Friday, 23 November 2012

Bullies in a Housing Complex

BULLIES IN A HOUSING COMPLEX:  I was asked the other day whether there is anything that can be done about bullying that is occuring in a rental housing complex.  In speaking with this client it occurred to me that the fact scenario that she provided is likely fairly common.  In this time, when bullying is being recognized on a national level, I thought it might be interesting to share my views on the legal tools available to combat bullying (against children by children) in the residential landlord and tenant context in Ontario.

The fact scenario that I was presented with was by a mother of a grade 5 student (10 years old) who lives in a housing complex of multi-unit townhomes and row housing.  There are a large number of children living in the residential complex of the same age, as well as older and younger, than her child.  Most of the children in the complex go to the same local public school.  However, there is also a separate Catholic school that her child could attend.  The mom was thinking about changing her child from the public school to the separate school because of bullying issues that just weren't getting resolved at school.  Whether that is the right approach or not is up to her.  Her reason for seeing me though, is that the bullying isn't only happening at school.  The bullying follows the child home from school on the bus and onto the residential complex.  It happens on the complex, at the spot where the school bus picks up and drops off the kids (for both schools) and continues for a bit after the kids get off the bus and walk home.  For a while now, the client has been trying to meet the bus to prevent the bullying but this isn't always possible.  Her child is miserable (but talking about it) and she needs help to fix it.

Initially, the client was contacting me to ask about her options to get out of her lease and how she would go about it.  Only on hearing the story, and why she was looking to move, did we begin to discuss her legal options to stop the bullying while remaining in this housing complex.  In this article I'm focusing only on legal options at the Landlord and Tenant Board as the other options like speaking to the parents of the bullies and speaking to the landlord's superintendent was unsuccessful.

As a landlord and tenant law lawyer, for over 15 years, it is my opinion that the Residential Tenancies Act does provide some legal tools that can force a landlord to take steps to evict a bully and their entire family from the housing complex.  It may not be the easiest case to win, but it is indeed probable if the correct steps are taken.

To understand the legal theory, you need to understand what section 64 of the Residential Tenancies Act provides.  It says:


On the strength of this section of the Residential Tenancies Act, a landlord, upon receiving complaints from the tenant (mother of child who is being bullied) that her child is being bullied on the residential complex by other occupants (kids of other tenants) of other rental units the landlord could serve a Notice of Termination in Form N5 on the parents of the bullies.  This Notice of Termination would require the tenants to ensure that the bullying behaviour (on the residential complex) ceases immediately.  If the bullying did not stop, then the landlord could file an application to the Landlord and Tenant Board to seek the termination and eviction of the bully's entire family from the residential complex.

The issue you may say, and rightfully so, is how do you get a landlord to take allegations of bullying, name calling, seriously enough so that they will indeed serve a Notice of Termination?  Isn't asking a landlord to intervene on a bullying event requiring a little much of a landlord?  To that, my answer is "look at section 64" above.  Is the bullying behaviour substantially interfering with the reasonable enjoyment of the residential complex of another tenant or with the lawful right privilege or interest of another tenant?  If so, then the bullying between children of tenants is indeed a problem that landlords need to deal with whether they like it or not.

What about the landlord who refuses to take steps?  Where a tenant has an uncooperative landlord, but also does not want to move (can't afford to move), what do you do?  The answer lies in filing a Tenant's Rights Application against the landlord alleging that the landlord is in breach of its obligations under the Residential Tenancies Act.

A integral part of every tenancy agreement in Ontario (express or implied) is that a landlord must provide a tenant AND MEMBERS OF HIS OR HER HOUSEHOLD reasonable enjoyment of the rental unit and the residential complex.  The statutory basis for this statement is section 22 of the Residential Tenancies Act.

