housing, Legal, News

Air Conditioners: A Hot Topic for Tenants and Landlords

Re-posted from ON THE RADAR, a publication of Community Legal Education Ontario (CLEO)

As summer heats up, it’s a good time for tenants to pull out their leases and review the rules about air conditioners.

This month’s On the Radar looks at the different ways air conditioning can be handled in a lease.

What a lease might say

A lease can say different things about air conditioning, including:

  • it’s provided by the landlord
  • the tenant can install their own
  • all air conditioners or certain types are banned
  • nothing at all

If there isn’t a lease, the rules depend on what was said when the tenant and landlord made a verbal rental agreement.

When the landlord provides air conditioning

When the landlord provides air conditioning, they must make sure it works properly and repair it if it breaks.

The cost of running the air conditioner may be:

  • included in the rent, or
  • added as an extra charge.

Included in the rent

Most leases say whether the cost of air conditioning is included in the rent.

But some are less clear. For example, some leases say that electricity is included. But tenants need the landlord’s permission to install or use an air conditioner or extra appliances. The Landlord and Tenant Board usually says that if this is in the lease, the cost of running the air conditioning is not included in the rent.

Added as an extra charge

It’s sometimes legal for a landlord to charge extra rent for air conditioning. But the amount cannot be more than:

  • the actual cost to the landlord of running the air conditioner, or
  • a “reasonable amount” based on the value of the service if the landlord cannot show the actual cost.

Tenants should ask their landlord for copies of electricity bills. They’ll need these if they don’t agree with the amount of extra rent the landlord charges.

It’s not legal for a landlord to charge extra rent if the tenant pays for their own electricity.

When the tenant can install their own air conditioner

Many leases say that tenants must have their landlord’s permission to install an air conditioner. It’s best for the tenant to ask in writing and keep a copy for their records. If the landlord refuses, see the section below on banned air conditioners.

Landlords can charge extra rent if tenants install air conditioners only if electricity is included in the rent. And the amount cannot be more than:

  • the actual cost of the electricity, or
  • a “reasonable amount” if the landlord cannot show how much electricity the air conditioner is using.

But if the lease says electricity is included and does not say anything about air conditioners or getting permission, air conditioning is included in the rent.

Even if the lease does not require it, it’s a good idea to have a professional install the air conditioner. This is especially true for window-mounted air conditioners, which can be dangerous if not installed properly. Tenants should keep a copy of the technician’s invoice in case the landlord asks for proof.

A landlord cannot remove an air conditioner owned by a tenant, as long as it was installed properly and is not disturbing others.

When air conditioners are banned

Landlords are increasingly trying to prevent tenants from installing window-mounted air conditioners. It’s legal for a landlord to put this in a lease when a tenant first moves in.

But landlords cannot refuse certain types of air conditioners unless the lease mentions them. Despite what some landlords say, there are no laws that ban certain types of air conditioners.

What tenants can do

If a landlord says no to air conditioners, the tenant can offer to have the air conditioner installed by a professional and inspected on a regular basis.

Tenants can also write to their landlord to explain any medical conditions or disabilities that are made worse by hotter temperatures. If their unit is too hot, tenants should check it using a thermometer and take a picture of the exact temperature.

If a tenant takes these steps and the landlord still refuses, they should get legal advice.

When a lease says nothing about air conditioning

If air conditioning is already installed, tenants can assume they can use it:

  • at no extra charge, as long as electricity is included in their rent and the lease does not say they need the landlord’s permission to use extra appliances
  • at their own cost, if electricity is not included in their rent

If air conditioning is not already installed, a tenant can install their own air conditioner. But they should tell their landlord and have it done by a professional. If electricity is included in the rent, so is the cost of running an air conditioner. Or, the tenant can ask their landlord to install an air conditioner. See the information above about how much landlords can charge.

This post gives general legal information. It is not a substitute for getting legal advice about a particular situation.

Estate Planning, Legal

Protecting Older Adults from Abuse

Re-posted from ON THE RADAR, a publication of Community Legal Education Ontario (CLEO)

On June 15 each year, World Elder Abuse Awareness Day draws attention to the abuse and neglect of older adults. The COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on this, with the widespread neglect and deaths in Ontario’s long-term care homes.

This month’s On the Radar gives an overview of elder abuse and highlights some of the steps older adults and their families can take to protect their rights.

