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:
TERMINATION FOR CAUSE, REASONABLE ENJOYMENT----A landlord may give a tenant notice of termination of the tenancy if the conduct of the tenant, another occupant of the rental unit or a person permitted in the residential complex by the tenant is such that it substantially interferes with the reaosnable enjoymnet of the residential complex for all usual purposes by the landlord or another tenant or substantially interferes with another lawful right, privilege or interest of the landlord or another tenant.
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
Quinn Thiele Mineault Grodzki LLP
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada