It's March 2021. The condo rental market in Ontario is bouncing back from the slump it experienced back in 2020. Investors are becoming more confident in the rental market again and the general economy as a whole. Although we've come upon our one-year anniversary of living in this new normal, you may be a landlord who is still not quite sure of your rights and responsibilities during the pandemic. Or you may have just received your keys to your first investment property, and you don't know how to navigate your new role as a landlord. Don't fret; we're here with a list of your rights and responsibilities as a landlord during this unprecedented time.
Do the Math
Now, this is a given no matter what is going on in the world or even in your life. Contingency planning is crucial. As a landlord, it is your responsibility to clearly understand your finances and the rental rate required for your property to break even. Some of the costs you must consider are the following:
- Building maintenance fees
- Mortgage Payments
- Property taxes
- Landlord's insurance
- Repairs and renovations unless you're still under warranty (If so, now is a great time to look into your warranty schedule to ensure you meet your Tarion warranty deadlines)
- Vacancy costs
- If necessary, professional fees such as property management and/or tenant placement
In 2020, most Ontario landlords of rent-controlled units could increase rents by 2.2 per cent, while landlords of newer units (units created after November 15, 2018) did not have to follow a rent increase guideline at all. But now, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government has announced that there will be a rent freeze for all rental properties in 2021. As a landlord, you can give your tenant(s) a rent increase notice this year, but the increase can't start until January 1, 2022.
In the meantime, your tenant(s) who can pay their rent must do so, at least to the best of their abilities. However, tenants who are asked to self-isolate or who can't work may have difficulties paying their rent. And as a landlord, you cannot charge fees or penalties for late payments under the Residential Tenancies Act.
This freeze may or may not affect your ability to cover your monthly costs, but as a landlord with a tenant who is having difficulties paying rent, it is important to have an open line of communication to resolve the issue. When it comes to rent, it doesn't have to be "all or nothing". If your tenant(s) can't afford the full amount, see if they can pay half. After all, half goes further than nothing when it comes to paying your mortgage.
Now, you must be wondering, "How do I pay my mortgage if I'm not getting rent payments?"
Try talking to your lender about mortgage deferrals. Qualified borrowers can defer for up to six months. This option is not ideal since your interest will keep building during this time. Nevertheless, the option is there if needed.
Another option is a home equity loan. This option may be better than deferring your payments, especially if your mortgage is still high. With this loan, you can instead borrow what you need to pay the interest on your mortgage. It would be best to speak to your lender, accountant or financial advisor to figure out what is best for you.
The "E" word is the last resort for most landlords. However, it was not an option for the majority of 2020 and the first couple of months of 2021. The Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) remained closed for months, no eviction orders were being processed until further notice, and all evictions in progress were suspended.
Meanwhile, the Ontario government's website encouraged landlords to work with their tenants during this difficult time to establish fair arrangements to keep tenants in their homes.
It is always a tough decision to serve your tenants with an eviction notice, but it is your right to do so when necessary. If this is something you must absolutely do, the LTB has tons of information on their website on how to go about an eviction and what justifications you must have to submit an eviction application. And now that the stay-at-home order is lifted in all public health regions, the LTB eviction orders can now be enforced everywhere in Ontario. The LTB continues to accept applications, hold hearings and issue eviction orders. However, their front counters remain closed to the public due to COVID-19.
Remember, the LTB has been closed for months, so it may take time to get through the backlog, so you shouldn't expect a quick resolution. You will be heard eventually but in the interim, be sure to keep a good paper trail; all communication with your tenant(s) should be done through email or text. And make sure to file everything you will need now that the LTB is open, even though your filing won't be immediately addressed.
Health & Safety
With current social distancing and safety measures in place, you might be wondering if you can conduct showings of your unit, especially in the event where you still have a tenant living in the property. It is to be understood that many people are wary of showings and open houses right now. However, there are things you can do to safely host viewings, such as:
- Having viewings and open houses at reduced capacity, i.e. two-person maximum
- Requiring all people to wear masks indoors and at all times
- Providing hand sanitisers upon entering the unit
If your current tenants don't feel comfortable with in-person viewings, there are many conferencing tools (like Zoom) to host virtual viewings. If you and your tenant(s) both agree, an alternative option is to allow your tenants to conduct the showing on your behalf to limit the traffic into the unit.
If you are selling your unit, speak with your agent about adding a condition that will only allow in-person showings if an offer is submitted. In this hot market, this may not limit the amount of traffic in your unit, but it might end up helping you to know if the buyer is motivated or not. Again, conferencing tools can be helpful in addition to virtual tours and virtual staging to show what the space could look like.
Remember, tenants' have the right to refuse to have someone in their home, especially if older people or young children live there. That is why it is imperative that you keep the lines of communication open between yourself and your tenant(s).
Landlord's of new condo units are responsible for making potential tenant(s) aware that the builder's contractors will occasionally enter the unit to tend to deficiencies listed in the Pre-Delivery Inspection. Most, if not all, developers will send owners a notice of entry via email ahead of time. It is best practice to let your tenant(s) know that contractors will be entering the unit as soon as the builder notifies you. This will help in building a courteous relationship with your tenants, and they will surely appreciate it, especially during these unprecedented times.
Tenant's Notice to Terminate Tenancy (Form N9)
Now, this point will be short and sweet. In order for your tenant(s) to move out, they must give you, the landlord, a completed N9 form and at least 60 days notice before moving out. If you decide to sell or put your unit back on the rental market, that is within your right, but do be aware that just because your tenant(s) have given you notice, it doesn't mean they will actually move-out.
Whether it's due to job loss, health, or the place they were moving to is no longer available, your tenants not being able to move on the date agreed upon is something to be aware of. Every tenant that is unable to move impacts others in a domino effect. To protect yourself from a sticky situation, especially if you are selling your condo or townhome to someone who wants to occupy the property themselves, your agent can add a special clause on any offers in case of issues at closing.
Not a Right or Responsibility
This final point is not a right or responsibility but more so a tip. When it comes to being a landlord, a little kindness and respect will go a long way. After all, being a landlord is like running a business. You should see your tenant(s) as clients. Try treating your tenant(s) like you would an important client whenever possible.
Finding and holding on to good tenants can be challenging, so if you are lucky enough to have great tenants, you should try to do everything reasonably possible to keep them. As a landlord, you must prepare for the scenario where a tenant either doesn't pay rent, requests a rent payment arrangement or wants to break the lease early. But, it might be worth it to work with your tenants in order to keep them.
If you're a condo investor looking for new tenants, doing your due diligence is still essential, even in a pandemic. Conducting independent background, credit, and reference checks are all still very necessary. At the same time, finding a tenant is not to be done in haste if you can help it. You want a tenant who will pay rent on time, maintain the property and most importantly, give you peace of mind through returned kindness and respect. If you keep this in mind, you'll save yourself a lot of time and money.