The landlord's legal responsibility to take action arises after the tenant provides the landlord with complaints and a reasonable amount of evidence of the fact that their reasonable enjoyment is indeed being interfered with by bullies who reside in the residential complex.  The landlord, being in control of the complex, must then seek to protect the tenant and the children who are complaining.  The landlord does this by serving a Notice of Termination (on the bully's parents) as contemplated by section 64 of the Residential Tenancies Act.  If the Landlord fails to serve this Notice of Termination, and fails to take steps to stop the bullying, then the Landlord is (arguably) in breach of its obligations under section 22 of the Residential Tenancies Act.

The tenant (mom of bullying victim) may seek a remedy for a landlord's breach of its obligations (failure to take action against the bully's parent(s)) under the RTA.  This is done by filing an application against the Landlord in Form T2 at the Ontario Landlord and Tenant Board.  At the hearing before the Ontario Landlord and Tenant Board, the mother of the bullying victim needs to demonstrate that her child is being bulllied on the residential complex by other tenants or occupants of other rental units, that she has complained to the Landlord, that the landlord has done nothing address the problem, and the bullying amounts to what is described in section 64 (substantial interference).  If the tenant is successful in proving these essential elements then the Landlord and Tenant Board may make orders against the Landlord.  An Order may include an abatment of rent, payment of the tenant's costs and expenses, an administrative fine up to $25,000 and ANY OTHER order that the Board considers appropriate.  The scope of the remedial powers is quite broad.  The statutory basis for this power is found in section 31 of the Residential Tenancies Act.

In my opinion, there are legal tools available to tenants whose children are being bullied on a residential rental complex.  There is no legal reason nor impediment to the Ontario Landlord and Tenant Board taking bullying, harassment, and intimidation of children quite seriously, even if it is perpetrated by other children. 

Michael K. E. Thiele
Lawyer
Quinn Thiele Mineault Grodzki LLP
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada






19 comments:

  1. Hi
    Sorry if this is cheeky. I was wondering if harassment by a landlord is considered a serious breach of his responsibilities? I have tried everything and I cannot find an answer. Also what is a landlord refuses to accept your rent, even when you take the local policeman, for 6 months and then tries to evict you for non payment of rent.
    Would very much appreciate any guidance!

    Many thanks
    Amanda

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  2. Amanda: Thank you for the question. The word "harassment" is quite broad. There are different kinds of harassment as well as different degrees. What constitutes harassment to one person may indeed only be the exercise of legal rights by the landlord. Some will argue that the law does not impose an obligation to be polite or "nice" and that harassment is more than being rude. Without having details of your situation it is hard to comment specifically.

    However, there is a general answer with respect to where in the law is harassment prohibited. You will find the prohibition (presuming of course you live in Ontario) in section 23 of the Residential Tenancies Act--where it literally states: " A landlord shall not harass, obstruct, coerce, threaten or interfere with a tenant". A breach of this obligation allows you to file an application against the landlord at the Landlord and Tenan Board.

    If what you are concerned about does not quite reach the level of harassment; you might wish to consider an application based on interference with reasonable enjoyment. A landlord is prohibited in section 22 of the Residential Tenancies Act from interfering with reasonable enjoyment. That section specifically states: A landlord shall not at any time during a tenant's occupancy of a rental unit and before the day on which an order evicting the tenant is executed substantially interfere with the reasonable enjoyment of the rental unit or the residential complex in which it is located for all usual purposes by a tenant or members of his or her household."

    With respect to not accepting cheques for rent--this is just plain silly. Make sure you have witnesses that you tried to pay the rent. Given how long its been that the landlord has refused rent you could apply to the Landlord and Tenant Board on the basis that this is interfering with your reasonable enjoyment of the premises. You could ask the Board to declare your rent paid (even though the landlord has refused the rent) and in the alternative get an Order allowing you to pay the rent into the Board. The big concern here is that the landlord will one day demand payment of all of the rent arrears and you will have spent it and won't be able to pay. This would be a dirty trick for sure.

    Hope the foregoing helps. Please remember that this blog is about the law in Ontario, Canada. If you live elsewhere the information in this blog will not apply to you. Good luck.

