An advocate who helps tenants find and maintain housing says Ontario's new standard lease is a positive change that will improve relationships between landlords and tenants.
Marie-Josée Houle, executive director of Action Logement, said she's pleased the provincial government is telling landlords and tenants to use a standard lease agreement.
In an interview with CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning, Houle said she's seen a lot of abuses of tenants' rights by landlords who either willfully or unknowingly ask tenants to abide by rental rules that are actually against the law.
"In any legal relationship it's important to have a document everyone understands," Houle said.
"For there to be trust, there needs to be something in place where everyone understands the rights and the responsibilities that's written in plain language. And that's what this document is."
The province's new lease, designed to be "simple" and "easy to understand," will collect basic information about rent, deposits and utilities, according to a news release from the province.
The standard lease will be mandatory for new tenancies beginning April 30, 2018, in single and semi-detached houses, apartment buildings, rented condos and secondary units like basement apartments.
Until now, landlords have been creating their own leases and could be relying on rules from other jurisdictions — either other provinces or the United States — that may not apply in Ontario, Houle said.
"It leads to a lot of misunderstanding," she said. "It leads to a whole lot of frustration."
There are plenty of myths that both landlords or tenants believe to be true. One, Houle said, is the the belief that landlords can charge more than the replacement cost for a key. That's not allowed.
Pets are another source of misunderstanding, she said. Banning pets from an apartment is actually illegal.
"I have people sitting... in my office that are looking for housing and one of the questions they ask landlords is, 'Will you allow me to have my pet?' That shouldn't even be a question."
Tenants are responsible for any noise or damage caused by a pet, but landlords do not have the right to forbid animals.
The only exception is condos, Houle said. Because condo residents own their property, they're allowed to make up some of the rules for the building. So if a condo board bans pets, that's OK.
Another issue that comes up often is smoking.
"In Ontario, your landlord is allowed to make a building non-smoking," Houle said. "They're allowed to unilaterally make the entire building non-smoking, the entire property."
That means tenants cannot smoke on their balconies, because the second-hand smoke that could waft into another tenant's window creates a health hazard.
Houle said tenants can always go to the Landlord and Tenant Board with questions.