Types of elder abuse

Older adults are usually abused by someone they know and often by someone they trust and care about, such as:

  • a family member, spouse, or partner
  • a friend, roommate, or neighbour
  • a caregiver or service provider
  • a person they rely on for a place to live or for financial help

Abuse can be physical, sexual, emotional, or financial. It can also be abuse if someone agrees to provide care to an older adult and then neglects or does not care for them properly. For example, they don’t give the person medication, food, or clothing.

Financial abuse

Financial abuse is the most common form of elder abuse in Canada.

Financial abuse happens when someone steals from an older adult or takes advantage of them financially. This can happen if someone:

  • steals money, pension cheques, or personal belongings
  • lives with an older adult and does not pay their fair share of the expenses
  • commits a crime by using the older adult’s credit card or bank card without their permission or by signing cheques in their name
  • pressures the older person to do something like selling their home or personal belongings, or giving away their money

Ways to protect against financial abuse include:

  • keeping financial and legal documents in a safe place, like a drawer with a lock or a safety deposit box
  • not sharing passwords, Personal Information Numbers (PINs), bank cards, or credit cards
  • setting up direct deposit for pension cheques and automatic payments for bills and expenses

Other ways people can protect themselves from abuse

Whenever possible, it’s best if older adults plan for the future while they’re still independent and understand what their decisions mean. This includes:

CLEO’s Guided Pathways for Wills and Powers of Attorney offer a free and easy way to create or update these documents.

Reporting abuse

Call 911 if you think that someone is being abused and it’s an emergency.

Call your local police station if you think there’s been a crime, such as physical or sexual assault, or a financial crime like theft, fraud, or abuse of a Power of Attorney.

The law says that everyone must report abuse if the person lives in a long-term care home or a licensed retirement home. This means staff, visitors, family members, and friends.

The only people who don’t have to report are residents.

Report abuse in long-term care homes through the Long-term Home Care ACTION Line at 1-866-434-0144. Read more in What should I do if I see abuse in a long-term care home?

Report abuse in a retirement home to the Retirement Homes Regulatory Authority at 1-855-275-7472. Read more in What should I do if I see abuse in a retirement home?

Where to get help

There are organizations across Ontario that can help someone dealing with abuse or their family members and friends. Here are some examples. They all provide their services for free.

The Advocacy Centre for the Elderly (ACE) gives free legal advice or legal referrals to people who are over 60 and have a low income. Call 1-855-598-2656 or 416-598-2656. If ACE can’t help, they can make a referral to another legal or social service.

Community legal clinics give free legal services to people with low incomes. Clinics help people with a range of legal problems, like social assistance and housing.

The Seniors Safety Line takes calls 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in over 150 languages. They know about programs and services in communities across the province. And if an older adult calls them directly, they can provide counselling. Call 1-866-299-1011.

The Seniors’ INFOline is part of Ontario’s Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility. They can give information about government programs and services related to older adults and elder abuse. Call 1-888-910-1999 or 1-800-387-5559 (TTY). To find other local supports, call 211 or go to the 211 Ontario website.

COVID-19, housing, Legal, News

Changes to Tenant’s Rights Continue During the Pandemic

Re-posted from ON THE RADAR, a publication of Community Legal Education Ontario (CLEO)

The fast pace of change to housing laws and processes at the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) continues into 2021. This month’s On the Radar looks at 3 noteworthy changes:

  • the end of the second eviction freeze
  • a different video conferencing tool for the LTB’s online hearings
  • a new rule that forces people to accept the first rent-geared-to-income (RGI) unit they’re offered

The eviction freeze ends (again)

On January 13, 2021, the Ontario government made an order stopping the Sheriff’s office from evicting most tenants during the second COVID-19 state of emergency.

This “eviction freeze” was lifted gradually across the province, beginning with 3 eastern public health units on February 10, 2021. The last of the eviction freezes ended on March 8, 2021, in Toronto, Peel, and the North Bay-Parry Sound area.

This means that the regular eviction process is back in place. For most tenants, the eviction process follows these 5 steps:

  1. The landlord gives the tenant an eviction notice.
  2. The landlord then files an eviction application to the LTB.
  3. The LTB has a hearing.
  4. The LTB makes an eviction order.
  5. The landlord takes the eviction order to the Sheriff’s office. The Sheriff is the only one who can evict the tenant.

Steps to Justice has more information about the eviction process.

