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CategoriesResidential Tenancies Act
Utilities & Vital Services

Landlord Responsibilities and Recourse

January 10, 2022

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On August 20, 2021, a Cobourg landlord was convicted and penalized for disconnecting a tenant’s electricity. The landlord disconnected electricity to the tenant’s unit on September 2, 2019, and it remained off until December 12, 2019, well over three months later. Under the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA), landlords cannot purposefully interfere with electrical supply to a rental unit. The landlord was fined $1,500 and was also forced to pay a 25 per cent victim fine surcharge under the Provincial Offences Act.

A landlord cannot turn off a tenant’s utilities to penalize them for failure to uphold any responsibilities they hold as a tenant, such as payment of rent or maintaining the condition of their rental unit. Key duties of a landlord include keeping rental units fit for habitation in compliance with health, safety, housing, and maintenance standards, and ensuring a reasonable supply of utility services.

Landlord Responsibilities

The RTA specifies that a landlord is responsible for “vital services”, which are defined as cold and hot water, electricity, fuel, heat, and gas. The only exceptions to this rule would be those leases that state that the tenant expressly agrees to obtain these services and maintain them independently of their landlord. If a lease does not specify that a tenant is responsible for utilities, they cannot be made to pay for “vital services”, even if they cause a significant spike in utility charges.

Recourse for Landlords

In order to offset increased energy costs, a landlord can speak to the tenant about agreeing to take on the costs associated with utilities. If a tenant takes over responsibility for paying certain utilities themselves, the landlord must make a corresponding reduction in rent, equal to the average monthly cost of the service transferred to the tenant. This reduction in rent is to compensate for the removal of services that were previously included in the tenant’s rent payments.

However, should the tenant’s lease not indicate that the tenant needs to pay for their own utilities, and the tenant does not agree to take responsibility for their utility payments after the fact, there is little recourse for the landlord beyond increasing rent. The landlord must continue to shoulder the cost of utilities for the rental unit, until they are either able to increase the tenant’s rent charge or a new tenant moves in with whom the tenant can establish a new lease agreement with specific utility provisions. The landlord can increase rent in line with the RTA and annual rent increase guidelines, or they can apply to the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) for a rent increase in excess of the annual guideline due in whole or in part to an extraordinary increase in the cost of utilities.

Landlords can also install meters or suite meters and have new tenants be responsible for their own electricity charges. The landlord must provide electricity usage information for the rental unit over the last 12 months to prospective tenants, or from the date the meter or suite meter was installed up to the date the tenancy is entered into if it was installed less than 12 months ago. The LTB has developed the Information to Prospective Tenant About Suite Meters or Meters form for use in these cases.

Where a tenant is responsible for their own utility bills and they fail to pay, there are options available to the landlord in most cases to recover utility costs. Where possible, the landlord can pay the outstanding amount themselves to avoid further issues with the utility company. This can be a way of mitigating repercussions for the landlord, if any exist, in the short term.

The landlord can issue an N5 Notice to End Tenancy For Interfering with Others, Damage or Overcrowding for the tenant substantially interfering with the landlord’s reasonable enjoyment of the residential complex, and/or lawful rights, privileges, or interest. The N5 notice informs the tenant they have 7 days to correct the specified issue – in this case, a failure to pay their utility charges.

As of September 1, 2021, landlords can file applications with the LTB for failure to pay utility costs within one year from when the unit is no longer being rented by the tenant. The tenant must have moved out on or after September 1, 2021.

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