Keeping the heat on
With temperatures dropping, this month’s On the Radar has some information to help tenants stay warm.
What landlords have to do
Ontario’s Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) says that landlords must:
- keep their rental housing in a “good state of repair and fit for habitation”
- follow all applicable housing standards
This means that landlords must make sure that heating systems – things like furnaces, boilers, thermostats, ducts, and radiators – are working properly.
It also means that they must correct other problems that make the place too cold, such as:
- windows that don’t close properly
- drafts from doorways and other openings
- poor insulation
If the landlord controls the heat, there is a minimum temperature they must keep it at. If the tenant controls the heat, the system must be able to keep the place at that temperature.
The details are usually set in local bylaws. As an example, the City of Hamilton bylaw sets the minimum temperature at 20 degrees Celsius, from September 1 to May 31. Other parts of the province have different rules.
If there’s no local heat bylaw, the provincial standard sets a minimum temperature of 20 degrees Celsius at all times of the year.
What to do if there’s a problem
The tenant should tell the landlord in writing about the problem. And they should make sure to keep a copy of what they give the landlord, for example, a letter or an email message.
If the landlord doesn’t fix the problem within a reasonable time, the tenant can call their local bylaw enforcement or housing standards department.
The department will usually contact the landlord or send an inspector to confirm that there’s a problem. They can order landlords to do repairs and take them to court if they don’t.
If there’s no local housing standards bylaw, the tenant can make a maintenance complaint in writing to the provincial Investigation and Enforcement Unit.
Tenants can also make an application to the Landlord and Tenant Board. The Board can order landlords to do repairs, as well as lower the rent until the repairs are done.
If a service is cut off because of the landlord
If a tenant loses heat because the landlord interferes with the energy supply or hasn’t paid the bill, they can call the Investigation and Enforcement Unit. This applies whether or not there’s a local housing standards bylaw.
They can also call their local councillor or bylaw enforcement department to see if there’s a “vital services” bylaw in their area.
Tenants can apply to the Landlord and Tenant Board in these situations as well.
If the heating bill is in the tenant’s name
Many tenants must pay the heating bill themselves because it’s not included in their rent. If a tenant can’t pay their bills, the utility company might cut off the service.
People who have low incomes may be able to get help from the following energy programs.
Ontario Electricity Support Program (OESP)
The new Ontario Electricity Support Program applies monthly credits to the electricity bills of customers who qualify. People whose homes are heated by electricity can get larger monthly credits.
There is a quick and easy-to-use online tool that shows if someone qualifies.
Electricity customers can apply online or in person through a large number of social service agencies.
Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP)
This program gives emergency help to people who may have their gas or electricity disconnected because they haven’t paid their bill.
It also lets them benefit from special rules, such as:
- not having to pay a security deposit
- having flexible payment plans if they owe money
- getting faster refunds if they’re overcharged
- not having to pay by automatic withdrawal to get equalized billing
To find out if they’re eligible, people must apply through one of the agencies that work with LEAP.