Quebec Landlords Introduce No Weed Clauses In Leases

July 1st, 2018 marks the day the drug will be legal, but landlords are taking steps to ban smoking and growing pot in units which fuels what will ultimately be a national debate

Under Quebec’s proposed marijuana law, residents will be allowed to use marijuana recreationally in their homes but won’t be permitted to grow cannabis for personal use. Many landlords have already sent notices to tenants informing them they won’t be allowed to smoke weed in their apartments. According to the CBC, landlords are introducing clauses and conditions to get a handle on what many, if not most, assume will be an emboldened and more casual approach to smoking pot.

Kevin Lebeau, a spokesperson for the Quebec Landlords Association, thinks most people find the odour and presence of marijuana unpleasant and believes landlords need to act in the best interest of all of their tenants – including many who he believes will be vehemently against it.

“It diminishes your enjoyment of your apartment. For some people it is a health issue and other people don’t want their children exposed to this at all.” -Kevin Lebeau

In a recent association poll, a majority of members anticipate a significant increase in tenant complaints. As a result, a comparable majority has also indicated they plan to prohibit smoking marijuana inside their buildings altogether. This has put them directly in conflict with various tenant rights groups across the province who are questioning whether the smoking prohibitions will be legal once marijuana itself is legalized. The tenants’ association of Sherbrooke, Que., argues that banning tenants from smoking marijuana inside their homes will be discriminatory after July 1st. Other tenant’s rights advocates argue that since they are paying for the apartment, they should be entitled to consume cannabis or cigarettes without fear of consequence. Any position to the contrary is discriminatory.

“The landlord doesn’t have the absolute right to do whatever he or she wants at any time.” – Kevin Wright, tenant’s rights advocate.

Opinion: Neither does the tenant

Here are the facts. As of right now, marijuana is nationally illegal. Most Canadians support legalization and regulation of what is widely perceived to be a generally benign substance that has been vilified and historically  mischaracterized in the media and by the government for decades. Many, if not most people, consider it something that has benefits for those who suffer and those same people, generally speaking, consider it to be a substance that is less harmful than alcohol and cigarettes, which are both legal and regulated, and have been for years.

There is no law preventing you from smoking or growing cannabis in a rented unit. If your consumption or growing of marijuana impedes the use or enjoyment of another tenant’s unit or creates an issue for the landlord themselves (the landlord reserves the right to have a preference for a smoke free building or unit), then there is a problem. The landlord can pursue a provincially supported judgement against the tenant or an eviction if that is the case, and they should have the right to do that.

We need to ask ourselves if anything is served by conveniently dismissing certain realities or creating false equivalencies when it comes to this issue. Societally, we appreciate the right to clean air, personal space, and health. That’s why we have laws when it comes to not smoking in restaurants, in cars with children, or on planes.

“Smoking” cannabis is defined as the inhalation of smoke or vapors released by heating the flowers, leaves, or extracts of cannabis and releasing the main psychoactive chemical, Δ9tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is absorbed into the bloodstream via the lungs. When you smoke weed, in most cases, the process is creating a smell. That smell comes from compounds made in the plant called terpenes or terpenoids. Not all weed stinks, but in the vast majority of cases, it will produce a noticeable scent. It can and often does, smell bad, and lingers in homes and apartments – much like cigarette smoke. It’s also a psychoactive substance. Exposure to the second hand smoke of cannabis is not exactly pleasant for anyone, kids or adults.

We put value on consideration and respect for other people’s rights to enjoying their environment and space. Why doesn’t that apply here? Because it is treated and increasingly categorized as a medicine for people? Because it is inevitably going to be legal? Because people have been unjustly jailed and discriminated against because of their weed habits? Because we feel people need to get over their own hang ups and misconceptions about a natural plant that has never been the cause of death when prescription drugs and booze kill more people in a day than weed ever has? Because the time is now to make people’s lives better with deserved access to something that will reduce suffering? All of the aforementioned might be true – but we got off topic pretty quickly there.