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  3. Hi Michael,
    I have posted a question for you in the past, which you answered and was very helpful. I did have my non-paying-rent tenants move out (i still don't really get why some tenants believe that living in someone else's house for free is okay, but that is a different story). Although i have no questions right now, i still read your posts as they are very educational. Thank you for sharing your knowledge like this.

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  4. I had a fellow tenant spit on me as I walked past his balcony. I have never even spoken to this guy. This is not the first time he has tried to spit on me but it is the first time it has landed and I did take photos. He also threw garbage at my car. What should I do?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi: I'm going to presume that this tenant has some kind of mental health problem as this just isn't normal behaviour. The thing to do is make a complaint to the landlord--preferably in person. Maybe the landlord is aware of some kind of "issue" that can explain the behaviour. Not that an explanation makes it okay, but perhaps a good explanation will make the incidents a little less disturbing. In any event, the landlord should take your complaint and deal with the tenant--give warnings and serve a Notice of Termination---likely an N5 which is voidable if the behaviour is not repeated. If there is no correction then the landlord should apply to the Board for eviction. How that goes depends on the explanation. You would have to testify and your photos would be helpful then.

      If there is no doubt that this person is just plain rude and there isn't enough action with the landlord, consider filing a police complaint. The spitting on you may indeed be an assault/battery. The throwing garbage at your car, with he spitting, suggest an escalation is not far off and you have reason to fear for your safety. The police should respond to such a complaint.

      Best of luck

      Michael K. E. Thiele

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  5. Hi. I live in social housing and I have multiple chemical sensitivities. I have an addict neighbour who has been using ammonia to cook drugs. It comes through the sprinkler system. Property mgmt are aware of this problem as I have complained but say the rta limits them. This person now knows how sick her chemicals make me and is using perfume, air freshener etc to bully and harm me. It is happening many times daily and while I sleep. When I am awake, I put a mask on but I cannot do that whilst I am sleeping. I cannot move as I lose access to free naturopath and I need to make all my food from scratch due to severe food intolerances which have hospitalized me. I live next to a market. Prop mgmt did have a specialist in to look at sealing up my unit which has mostly been done. This is how I know it is coming through the sprinkler system. What are my options, if any please?

    Thanks,
    Linda McNeil

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  6. Hi there
    I have leased a house with another parent for my daughter while in college. without knowing the people well I did infact (stupidly) sign a 2 year lease. my daughter has been bullied and harassed we tried to work it out but in the mean time the other tenants family friend moved in to split the rent she is not on the lease. She has only moved in since September and she has become verbally abusive to my daughter, the two now have ganged up on my daughter they throw her laundry on the floor, throw out her groceries, she wanted to hang a picture in the common area they share when she came home it was thrown on the floor across the room. They continually accuse her of taking their food texting her insults telling her no wonder everyone hates her they have turned all her college friends against her, they have parties and invite their own friends if my daughter is home she gets swore at by their friends. Just before this started the girl not on the lease asked my daughter if she could apply at her work place and use her as a reference she got the job and with in weeks started bad mouthing my daughter at work. my daughter has become very depressed, everyone is telling me if I do anything I will make it worse? I am not sure what the right thing is to do. Because the worst tenant is not on the lease she pays me and the other parent can I get her out. Your story above I was wondering if that would also include students renting a house

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi: The facts you describe are exceptionally disturbing. Please seek out a lawyer pronto to get your daughter out of that situation. I appreciate that there is a lease and there are obligations. That being said, these obligations ultimately are distilled down to dollars and cents. The impact of the abuse your daughter is suffering could go far beyond the dollars and cents of the leasing situation.

      Not being able to talk with you it is difficult to assess what exactly your daughter needs. I presume though, that the very best thing would be to get out of that rental unit?? If so, you could have a conversation with a lawyer to talk about what that looks like, from a liability perspective, if you simply abandon the rental unit. What you are describing makes a rather extreme response like tactically abandoning a rental unit seem like a fairly reasonable thing to do in my view.

