Didn’t pay your rent on the first of the month? It’s a good idea to prepare for your landlord’s response.

The Globe and Mail recently published an estimate suggesting that 30% of Canadian renters did not pay rent on April 1. That’s 3.6 million people. Most of these people didn’t withhold their rent in order to make a political statement. They didn’t act in coordination with their neighbours, and they are not on rent strike. They just couldn’t afford to pay, or they realized that they needed to prioritize their family’s needs over those of their landlord.  But as the scale of the problem is coming into sharper focus, tenants across this country are starting to realize our collective power. We’re starting to get organized, to find our voice, and to use it to demand a cancellation of all rent payments throughout the duration of the COVID-19 crisis.

We can expect that landlords are going to try to weaken our collective power with divide and conquer tactics. They will try to deal with us one-on-one, relying on channels where they hold all the cards. N4s, private negotiations, repayment plans, threats and intimidation of individual tenants are ALL part of a divide and conquer strategy. We can’t be fooled into thinking that we can deal with this crisis as individual tenants, or on a case-by-case basis. This is exactly what our landlords want.  We need to connect with our neighbours and insist on communicating as a group. Divided we are weak. Together we are strong.

Most tenants that have not (or cannot) pay rent are not in direct contact with one another. All of us need to make that contact happen.

What we can do now:

  1. Read the FAQs below to get informed and prepare for your landlord’s response.
  2. Check in with tenants you have already spoken to and find out: (a) who has not paid rent, (b) if tenants have received a response from the landlord and (c) if a collective response from tenants is needed.
  3. Ensure that tenants in your building or neighbourhood have each other’s phone numbers and are able to reach out if they need to. Encourage people to do this if they have concerns.
  4. Start Whatsapp or other chat groups for tenants in your building or add neighbours to groups that already exist to be able to stay in communication.

Get informed. Get organized with your neighbours. Don’t be intimidated. Don’t fall for your landlords tricks. Stand strong together.

The following FAQs have been adapted from posts written by by Keep Your Rent Toronto / Parkdale Organize, Keep Your Rent Ottawa / Herongate Tenant Coalition, and Keep Your Rent Guelph / Guelph Renters Union. Thanks to all!

For most of the questions, there is an example of the type of notice tenants having been receiving from different landlords and property management companies in the GTHA (e.g., Greenwin, Cornerstone, Golden Equity, DMS). We have also drafted template letters that you can use to respond as a tenant committee to your landlord. Please adapt these to your specific situation.

Is there a question that we haven’t answered? Do you want help connecting with other tenants in your building / neighbourhood? Do you need support in dealing with your landlord? Join the Keep Your Rent Hamilton Facebook group or contact us at keepyourrenthamilton@gmail.com or 289-779-0758.

What should I do if my landlord sends me a ‘rent reminder’ letter or email?

For example: ‘Rent reminder’ letter sent to a Toronto tenant by property manager DMS on April 8, 2020. “Unfortunately, our records show that you have neither reached out to management to discuss a rent relief program, nor have you paid the rent of $2,953 by April 1, 2020 as required.”

 

For example: ‘Rent reminder’ card sent to a Toronto tenant by landlord Medallion Corporation on April 7, 2020.

 

In a March 31, 2020 internal memo to members of the Hamilton & District Apartment Association (the city’s landlord association), high-priced landlord lawyer Joe Hoffer advised landlords:

Instead of automatically issuing N4s (Notices of Termination) where rent is unpaid, landlords may issue ‘friendly reminders’ with content that lets tenants know that if the default is COVID-related, the tenant may contact the landlord to discuss the situation and make repayment arrangements….Implementation of a rent deferral strategy should be relatively easy to administer….Any discussion with defaulting residents should include providing them with information about available governmental financial assistance programs and, if necessary, assisting them to determine eligibility and access to such programs….Once the terms of a repayment agreement are scoped out, they should be put in writing.

Hoffer provides a sample rent repayment agreement for landlords to use:

Sample rent repayment agreement drafted by landlord lawyer Joe Hoffer for Hamilton landlords.

 

In other words, the landlord is advised to play the nice guy by sending a friendly reminder, then pry to get information about the tenant’s financial situation, then force the tenant to sign onto a payment plan under duress, trapping the tenant in a financial commitment she may not be able to meet.

A rent reminder card, letter, email, etc. is not an official Landlord & Tenant Board notice and has no legal bearing. You can ignore it. Or you can discuss it with your tenant committee and send a collective response to your landlord restating your collective decision to keep your rent. See below for a template letter to your landlord.