Alcohol is legal, however, if you were producing small batches of potato vodka out of your apartment without your landlord’s knowledge, and that process was impeding the enjoyment of the unit for others or created an elevation of fire risk or informed the environment in a way that was not in the interest of the owner (i.e. odour), would we be crying foul? What entitles us to do whatever we want in a rented apartment? If a landlord wants a smoke free environment, then why is that discriminatory? What is preventing people from smoking outside – like we ask them to do in most places like hospitals, libraries, or museums currently? You should be able to do whatever it is you like in a home you own, but when you’re renting, the landlord has a reasonable right to preserve the unit he is leasing to you and protect the interests and rights of the other people who do the same thing – because – they own the premises and assume most if not all of the risk. If you that doesn’t work for you, then you have the right to find a place that does.

 

Criminal Fraudsters Too Often Effectively Game Provincial Legislation

The eviction process in Ontario, Nova Scotia and Quebec typically takes between 3½ to five months. Due diligence is an absolute essential.

Go Public published a really interesting story this week about a landlord in Bedford, Nova Scotia who got burned by a professional tenant, badly. Elizabeth Anne Critchley was renting a duplex from Jim Johnson, and managed to not only secure exceptions for not paying her rent  – but also loans by playing on her landlord’s sympathy. Critchley was a professional. Other known aliases are Betty Drake, Betty Burns and Elizabeth Anne Drake, and she has a criminal record that dates back more than 25 years and includes more than 120 convictions, many of them for fraud in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Ontario.  By the time Johnson went to the Nova Scotia Residential Tenancies office in May, his financial situation had gone from bad to worse. CBC had reported on her sentencing in an unrelated fraud scheme back in 2014. She’s as bad news as it gets. She pleaded guilty to one count of fraud in 2014 and spent a year in jail when she defrauded a low-income Charlottetown couple.

Here’s the thing. Johnson didn’t do his due diligence. He did not run a background check on her. His mistake in trusting a bad character was not helped by a system in Nova Scotia that many consider to be more tenant friendly than balanced and that facilitates this kind of fraud. Johnson said the system moved so slowly, it allowed her to live in his duplex for three more months without paying a cent. All the while, Critchley was preparing for her next victim. She engaged Terry Gerard to rent Johnson’s duplex, using the name Betty Drake, claiming she was the owner and lived in the other unit. Tanya Gerrard gave almost $1,100 to Critchley in cash when she answered a rental ad for half a duplex. Critchley now faces charges related to Johnson, Gerrard and others, including two counts of fraud over $5,000.

“The tenancy board, in my opinion, takes care of the tenants and the landlords are on their own.”

Too many renters are getting away with not paying rent, then appealing eviction orders. The Toronto Star reported on the issue last year, hitting on a series of instances where professional tenants clearly demonstrate a strategic and intimate knowledge of bending rules and doing things just at the right time – like in the case of Eldebron Holdings vs. Jeffrey Mason.

Mason was renting a unit for $1700 a month. The only payment that cleared was his first. When the landlord filed an eviction application with the Landlord and Tenant Board in November, the tenancy was terminated and the tenant ordered to vacate the unit. On the last day before the eviction could take place, the tenant filed an appeal – buying more time. When the Divisional Court hearing took place in April, the landlord disclosed that the tenant’s previous landlord had been in court on a similar set of circumstances in May 2015.

Think that’s bad? How about the case of James Regan? How about Nina Willis? How about Adam Buttigieg?

A big part of the problem that leads to such long lead times before someone is officially evicted? Delays. The Federation of Rental-Housing Providers in Ontario says delays are happening in each step of the eviction process. They’re not helpful at all. They include but are not limited to…

  • Statutory delays, which means the legislated time landlords have to wait before taking action.
  • Hearing/order issuing delays, which is the amount of time landlords have to wait to get a hearing and then an eviction order after the hearing.
  • Enforcement delays, which is the number of days landlords typically wait for either a sheriff or a private bailiff to enforce an eviction order.

Provincial registries of the worst and most frequent offenders should be part of the solution.

Ontario MPP Ernie Hardeman says part of the solution should be a provincial registry of repeat problem tenants who exploit the system’s flaws. Such a list could be referenced before renting out a unit and would likely reduce a significant number of instances where an eviction order is being sought in the first place.

