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Legal Ease: Rent is more than where you live

Special rules with regard to leases came into effect in 2011. The obligatory lease form included an annex with a list of services of a personal nature to be provided to seniors and handicapped persons.

These new laws applied to leases in seniors residences and to personal assistance services, such as distribution and/or administration of medication, assistance with eating, personal hygiene, dressing, etc. They are listed in the form issued by the Régie du logement.

The annex is obligatory when the landlord offers additional services to the tenant because of age or handicap. The rights and obligations of landlord and tenant as set out in the Quebec Civil Code apply to these services as well as the rented premises.

The form contains columns for services included in the price of the rent, the cost of additional included services, and services available, but only paid for when used.

The term “rent” is defined in the law as the monthly cost of enjoying an abode with its services and accessories. For leases or lease renewals entered into after November 30, 2011, the landlord is obliged to specify what part of the rent applies to the cost for special services.

Problems arose when already existing leases had to be renewed respecting the new rules—the landlord had to distinguish between the cost of the rent and special services.

In a case heard at the Régie this spring, a tenant signed a lease for the September 1, 2009, to August 31, 2010, period. The rent was $1,450 per month. This lease was renewed annually till 2012 with no increase in rent. For the lease to commence September 1, 2012, the new rules had to apply.

In the renewal notice, the landlord advised that the cost of personal services would be $825 per month renewable on a monthly basis and the rent for the premises would be calculated at $900 a month, increasing the total monthly rent from $1,450 to $1,725.

A list of the special services and the cost of each were set out in the mandatory annex. The landlord claimed that the cost of special services should be established by him, not by the Régie.

In other words, any increase in basic rent had to be considered separately from an increase in the cost of special services. The tenant argued that $1,450 had included the special services and as these had not changed, any increase had to be made in accordance with the criteria issued by the Régie.

The decision states that a landlord has the right to modify conditions of a lease, including increasing the rent, with adequate notice to the tenant, who then has the right to contest the new amount.

For rental increases, the Régie has established criteria based on the owner’s income and expenses, including taxes, insurance, heating, maintenance, major repairs and administration.

The owner argued that the cost of meals and services should not be considered part of the rent and not be subject to Régie rental-increase regulations.

In the judge’s opinion, it is the obligation of the landlord to maintain those services listed in the first two columns of the annex and it is the obligation of the tenant to pay for them as part of the rent. In this case, the services were included in the original lease even though they were not—and did not have to be—listed individually.

The landlord could not modify the cost of these services independently without following the formalities required by the Quebec Civil Code. The Régie found the landlord was trying to use the new law to justify a large rent increase.

The reverse situation occurred when a group of residents in a subsidized housing program run by a non-profit organization decided they did not like the lunch that was offered as part of their rent. The amount in the annex for the cost of the meals was $225 monthly.

Although they had partaken of the meal in past years, the residents felt the quality had deteriorated. They complained and petitioned and finally decided to stop eating their meals at the residence and to stop paying the $225.

They argued that they were not obliged to eat at the residence and to force them to do so was abusive, against the law and in violation of their charter rights.

The Quebec Civil Code states that any attempt to limit the rights of a tenant to obtain services from whomever he wishes is illegal and without effect.

The Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides that everyone has a right to the exercise of his rights and freedoms without distinction or exclusion based, among other things, on his age, social condition or handicap.

These residents felt that obliging them to pay for a meal they did not enjoy was a form of exploitation and an abuse of their rights.

The court held that to find the residents were being exploited meant someone was taking unjust advantage of them for personal profit or advantage.

In this case, the residents were paying a rent below the normal market price to a non-profit organization. They were not forced to eat the meal and they could still benefit from the other advantages of their situation. There was no abuse and their loss from paying for a meal they did not eat was outweighed by the benefits they received.

They were ordered to repay what they had deducted from their rent for the meals. It would be interesting to know what a court would have said in a similar situation if the residence had been a private, for-profit business.

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