      If moving out is not what your daughter wants to do then yes you can exclude the people who are causing the problems if they are not co-tenants on the lease with you. Your problem may be, though, that the other tenant will have this non-tenant as a guest--which ends up simply being a battle of wills in getting this person out of the rental unit. Again, I urge you to consult with an experienced landlord and tenant lawyer--shouldn't take more than an hour--to put a plan together to get your daughter out of there that takes into account liability and minimizing your exposure.

      Good luck

      Michael K. E. Thiele
      www.ottawalawyers.com

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  7. Hi Michael,
    I'm a university student renting a room in a shared student house. I rushed into signing a 1 year lease before even meeting the other tenants (a mistake I won't make again) and now the problems between me and the other tenants have escalated to the point where I'm now scared to step foot into the house. When I moved in I found that they were always having people over late at night and watching movies with the speakers turned up, so noise became a problem. Additionally, I moved in during the summer and they refused to turn up the A/C, so often it was over 30C upstairs where my room was. After speaking to them about these issues I was having and then speaking to the landlord, nothing changed, indicating to me that neither the landlord nor the tenants were going to be very accommodating or cooperative. Now, months later, things have worsened. A few days ago they followed me up to my room, began pounding on my door and told me I was slamming the front door whenever I entered the house and that it was very disruptive. I do get back very late at night (I'm gone from around 10am-2/3am to study at school now) because the noise level they produce makes studying impossible for me, but I by no means slam the doors when coming in. When I pointed out that their noisiness was also a problem for me, and that I would try to keep it down as long as they did as well, they began yelling at me and denying that any noise was made on their part - claiming to always use headphones when they clearly never did etc. Now they all slam their doors, intentionally talk louder and clank plates/silverware around in the kitchen, drop things to make loud noises, play media on their laptops with the speakers on at full blast, and talk about me in the third person very loudly to make sure I can hear them. I am unable to sleep or study there, and it's become very mentally draining having to live in such a hostile environment where the other tenants gang up on me to put me down and make me feel uncomfortable. I'm now in perpetual distress and I'm constantly crying over this situation that I've stupidly put myself into, and haven't been able to focus on school, as a result my grades and social life have suffered drastically. I have spoken to the landlord a few times about it and she has told me I could assign the lease, but I haven't been able to find anyone else to take over my room. I am desperate to get out - I don't even feel safe in the house, let alone respected. I am now sleeping - and essentially living in - one of the school's libraries, but I am terrified as to what I will do next term if I can't find someone to assign the lease to. The libraries will begin closing at around 6pm in a few days after exams have been completed and I will have nowhere to go.
    Is there anyway I can terminate the lease because of these issues? Or is it really all up to the landlord? She has not been the most sympathetic about the situation (I assume it's because she would rather side with the 3 tenants who will most likely renew their leases, than bother with me since I'll definitely be moving out after the lease ends...) so I don't know if simply begging her to let me go without a replacement will work.
    Also, there has so far only been one person who has even looked at my room as a potential place to rent, but the other tenants do not want to live with a male. If he - or another male - did decide to rent the room, would the landlord have to accept him as the new tenant and let me leave? Or could she say no to him because of the other tenants? He is a graduate student and seems like a very suitable candidate otherwise, but I'm not sure if this situation would be considered gender discrimination because the other tenants's parents are religious and wanted an all-girls house for them to live in.
    I would really appreciate any input you might have on my situation, thanks for your time!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi: From the description of the rental situation it sounds like you have your own lease for your own room and the other people in the house of their own separate leases for their own rooms. You then all share the common spaces---bathrooms, kitchen, living room etc.. If this is accurate then you are in what one would consider a rooming house. An alternative set up is that you are all on a single lease as co-tenants.

      If you are indeed in a rooming house (which I'll presume is the case for this response)--everyone with their own leases for their own rooms--then the landlord has a duty to help you as you clearly do not have quiet enjoyment of the rental premises. You are being bullied and intimidated by the other tenants in the rooming house and this must stop. The landlord has an obligation to serve the other roommates with a Notice of Termination for substantial interference with reasonable enjoyment. If the behaviour is not corrected then the landlord must move to evict them. If the landlord fails to take steps then you can seek to terminate your lease and seek other remedies against the landlord.