TEMPLATE LETTER TO LANDLORD FROM TENANT COMMITTEE: RESPONSE TO RENT REMINDER: Link to file

What should I do if my landlord sends me an N4 notice?

Example: N4 notice sent to Hamilton tenant by property manager Cornerstone, attached to an email that read: “Regarding your rent payment, the government has suggested that there will be help for those in financial need but they have not disclosed (at this time) how that help will be administered. Until we receive further information on how we can help those in financial need we will be issuing the standard Form N4 – Notice to Terminate Tenancy for Non-Payment of Rent. This is the form we are required to issue in order to have our case heard at the Landlord-Tenant Board (LTB). We suspect any financial relief would be provided to those who face eviction and therefore, us serving the Form N4 could help you to claim such relief sooner.”

 

Until we receive further information on how we can help those in financial need we will be issuing the standard Form N4 – Notice to Terminate Tenancy for Non-Payment of Rent. This is the form we are required to issue in order to have our case heard at the Landlord-Tenant Board (LTB). We suspect any financial relief would be provided to those who face eviction and therefore, us serving the Form N4 could help you to claim such relief sooner.”

Don’t move out. This notice is a threat, but it is only the first step of the eviction process. Threats of eviction against tenants are unacceptable, especially during a global pandemic. You’re not alone. Contact your neighbours and Keep Your Rent–Hamilton to plan a collective response against landlords who threaten tenants with eviction.

You will see on the N4, it states that if you do not pay the money you owe the landlord within 14 days of the date of the N4 that the landlord can apply to the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) for an eviction hearing. Hearings are typically scheduled 4-6 weeks later. At a hearing, the landlord will make their arguments about why they are owed the money and why the tenant should be evicted, and the tenant has an opportunity to make their own counter-arguments. Typically, these hearings result in a standard eviction order, which gives the tenants 11 days to pay their outstanding rent, or face eviction. In situations of financial hardship, compassionate grounds (such as illness, disability or the presence of young children in the home), or other mitigating factors (such as an economic recession caused by a global pandemic), the board member hearing the case may instead issue a repayment plan that allows the tenant to pay back their outstanding balance over several months.

(Note: if your matter proceeds to the point where you receive a Notice of Hearing from the LTB, contact your local community legal clinic immediately: https://www.legalaid.on.ca/legalclinics/. The Hamilton Community Legal Clinic is still open during COVID-19, offering advice over the phone. You can call 905-527-4572 on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday 8:30am-3:30pm and Wednesday 8:30am-12pm.)

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic the LTB is currently not scheduling eviction hearings or issuing eviction orders at this time other than in “exceptional circumstances.” Even if an eviction order is issued, the Ontario Superior Court has temporarily suspended enforcement of those orders. For the time being, tenants cannot be lawfully evicted for non-payment of rent.

TEMPLATE LETTER TO LANDLORD FROM TENANT COMMITTEE: RESPONSE TO N4: Link to file

What should I do if my landlord asks me to enter into a payment plan?

DON’T SIGN ANYTHING. You are under no obligation to sign an individual payment plan with your landlord. These contracts can and will be used against you in the future. They may be used to force you to pay back rent (on the landlord’s terms) or face a fast-tracked eviction process.  At the end of the day, they are designed to undermine our collective power to demand rent forgiveness.

Don’t negotiate one-on-one with your landlord. Discuss the repayment offer as a group with your tenant committee. You will be strongest if you refuse to accept or sign any payment plans as a group . For tenants who feel they may be in a position to pay their rent – keep in mind the fluidity and constantly changing nature of this situation. Money in hand today may be worth a lot more tomorrow. Even though some tenants may be in a position to pay a portion of their rent, others in a less fortunate position will not. Make decisions keeping the poorest tenants in mind. If one person can’t afford the repayment proposal, no one should accept it.

Some landlords may not issue N4s if tenants agree to rent repayment. Or, landlords may wait to issue N4s until later on, when the LTB hearing ban is lifted. This is a set up. You are under no obligation to agree to repay now. Tenants who agree to rent repayment now will find it harder to obtain a cancellation of rent later.

Consider sending a letter from your tenant committee to your landlord. See a template letter below. Be sure to document your landlord’s response.