“We need a system to be able to find people who are doing this professionally, who have figured the system out”

Landlords often make the mistake of giving problematic tenants too much time to rectify a problem or being too lenient. Once they get wise, they realize they’re waiting months to get to the tribunal stage where an eviction notice is formally issued. Earlier this year, Ontario made changes to its Residential Tenancies Act, aiming to strike a “fair” balance between the rights of landlords and tenants. It actually ended up doing the opposite. Tenants who fail to show up at a first hearing now automatically get a second one that sometimes takes more than a month to reschedule. Meanwhile units are lived in by people who often have done this over and over again, and often simply move on and do it again to someone else.

 

B.C. RTB Rent Increase Creating Tough Dialogue With Politicians

Much Like In Toronto, The Issue Is Supply

As per the CBCThe B.C. Residential Tenancy Branch has set the maximum allowable rent increase for 2018 at four per cent — making it the largest potential rent increase in five years. Much like in most other provinces in Canada, each year, the branch sets the maximum allowable percentage by which landlords are legally permitted to increase rents. An increase of more than 4 % has only occurred four times in the last 13 years. 4.6% in 2004. 4.0% in 2006 and 2007, and 4.3 % in 2012. This has raised the eyebrows of politicians in the province because of a pronounced rental housing crisis in Vancouver.

According to data tracked by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, rents in Metro Vancouver had a sharp increase of 6.4 per cent in 2016 …. even though the rental cap that year was 2.9 per cent in 2016. Rent increases are typically capped at two per cent plus inflation, but this only applies to month-to-month tenancies. The big increase is explained by landlords typically asking for new fixed term leases after an initial one lapses. Fixed-term leases lock-in renters’ tenancy and rents for a set period of time (typically a year). When they expire, a renter’s tenancy automatically becomes month to month. But many fixed-term leases feature “vacate” clauses, requiring tenants to move out when the lease expires, unless they sign a brand new fixed-term agreement, which gives landlords the opportunity to jack up rent beyond the RTA limit. If tenants refuse, the landlord simply finds new tenants, at whatever rent they want. Unlike evictions, which require two months’ notice, the lease expiry date is legally considered sufficient notice for tenants to move on. Since there is such a low vacancy rate in Vancouver (it was characterized as a crisis last year), landlords are able to effectively employ this approach.

Selina Robinson, B.C.’s housing minister, is exploring lessening the annual rent hikes landlords are allowed to apply to tenants in the province.  She’s worried about rental affordability, something her party campaigned upon in the May provincial election. The NDP promised to build 114,000 rental and co-op homes, and give renters an annual rental home credit of $400. The City of Vancouver estimates that it will need 55,000 new rental suites in the next decade.

Robinson said legislation to fix that loophole is coming this fall. Landlord B.C., the association representing landlords in the province said it’s supportive of Robinson closing the fixed term lease loophole, but that lowering the maximum rent increase rate will simply be another disincentive to property developers considering building rental buildings, who may then decide to build condos instead.

“We’re obviously not insensitive about the current dilemma of the housing and rental housing crisis, but the frustrating part is we’ve been talking about the need for supply for 20-25 years and nobody listened to us. And we were predicting the challenges we’re seeing today. And this would be the wrong time to target that specific item.” – Dave Hutniak, Landlord B.C.

Liberal critic Sam Sullivan said he’s concerned to hear Robinson might be changing the maximum rent rate because the NDP did not campaign upon such a promise in the election.

“It’s a very popular short-term thing to do. But the long-term result can often be quite negative.”

The real issue in Vancouver, and why this is all such a big deal, is supply. There simply isn’t enough. Even high rents are generally cheaper than mortgages. As well, rentals end up being 100-per-cent used for housing local residents, a distinct advantage in a region where many are irate about the high level of investor-owned vacant condos.

Metro Vancouver housing planners estimate that, of the 18,500 new households that arrive in the region every year, about 6,500 need rentals. About 1,500 can afford high-end rents, the other 5,000 can’t. And only about 1,000 units a year are being built, almost all at the high end.