      It will be helpful if you can collect evidence of how you are being treated and the conditions in the place. Recording with a smart phone is probably your best bet and so long as you are a party to the recording then it is fine for you to do this.

      Your stress level is at a tremendously unhealthy level. Crying and avoiding home and dreading going home is simply not an acceptable way to live. I hope that you are able to access a lawyer or paralegal with knowledge of Landlord and Tenant law. If you are in a university with a law school you may have a student legal aid centre that can help you for free. There are also community legal clinics that offer free services to people who can not afford to pay for a lawyer themselves. I'm sure there must be a student services centre within your school where you can ask for help finding legal help. The Law Society of Upper Canada also has a lawyer referral service through which you might be able to find a lawyer to help you (it is a free call). The reason I am suggesting that you get a lawyer is that you are presently being bullied and bullies tend to need a proverbial punch in the nose to back off and behave decently. In your case it is likely best if the punch in the nose comes from a lawyer. Letters to the landlord, the students, the students' parents, and to the faculties of each of these students is a good place to start. What is happening to you is likely unacceptable to your college/university and that is being perpetrated by other students is something that the college/university could be compelled to take an interest in (remember the dentistry students?). Outrageous behaviour of the kind that you describe demands a serious and swift response.

      Depending on how you want to approach it, with the help of a lawyer in a one and one discussion you can shape a course of action that suits your needs. If the proverbial punch in the nose--described above--is simply too much for you to deal with now (and it would be reasonable if you didn't want to go this route with letters to everyone), then perhaps the thing to do is to find a new place, move out asap, have some friends with you, family with you, and if there are no friends and family consider the police to keep the peace, and once you are out and in a new and safe place start dealing with the consequences of the unilateral move out--which is much easier to do if a lawyer is doing the talking for you.

      The legal aspect of these things may seem very intimidating. For this reason it is great to have a lawyer who knows how it works and what your rights are and who can explain the implications of proceeding one way or another. It is not so bleak as you fear.

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    2. With respect to assigning your lease to the male person that you have found is certainly someone that you could put forward as a potential assignee. The landlord may object to him and may even refuse you the right to assign. The Ontario Residential Tenancies Act (and Ontario Human Rights Code), have strict rules about the assignment process. Again it would be helpful to have counsel to help you deal with the assignment. Given the position you are in, however, I think you are likely past the point of waiting and working to find a potential assignee for your rental unit. You need action sooner than that process will take.

      All and all, you have more rights than you think. The legal landscape is not as daunting as you may believe and there is a way to navigate this situation and put it behind you. Please do see about retaining a lawyer or paralegal--a paid one or free one, it doesn't matter so long as they have experience with Landlord and Tenant Law in Ontario. I've said as much as I think I can in this response to you but fashioning a strategy of how to proceed is something that needs a conversation between client and lawyer.

      Good luck to you.

      Michael K. E. Thiele
      www.ottawalawyers.com

      Delete
  8. I HAVE A TENANT THAT IS VERY RUDE HE BEAT HIS GIRLFRIEND UP SO WE REPORTED TO THE POLICE AND NOW THE SINGLE FEMALE TENANTS IN THE BUILDING ARE AFRAID IF HE GETS DRUNK AND TAKES HIS ANGER OUT ON THEM I FEEL THE N5 DOES DO NOT JUSTICE THERE HAS TO BE A WAY TO GET HIM OUT SOONER FOR HE DRINKS DAILY AND HAS DONE MAJOR DAMAGE TO THE APARTMENT HE HAS BEEN VERY CONTROLING TO EVERYONE IS THERE ANOTHER WAY TO GET HIM OUT SO THE OTHER TENANTS ARE NOT WORRIED NO MORE..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi: The N5 is only one form and it is the longest process as it allows correction and voiding and a longer termination date. You also have available to you a termination for impaired safety and a termination for illegal act. This Notices are in Form N6 & N7 which you should take a look at. These notices are not voidable and you may apply to the Board for eviction immediately after the service of the application. The Board tends to schedule these hearings quickly as well.

