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Legal Ease: When the house we live in ceases to be our home

We may refer to the place we live in as our “home” but it may not be our house.  This is the situation whenever we rent someone else’s property in which to live.

The landlord provides the premises and we, the tenant, pay the rent. It seems simple but it isn’t always so. The arguments between landlords and tenants aren’t always about rent increases. Here are a few cases that went before the courts during the past year.

The parties had entered into a lease for premises in a residence catering to autonomous and semi-autonomous seniors. When the time came for the lease to be renewed the owner sent out a notice of modification of the lease reducing the rent but also withdrawing all the services the tenant had been receiving.  As a direct result of this change the premises was no longer suitable and the tenant advised the landlord that he was not renewing his lease.  A short time later the building was converted into eleven separate residential units.  The tenant claimed that the changes carried out by the landlord had not only modified the terms of the lease but had in fact changed the entire nature of the premises thereby entitling him to compensation.

The Régie agreed that by changing the building from a residence for autonomous seniors to one with separate residential units the object of the lease had changed and this could not be regarded as merely a modification of the existing lease.  After receiving his notice the tenant had advised the landlord that he would not be renewing his lease and the contractual relationship between the parties was therefore terminated.  However the Régie felt that the landlord’s decision to close the residence and convert it into individual residential units had been planned and favoured his own interests while ignoring those of the vulnerable tenants and that, in so doing, he had not acted in good faith.

The Régie found that the administrators of the corporate landlord had failed to show any empathy towards the tenants, failed to reveal their true intentions in the notice of modification, and not made any effort to explain their actions.  They were held personally responsible for damages and the tenants who had complained were awarded their moving expenses, an amount equal to three months rent and $1500 for damages resulting from the stress and inconvenience of searching for a new place to live.

The Régie has held that odours emanating from illicit substances are of such a nature as to disturb the normal enjoyment of premises including the common areas.  In one case a tenant complained of the smell of marijuana in the common areas.  The testimony of the complaining tenant was corroborated by two other tenants and police reports. The landlord had been advised of the annoyance as is required by law and was well aware of the problem but did nothing and suggested that if the tenants didn’t like the situation they were free to move. The Régie thought otherwise and maintained that a tenant has legal rights to remain in their premises and to peaceful enjoyment of those premises without being subject to harassment.  All tenants of the building were granted a rent reduction of $440 plus $1000 as moral damages.  Because the complaining tenant had been subjected to special harassment from the landlord he was awarded an additional $4000 as punitive damages

Upon providing appropriate notice a landlord can take back your home and give it to certain family members. Where a landlord gave notice to a tenant that his premises were to be taken back and given to the landlord’s grandson the tenant moved and the landlord dutifully paid the moving expenses. The tenant then learned that the premises had been given, not to the grandson, but to a third party at a higher rent.  The Régie held that the fact that the tenant had agreed to move did not deprive him of his right to claim damages if the landlord had acted in bad faith.  The tenant was awarded one year’s worth of the additional rent he had to pay for his new premises as well as $500 in moral damages and an additional $4000 as punitive damages.

Finally here’s one for all you cat lovers.  The landlord and one tenant decided to participate in an SPCA program to help with excess cats in the area.  They each kept six cats.  There were seven litter boxes placed on three different floors of the building.  The landlord had received two notices from the municipality for failing to conform to a local by-law regarding the maximum number of cats permissible in a residence unit as well as for the health situation of the building. A heavy odour of cat urine permeated the building and a tenant filed a complaint. The tenant was awarded $1000 by the Régie and the landlord was ordered to eradicate the odour as well as to make certain repairs to the building within a delay of 30 days so that the tenant could have the enjoyment of the premises to which he was entitled. The tenant’s rent was reduced by $100 a month until the Régie’s orders were carried out.

When your home is made unlivable or the enjoyment thereof substantially diminished, or when it is so modified as to become unsuitable, or when it is taken from you without legal justification it may remain a house but it is no longer your home.  When this happens, the Rental Board will ensure that you are indemnified.

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