LTB tries Zoom for video hearings

In mid-March, the LTB started using Zoom for some online hearings, instead of Microsoft Teams. The LTB had been using Microsoft Teams since August 2020, when it first introduced video hearings.

People had many criticisms of Microsoft Teams. For example, Microsoft Teams does not allow people to speak to each other privately in “breakout rooms”. This was especially hard on tenants who wanted to speak to Tenant Duty Counsel. It also made it difficult for landlords, tenants, and their legal representatives to negotiate with each other.

Now that the LTB is testing out Zoom, they’re trying to address some of these concerns. There are breakout rooms for negotiating and for tenants to talk to Duty Counsel.

As well, the LTB had stopped providing mediation services for rent arrears hearings. But during this Zoom test, they’ll slowly start using mediators again.

Mediation can be helpful as landlords and tenants meet with a mediator, who’s neutral and trained to help them work out a solution. It’s also private and confidential, unlike eviction hearings, which are public. And at a hearing, the adjudicator has all of the power to decide what happens.

Getting help

It’s important for tenants to get legal help as soon as possible before their LTB hearings. Tenants can also ask for help if they have concerns about accessing a virtual hearing.

To get help, tenants have several options, including:

During the pandemic, community legal clinics and the Tenant Duty Counsel Program are helping most people over the phone.

One strike, you’re out: Changes to RGI offers

In 2019, the government changed how many offers of rent-geared-to-income (RGI) housing someone can turn down before their household is taken off the waiting list.

The old rule said that households could get 3 offers. So, they could turn down the first 2 and stay on the waiting list.

With the new rule, households are given only one offer. If they turn it down, the household is removed from the waiting list, unless there are exceptional circumstances. For example, most regions allow people to remain on the waiting list if:

  • they’re very sick in hospital when they get the offer, or
  • the home they’re offered is in the same building as someone who’s abused them.

This new rule has been slowly rolled out across the province. The first regions applied the rule in January 2020, with more introducing it on January 1, 2021. The last of the regions will adopt the rule by July 1, 2021. This includes the City of Toronto. Tenants can check if the rule is being applied in their region.

Getting legal help

For help related to your residential tenancy, please contact Kingston Community Legal Clinic.

COVID-19, Social Assistance

Getting COVID-19 Benefits while on OW or ODSP

Re-posted from ON THE RADAR, a publication of Community Legal Education Ontario (CLEO)

When the Canada Emergency Relief Benefit (CERB) ended, the Canadian government created 3 new Recovery Benefits and made changes to Employment Insurance (EI). There are special rules about these programs for people who are on Ontario Works (OW) or the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP).

This month’s On the Radar looks at how COVID-19 benefits interact with OW and ODSP.

New benefits

To deal with the economic problems caused by COVID-19, the federal government created these new benefits:

These benefits are for people who miss work or lose their jobs because of COVID-19 and don’t qualify for EI. They pay $500 a week.

The government also made changes to EI. They lowered the amount of time that a person needs to qualify to 120 hours. And everyone now gets at least $500 a week.

Clawing back OW and ODSP money

Some people who get OW or ODSP will also qualify for EI or one of the Recovery Benefits. There’s a rule that says if someone on OW or ODSP qualifies for the Recovery Benefits or EI, they must apply to get them.

When someone on OW or ODSP gets money from another source, the government takes back some of their ODSP or OW money. This is often called a “clawback”.

People on OW and ODSP have to report their income every month. And both EI and the Recovery Benefits count as income.

Both EI and the Recovery Benefits are taken dollar for dollar from a person’s OW or ODSP payments. This means that for every dollar they get from EI or a Recovery Benefit, they lose one dollar from their OW or ODSP payments. So, while they’re getting money from these programs, most people will not get any money from OW or ODSP.

Special status

Usually, someone who gets EI or a Recovery Benefit would be removed from OW or ODSP because they have too much income. But instead, during COVID-19, OW or ODSP will give them a special status. This status means that they get $2.50 each month, which lets them:

  • stay on OW or ODSP, and
  • still get things like health benefits and discretionary benefits through OW or ODSP.

Paying back the money

Some people who got the new benefits at the same time as they got OW or ODSP are now being asked to pay OW or ODSP back. This is called an “overpayment”. They’ll get a letter that says they owe money.

Usually, OW and ODSP get money back by reducing a person’s future payments until they repay the full amount. OW and ODSP do not normally cancel someone’s debt.

