fill out the application form and prepare for a hearing with the Board. To find the tip sheet online, go to www.acto.ca and click on “Tenant Info”.

There is a $45 fee to apply to the Board. If you win your case you might get this money back from your landlord. If you have a low income you can ask the Board not to charge you the fee. To do this, you will need to fill out a “Fee Waiver Request” form. You can ask the Board to send you this form, or download it from the Board’s website. Go to www.ltb.gov.on.ca and click on “Other Forms”.