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Illegal Rent Requests

Immigrants can pay a year's rent

Hamilton Spectator - July 30, 2001, p.C4

Recent immigrants are being asked to pay up to 12 months rent in advance to secure a unit in Toronto apartment buildings, even though such payments are illegal under Ontario laws, the Toronto Star reported yesterday.

"If you are a newcomer, then we have to use different rules," said Tina, who refused to provide a last name but is the building manager of a high-rise apartment building.

Tina told a reporter posing as a recent immigrant looking for an apartment that new arrivals have no credit rating and are a risk to landlords.

She said that to secure a two-bedroom apartment, costing $1,075 per month, the reporter would have to pay 12 months rent in advance. But when he said he was employed, the building manager agreed to reduce the deposit to five months plus the first and last month. The payment totalled $7,525 and had to be made with a money order.

Paying that much in advance is good for recent immigrants because it protects them from doing things like gambling away their rent money, she said.

All recent immigrants applying for an apartment in the building have to pay in advance, the building manager said.

A recent immigrant who pays $950 a month for a one-bedroom apartment in the building said Saturday the manager demanded a year's rent before her family could move in earlier this summer.

The woman, who would not give her name, said that when a relative agreed to sign the lease as a guarantor, the buildng manager then asked for five months rent, in addition to their first and last month payments.

She said when she and her family immigrated to Toronto last May they searched for housing at numerous buildings and most asked for thousands of dollars upfront in rent cheques.

She was unaware that such advance payments are against the law.

"I don't know if it is right or wrong. It is just what hey asked of us," she said.

"Everywhere, it is the same. They always ask if we are new to Canada," she added.

Taking that much money in advance is illegal, said Scott Harcourt, director of policy with the provincial Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

Harcourt said such deposits are an offence under the Tenant Protection Act. Fines can go up to $10,000 if the offence is committed by an individual, or $50,000 if it is a corporation.

He said the act restricts the type of security deposits landlords can collect to one month prepaid and the last month's rent.

The practice may also be in violation of Ontario's human rights legislation.

Reema Khawja, a senior policy analyst with the Ontario Human Rights Commission, said human rights legislation allows a landlord to request credit references and rental history infomation. Landlords can also ask prospective tenants provide a co-signer.

The chief financial officer of the apartment building's owner denied new immigrants are asked to pay their rent in advance, saying the building manager didn't know what she was doing because she was new to the job.

Dean Williams, of the investigations unit of the housing ministry, said the practice is only illegal if a payment is made. "Asking for more than first and last month? It's not an offence," he said. "But taking some more, that's an offence. It's almost a Catch-22. It's got to be paid before you can recover it."

Housing community workers say six-month deposits are requested all over Toronto.

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