Rental Housing Policy in Ontario

Rental housing policy was first introduced to Ontario under the National Housing Act (1944) to protect low-income families and veterans returning from WWII. Though after lobbying by developers and the private market, the NHA was repealed in less than a decade, but as we learned above, the act would make it necessary reappearance in Canadian law, largely excluding the legislative regulations governing rental housing. Prior to 1944, dating as far as 1587, the resolution of disputes between landlords and tenants was largely the preoccupation of common law courts. To keep things simple, this section seeks to explore how the landlord and tenant relations and the laws/policies governing these relations have changed since the decade following 1944.

First, in 1964, the Legislature of Ontario enacted the Ontario Law Reform Act (1964) to establish the Ontario Law Reform Commission. The commission was in charge of inquiring and considering matters related to law reform regarding statutory law, common law, and juridical decisions. This is important because in 1968, the commission submitted the Interim Report on Landlord and Tenant Law to consider residential tenancies. By 1968, the Landlord and Tenant Act (1968) was enacted as a result of the Commission’s recommended substantial changes, and it later issued a new piece titled “Residential Tenancies” to LTA to recognize the imbalance in landlord and tenant relations that favoured landlords in legal matters. It included, for example, Section 106(1), which provided:

106. (1) Unless a tenant has vacated or abandoned rented premises, the landlord shall not regain possession of the premises on the grounds he is entitled to possession except under the authority of a writ of possession obtained under section 105 or under Part III.”

Meanwhile, in the post-war boom, and after decades of economic and population growth in the province concluding with the Great Recession in the 1970s, tenants and/or renters were beginning to feel the pressure of inflation. In 1972, the Commission was tasked by the Attorney General to review and report on certain provisions within the LTA, leading to the Landlord and Tenant Amendment Act (1972). The Amendment acted as a check to the procedure for applying for ‘writs of possession’ and providing for default proceedings as recommended by the Commission.

To address these broader economic pressures associated with rising rental housing costs during the Great Recession, the Government of Ontario passed the Residential Premises Rent Review Act (1975) to establish rent controls. To be clear however, this article of legislation arose out of a political ploy by Bill Davis’ provincial conservative government to secure votes before the 1975 election — note, the focus was not on issues regarding landlord and tenant relations, rather simply economic issues associated with rising rents. More importantly, rent controls became a means of obscuring the need to develop new and affordable housing for the rapidly growing class of mid/low-income families and individuals. When compared to the federal and provincial housing programs, rent controls were a political instrument that offloaded its burden onto landlords. The RPRRA established rent controls, granting the province the ability to administer a rent review system that “ no way encroached on the traditional jurisdiction of the courts to order termination, eviction, and compliance” (Russell, 1989).

A Companion Act (1975) would later make substantial changes to the law governing landlord and tenant relations, establishing security of tenure for tenants by providing for automatic renewal of tenancy agreements upon expiration of the term, unless the agreement had been lawfully terminated in accordance with the Act. This meant that a tenant might terminate it by agreement or by giving notice in the form and at the time prescribed by the statute, but that a landlord might terminate only for specified causes and at specified times. Additionally, the rules for proceedings by the county or district judge were relaxed and simplified. It also meant that the powers of common law judges were expanded to cover most of the issues that might arise between a landlord and a tenant, including power to declare a tenancy agreement terminated. Here we witness one of the first articles of legislation developed for social - rather than economic - purposes dedicated to mediating the imbalance of power in landlord and tenant relations.

In 1978, a Government Green Paper was released relating to policy options for continuing tenant protection, referencing the fact that the number of citizens governed by the LTA grew between 1961-1971 by 70% (from 483,500 to 825,000) — 36% of all households in Ontario were renters. The Green Paper laid the foundation for the establishment of the Residential Tenancy Commission (RTC). The commission dealt with three key areas:

  1. Removing landlord’s traditional right to employ ‘self-help’ (repossession) and replacing it with the requirement to apply for an order of eviction;

  2. Address the belief that the regular court system is too formal a structure for litigating landlord and tenant disputes, and that perhaps a more informal tribunal would ensure that tenant were less inhibited in presenting their own cases;

  3. Consolidating the functions previously performed by different organisations in different juridical jurisdictions — a new tribunal could become the centralised body authorising landlord and tenant disputes.

In short, the Green Paper was the foundation for the Residential Tenancy Act (1979) — the RTA was enacted to implement the recommendation of the Green Paper. It combined administrative function with judicial functions to provide a wider range of remedies that common law courts; it established a mediation-adjudication approach where authority-to-mediate and jurisdiction-to-adjudicate could overlap; and it established a a means by which both parties could come to a mediated and legally enforceable mutually agreeable solution. The RTA set up a new Tribunal, the Residential Tenancy Commission (RTC) to oversee and enforce the obligation of landlords and tenants in Ontario. It granted the RTC considerable legal power and functions, some purely administrative, others judicial. It also extended the power of the commission to include more than low income housing, expanding the scope of the previous LTA - and now the RTA - to include every residential tenancy. Notably, it limited these powers to the provincial tribunal, excluding the Ontario Municipal Board from receiving judicial authority. The RTA essentially represented a consolidation of the powers, functions, and duties of the Advisory Bureaux, the Rent Review Board, and the courts of the RTC.

Not much changed until 1985, when the new Liberal government sought to tighten rent controls with the Residential Rent Regulation Act (1985), later followed by the New Democratic Party’s Rent Control Act (1992). From 1979-1985, it was clear that the Government of Ontario’s focus returned to economic pressures in the rental housing market, and as some research might suggest, this shift may have been due in large to the lack of available and affordable rental housing options for Ontarians.

But when Mike Harris’ progressive conservative government was re-elected, they passed the Tenant Protection Act (1998), which retained selected rights and obligations in the RTA, but repealed the Rent Control Act and removed the dispute resolution process of the RTA which governed evictions and rent increases from the Ontario court system and assigned this jurisdiction to a newly create quasi-judicial body named the Ontario Rental Housing Tribunal. Note, under the TPA, applications for evictions were automatically granted without a hearing unless a tenant filed a notice of dispute within five (5) days. Overtime, this provision was the subject of a complaint to the Ontario Ombudsman, and was removed.

After the election of Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal provincial government, the TPA was repealed and replaced by a new/improved version of the Residential Tenancy Act (2006) in 2007. The new RTA created the Landlord and Tenant Board that we know today to replace the Ontario Rental Housing Tribunal.

More recently, Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government introduced the Fair Housing Plan (2017), to address issues associated with rent control. Rent controls in ontario only applied to units occupied before November 1, 1991, meaning if a rental unit was in a residential property built after November 1, 1991, then the rent control provision of the RTa did no apply. The Fair Housing Plan would make it so that rent controls would apply to all private rental units, including those built and occupied on or after November 1, 1991.

And yet shortly after, with the introduction of Doug Ford’s conservative administration, rent control exemptions were reintroduced. In short, until there is another change in the provincial government in Ontario, rental market units built and occupied after November 15, 2018 would be exempt from rent control legislation outlined in the RTA.