      For very serious matters like this please consider hiring a lawyer or paralegal. The cost of legal representation will likely be well worth it as you might find your other tenants moving out and leaving you with empty units if you do not solve this problem quickly.

      Good luck

      Michael K. E. Thiele
      www.ottawalawyers.com

      Delete
  9. Hi, I live in a housing complex where ever since my family and I moved here anot her tenant has harassed and bullied me and my family. This is a grown women coming onto my property to yell and scream degrade and try to humiliat myself and my kids. I have spoken to housing in the past and nothing was done I've even gone to the police and all they say they can do is speak with her. The fact that a grown women is going to bully a child should be rights to be arrested I my opinion. But anyway what can I do? I've asked for a transfer and was denied. I am pregnant and can not handle this stress of this women coming to my property and causin these issues. I fear if this continues something could go wrong with my pregnancy as I am only half way to my due date. Noone will help thank you

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi: The article I wrote sets out the way that bullies can be dealt with. A landlord has a duty to respond properly and take steps to evict the bully if this tenant does not stop. The most useful thing you can do is to collect evidence of the bullying. Record the interactions and get witnesses to write statements saying what they see. Ultimately, you should attend at a local legal clinic and get them to file an application to the landlord and tenant board against your landlord. For this application to be effective you will need to have clear evidence of the harassment/bullying.

      Good luck to you.

      Michael K. E. Thiele
      www.ottawalawyers.com

      Delete
  10. I've been renting a house since may 2016 I pay 1300 for a 2 bedroom all bills included
    My landlord sent me a message saying that she wasn't happy because the hydro bill was 200 dollars and that it's usually 75-100 per month
    She's saying I have to pay the extra 100 dollars but in the lease it says all bills paid can she make me pay the extra 100?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi: If your rent is $1300 inclusive of hydro then she can not demand that you pay more.

      Michael K. E. Thiele
      www.ottawalawyers.com

      Delete
  11. Hi,

    We have a tenant that always bounces her rent cheques. This month is the 12 th time in 2 years. Are we able to evict her for this? What for would I use she eventually pays in chunks but we want a more reliable tenant.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi:

      Termination for persistent late payment of rent is a grounds for termination under the Residential Tenancies Act. If you go to the Landlord and Tenant Board website take a look under the "Forms" and download the Form N8. This is the form you use for termination for persistent late payment of rent.

      Note that serving the Form N8 and then applying to the Landlord and Tenant Board is unlikely to result in termination. Presuming you "win", the Board will be inclined to relieve from eviction and order the tenant to pay the rent in full and on time for the next 12 months. If the tenant fails to comply with this condition then you will have the right to apply under section 78--using a Form L4, to obtain an eviction order for the continued late or non-payment of rent.

      Good luck to you.

      Michael K. E .Thiele
      www.ottawalawyers.com

      Delete

IMPORTANT NOTICE

Any answers provided are intended to reflect the Law of Ontario, Canada. The answers are not legal advice and no one should rely on the answers provided as legal advice. The answers are intended to be general information about Ontario Law and are the personal view of the author based on the limited facts provided to the author. The answers may not be legally accurate and may indeed be contrary to the law of Ontario. Answers and conclusions drawn may have been different if facts had been shared that have not been disclosed in the comment/question. This blog is intended to assist people in learning about Ontario Landlord and Tenant Law. However, if you have actual legal problems this blog should under no circumstances replace proper legal advice obtained by retaining a lawyer or licensed paralegal to advise you. Nothing in this blog, comments submitted or answers provided, gives rise to a solicitor and client relationship. Comments are published as submitted and commenters should be aware that if they identify themselves in a comment that their identity will become public upon the comment being published. Comments that have been published may be deleted upon request to the author.

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Ottawa lawyer and partner at Quinn Thiele Mineault Grodzki LLP.  Graduate of Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario.  Called to the bar in Ontario in 1997.  Undergraduate degree at Colby College, Waterville Maine, U.S.A.