TEMPLATE LETTER TO LANDLORD FROM TENANT COMMITTEE: RESPONSE TO PAYMENT PLAN PROPOSAL: Link to file

What should I do if my landlord asks me about my financial situation and if I have applied for government income support? Am I required to give documentation?

For example: Email to Toronto tenant from landlord Greenwin Corporation on April 9, 2020. “We are working with each resident on a case-by-case basis in order to assist you to meet your rental obligations….In order to assess your request, we require the attached application to be completed and sent to your Revenue Administrator, who I have included in this email. Since you have filed for financial relief, please keep or make a copy of the application material, as this can be used for your accommodation request.”

 

For example: Letter to Toronto tenant from landlord Briarlane on April 8, 2020. “We will require a copy of your record of employment (ROE) from your employer or a copy of the communication from your employer advising you that your employment and wage has been suspended as a result of COVID-19. This should include a contact name, phone number, and email of a company representative.”

 

You DO NOT need to give your landlord documentation of your inability to pay rent. You DO NOT need to give your landlord any information about your employer, whether or not you have been laid off, whether or not you have applied for government income support, your level of income, the amount you have in savings, etc. This is private financial information. If you provide this information, it can be used against you. Your landlord will probably badger you to apply for government assistance, start calling and emailing you around the date when they expect the cheque to arrive, and demand that you hand over any money the government gives you.

Contact your neighbours to see if other people have got the same letter or email. Consider sending a letter from your tenant committee to your landlord. See a template letter below. Be sure to document your landlord’s response.

TEMPLATE LETTER TO LANDLORD FROM TENANT COMMITTEE: RESPONSE TO REQUEST FOR TENANT FINANCIAL INFORMATION: Link to file

What should I do if my landlord calls me?

Hang up or do not pick up. Tell him you are only willing to correspond in written format, and only as a collective tenants’ association. If that is not an option, you can legally record the call without the landlord’s knowledge.

What should I do if my landlord sends me harassing or threatening messages?

Threats and harassment are unacceptable. A tenant has the right to a home free of any harassment from the landlord. The Residential Tenancies Act provides protection for tenants to live free from harassing or threatening behaviour from their landlord and their landlord’s representatives. That being said, as discussed above, the LTB is not currently scheduling hearings. Therefore, for tenants who want to pursue legal remedies, this is unlikely to take place anytime soon, and the results are often far less than what tenants hope for. There are other strategies that we can take in the mean time to put pressure on the landlord to do the right thing.

Contact your neighbours and Keep Your Rent–Hamilton to plan a rapid, collective response. Document your landlord’s behaviour.

What should I do if my landlord says they need to enter my unit to inquire about rent?

For example: Notice posted on the apartment door of a Toronto tenant by landlord Golden Equity on April 8, 2020, giving less than 24 hours notice to enter the unit on April 9, 2020 from 12-5pm for the purpose of “regarding April rent payment.”

 

Inquiring about non-payment of rent is not a valid reason for your landlord to enter your unit. You do not have to allow the landlord or any of the landlord’s staff into your unit. Landlords use this tactic because they know tenants often have a harder time refusing requests in person rather than by email or over the phone. Landlords want to intimidate tenants and deal with them one-on-one, rather than through a tenant committee.

The Residential Tenancies Act (sections 26 and 27) outline the reasons why a landlord can enter a tenant’s home.

  1. Entering with no notice
    Your landlord can enter your home without telling you ahead of time:

    • any time, if there is an emergency
    • to clean your place, if your rental agreement says that your landlord does the cleaning
    • to check on your condition, if you are a care home or retirement home tenant and your tenancy agreement says your landlord should do this
  1. Entering with 24 hours’ notice
    If your landlord wants to come in for other reasons, they must give you notice in writing 24 hours ahead of time. They can come in only between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. and only for these reasons:
    • to do repairs or work in your unit
    • to see if any repairs are needed, if there is a reason to do this
    • to show your place to a possible buyer, insurer, or mortgage lender
    • to let a real estate agent show your place to a possible buyer
    • to have a property inspection done before turning your building into a condominium
    • for a reasonable purpose listed in your rental agreement

 

By showing up at your unit, the landlord is putting you at greater risk of exposure to COVID-19. If landlord staff badger you for unpaid rent and invade your privacy in your home, this could also be considered harassment.

By showing up at your unit, the landlord is putting you at greater risk of exposure to COVID-19. If landlord staff badger you for unpaid rent and invade your privacy in your home, this could also be considered harassment.