But it’s often possible to make a deal about how much OW or ODSP takes each month, so that the person does not face “undue hardship”. People who want to do this need to talk to their caseworker.

If someone does not agree they owe money or with the amount OW or ODSP says they owe, they can ask for an internal review. This means that another OW or ODSP worker from the same office reviews the decision and decide whether or not to change it.

For more information about asking for an internal review, see:

If OW or ODSP does not change their decision, people can appeal to the Social Benefits Tribunal. For more information about an appeal, see:

Getting legal help

For help related to a decision by OW or ODSP , please contact Kingston Community Legal Clinic.

COVID-19, Legal, News

Getting a Fair Tribunal Hearing During COVID-19

Re-posted from ON THE RADAR, a publication of Community Legal Education Ontario (CLEO)

At the beginning of COVID-19, tribunals across Ontario were forced to close. Many have now re-opened using remote or virtual hearings by video or telephone. This includes the Landlord and Tenant Board, the Ontario Labour Relations Board, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Board, and the Social Benefits Tribunal.

This month’s On the Radar looks at what a fair hearing means and what people can do to protect their rights.

Remote Hearings During COVID-19

Most tribunal hearings in Ontario are now done by phone or video. These hearings can be unfair to people who don’t have access to the internet and the technology they need.

The Right to a fair Hearing

Tribunals must hold fair hearings.

If someone thinks that they’re not getting a fair hearing, they should ask the tribunal to stop the hearing until the problem can be fixed.

If the hearing continues anyway, they can ask the tribunal or a court to “review” the decision. If the hearing was unfair, the tribunal might have to hold a new hearing.

There are many ways that a hearing can be unfair. Here are some of the most common problems.

Getting Notice of the Hearing

The right to notice means that people must be told in advance about their hearing. This gives them time to prepare and gather evidence. Normally, people get their notice of a hearing by mail.

Many tribunals are now scheduling as many hearings as possible to catch up with their backlog. This rush means that many people are not even being told that they have a hearing. Others are being told about their hearing after it’s too late to send in their evidence. This goes against their right to get notice of a hearing.

The Right to be Heard

The right to be heard means that people must be allowed to tell the tribunal’s decision-maker what they think happened. This is also referred to as “making their case”. They also need to review and respond to any evidence used at their hearing.

Many people have found it hard to take part fully in their video hearings for reasons like:

  • not having a computer or stable internet connection
  • not being able to understand the interpreter if there is one
  • having problems using or downloading video-conference software
  • not being able to join the hearing because the tribunal is having technical problems

Technical problems like these can interfere with a person’s right to be heard.

Not Showing Bias

A decision-maker cannot be biased or appear to be biased. If the decision-maker favours one side, it’s important that the other person tell the decision-maker during the hearing that they believe this is happening.

Sometimes a court will refuse to consider a claim of bias if it was not raised at the hearing in front of the original decision-maker.

Dealing with Unfair Hearings

If someone’s hearing was not fair, they have several options.

First, they should tell the decision-maker about it. It’s best to do this before the hearing if possible. This could happen, for example, if the person received notice of their hearing but didn’t have enough time to send in their evidence. And it’s important to tell the decision-maker in writing and save a copy of the letter or email.

If the person cannot complain before the hearing, for example, if the problem happens after the hearing has started, they must complain during the hearing. This might happen if the person cannot hear the decision-maker or the decision-maker cannot hear the person.

They should ask the decision-maker to stop the hearing until the fairness problem can be fixed. This puts their concerns “on the record”. It forces the decision-maker to either fix the problem or officially ignore the person’s concerns by continuing with the hearing. The person can then use the fact that they told the decision-maker as evidence in a review of the decision.

If the decision-maker does not fix the problem, the person who was treated unfairly can ask for a “review” or “reconsideration” of the decision. This means that the tribunal will look at the decision and decide if it was done fairly. If it was not fair, the tribunal may order another hearing.

Asking for a decision to be reviewed does not always stop the order from being enforced.

For example, a tenant might ask the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) to review an eviction order. It’s possible that the eviction could happen before the LTB even decides whether to review the decision. Sometimes the tenant can solve this by going to court for an emergency order.

Getting Help

The process for asking for a review is different for each tribunal. In some cases, people may have to go to the Divisional Court for review instead of the tribunal. A lawyer can help people know where they should go.

Asking for a review can be a complicated process and it must be done quickly. People who want to apply for a review need to get help from: