What tenants in Ontario need to know about privacy rights

Tenants in Ontario are supposed to be afforded a high degree of privacy in their rental units, but there are a lot of grey areas in the law that are open to interpretation. Dilshad Burman has more.

Tenants in Ontario are largely afforded a high degree of privacy in their rental units, but there are several grey areas in the law that are open to interpretation.

The Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) does not always prescribe exact rules or solutions for specific situations but often uses broad terms covering general scenarios.

When it comes to privacy, the umbrella term used is “interference,” explains Karen Andrews, a staff lawyer with the Advocacy Center for Tenants Ontario (ACTO).

“The legislature did not sit down and do a laundry list of 3,000 things that constitute interference. They just said ‘interference,'” she says.

Common privacy concerns for tenants include the use of cameras in or around the rental unit, the landlord or their agents entering the unit, and the ability to have guests.

Cameras in/around the rental unit

“I went through the [RTA]. There’s no mention of cameras,” says Andrews, reiterating the lack of specificity in the act.

“The maxim would be ‘what’s reasonable’?”

Andrews says installing cameras in common areas such as the lobby of an apartment building or a parking lot could be a reasonable and prudent thing to do for a landlord who is tasked with ensuring tenant safety.

However, more intrusive placement of cameras could be seen as interference.

“I’ve had tenants phone me to say, ‘The landlord has installed a camera outside my apartment door.’ Now I think that might be harassment, but again, it’s up for grabs in terms of what a judge might say about that,” she says.

When a tenant is renting an entire house or apartment, it’s reasonable that cameras may not be installed inside the unit. But when it comes to rooming houses, that rule might be up for debate.

“A rooming house is not an apartment building. So is a landlord reasonable in saying, I want a camera in the kitchen? Maybe yes. Maybe no, I wouldn’t want a camera in my kitchen. And sometimes it does rise clearly to the level of harassment,” says Andrews.

“But if I phoned up a landlord and he said, ‘well, we’ve had three break-ins, we have three fights. We have people coming in the door, the refrigerator door’s being ripped off. I have to do something – I want a camera. I’m not putting it in their rooms, but it’s for their safety and protection too.’ That might sound reasonable to me.”

By and large, Andrews says camera placement, if any, should not interfere with what the RTA calls the tenant’s “reasonable enjoyment” of the unit.

“So I think we’re looking for reasonable people to do reasonable things,” she says.

Landlord entry into the rental unit

As per the RTA, a landlord can enter a unit without notice either for an emergency or with the consent of the tenant. For other reasons, they must provide 24 hours notice.

“[That includes] notice of an inspection. They can come in to do a repair or maintenance on 24 hours’ notice. They can come in with an insurer or a mortgagee to take a look at the property on 24 hours’ notice,” explains Andrews.

“On 24 hours notice with the written consent of the landlord, a real estate agent can come in with a prospective buyer to take a look at the place.”

Tenants have an obligation not to interfere with the sale of the unit but do not have to vacate their home for viewings.

If a tenant gives the landlord notice that they are moving out, Andrews says it’s “open season” as far as viewings are concerned and 24 hours notice is not necessary.

“The landlord can bring tenants in just at will when the prospective tenants are available,” she says.

“I often tell tenants, ‘Get rid of the important private stuff.’ You might want to get rid of your marijuana plant. You’ve got strangers in there. Hide your passport.”

When it comes to taking photographs of a tenanted unit, including the tenant’s belongings, and making them publicly available for lease or sale, Andrews says it is another gray area.

“There’s a court decision that says ‘no,’ and there’s a court decision that says ‘sort of.’ I’m a lawyer and I don’t know what the hard and fast answer is,” she says.

She adds that it is best to have a discussion and come to an acceptable compromise in such situations.

Tenants’ guests or roommates

Another frequent question revolving around privacy is whether a landlord can monitor or dictate when and for how long a tenant may have guests over.

Andrews says tenants can invite guests freely, have them stay overnight, or even move in – whether for free or as a paying guest – without any legal obligation to inform the landlord.

Landlords do not have any legal rights that allow them to monitor the comings and goings of guests and cannot stipulate or enforce any restrictions regarding how often they visit or how long they stay. Any such clauses included in a lease are void.

“Of course, you can have guests. Of course, your boyfriend can move in. You don’t have to tell your landlord that you’re engaged and got married. You don’t have to tell your landlord that you’ve had a baby, and now there’s a baby in the unit,” she says.

However, Andrews cautions that overcrowding bylaws still apply.

“If you live in a bachelor apartment and you want to move in your 10 family members – that’s overcrowding.”

Breach of privacy

Frequent inspections or repeated entries could be seen as harassment or interference, says Andrews and tenants do have recourse at the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB).

“It’s a T2 application for interference and I understand it’s still a free application and I understand it might be heard in a year and a half,” she says.

Given the ongoing delays at the LTB, Andrews says it might be best for landlords and tenants to agree on their own what’s acceptable to all parties.

“I think it’s always better to try to work it out, but a tenant and a landlord need to know the solid legal footing that they’re on,” she says.

“Too many landlords get their advice from another landlord … too many tenants get their advice from their dad. Get some proper legal advice, know where you stand, and being reasonable and accurate is always the way to go.”

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