Contact your neighbours and Keep Your Rent–Hamilton to plan a rapid response. If you received this notice on your door, many of your neighbours did as well. Consider sending a letter to your landlord through the tenant committee telling the landlord these actions are illegal and that all of you will be refusing entry to the landlord’s staff.

Record any interactions with your landlord where it’s possible to do so safely. Document your landlord’s response to communications from your tenant committee.

TEMPLATE LETTER TO LANDLORD FROM TENANT COMMITTEE: RESPONSE TO LANDLORD NOTICE OF ENTRY TO INQUIRE ABOUT UNPAID RENT: Link to file

What should I do if my landlord shows up at my unit out of the blue?

Barring some kind of emergency, there is no reason for a landlord to show up to your unit. By showing up at your unit, the landlord is putting you at greater risk of exposure to COVID-19. If your landlord insists on showing up at your unit, contact your neighbours and Keep Your Rent– Hamilton to plan a rapid response. Record any interactions where it’s possible to do so safely. If your landlord calls the police, do not be afraid or intimidated. Police have no right to intervene in landlord–tenant matters (a civil matter), unless there is otherwise criminal conduct taking place.

If the problem continues:

  • You should brainstorm with your tenant committee about ways you can support each other to apply pressure on the landlord to stop harassment. If you can’t be present with your neighbour when the landlord visits, at least be on the phone with them to witness the interaction and offer reassurance.
  • You can complain to the Rental Housing Enforcement Unit (RHEU), part of the Ministry of Housing. Sometimes a call from the RHEU scares a landlord into doing the right thing. You can contact the RHEU’s call centre at 1-888-772-9277 or email mho.rheu@ontario.ca.
  • You can contact your local Community Legal Clinic for free legal advice: https://www.legalaid.on.ca/legal-clinics/. The Hamilton Community Legal Clinic is still open during COVID-19, offering advice over the phone. You can call 905-527-4572 on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday 8:30am-3:30pm and Wednesday 8:30am-12pm. Sometimes a letter or phone call from a lawyer or legal worker can get a landlord to change their behaviour.
What should I do if my landlord illegally locks me out of my unit by changing the locks?

The only way a landlord can legally remove you from your home is with an order from the Landlord and Tenant Board and the only person with the power to enforce that order is a Sheriff. Only you and the sheriff have the legal authority to remove you or your property from your home. Not the police, not special constables, not private security, and certainly not your landlord himself. Any attempt to remove you or your property or change the locks without an order from the Board is illegal.

But it happens. Tenants have come home to changed locks and their property on the curb. While this is illegal it is not unheard of. It almost only happens when a “small landlord” is involved.

So, what do you do if this happens to you or someone you know?

We understand that what we are about to say will be angering and even somewhat frightening, but please read through to the end. Your legal options aren’t great, but we’ll lay them out for you anyways.

You can contact your local Community Legal Clinic for free legal advice: https://www.legalaid.on.ca/legal-clinics/. The Hamilton Community Legal Clinic is still open during COVID-19, offering advice over the phone. You can call 905-527-4572 on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday 8:30am-3:30pm and Wednesday 8:30am-12pm.

They may advise you to call the police and ask for their assistance getting back in. It is common for police to decline this request. You can petition the LTB for an order to the landlord to allow you access to your home, but it is common for the LTB to only issue those orders after having conducted a hearing. And the LTB is mostly closed right now.

Tenants have a right to their homes; they have a right to safety from abuse and illegal acts from landlords. But the courts and police rarely act quickly if at all to protect those rights. So, it may be left up to you and those you organize with to protect and defend those rights.

If you believe you may be at risk of illegal lockout, there are a few things you may consider doing:

  1. Inform those that live around you that this may happen. Share with them a description of your landlord and give them your contact. If they see your landlord or anyone else doing anything suspicious around your home ask them to intervene and contact you.
  2. Carry all important documentation with you at all times while outside the home. This includes identification, passport, credit and debit cards, immigration or legal documents etc.
  3. Carry proof of residence. Ideally this would be your lease agreement but can also be registered mail with your name and address on it.
  4. Leave yourself a way to re-enter your home or have a plan if locks are changed while you are out. A window or some other option may be necessary for you to be able to re-enter your home.

 

No matter which action you take if a landlord chooses to act illegally, the most important thing is to protect yourself. Often the best protection is the support of those you organize with. It is critical that we know all the possible outcomes and are prepared to respond accordingly.