What am I owed since my landlord shut off the water?
October 2, 2006 8:23 AM   Subscribe

NoWaterFilter: My landlord had to shut down the water on Saturday and only gave me a couple of hours warning. It's Monday and it's still not on. I'm in Ontario and I'm wondering what my rights are in this situation.

I'm not looking to sue or anything like that, but I was talking with coworkers today who said that my landlord had to pay for a hotel room. While I'd prefer to stay at home anyway (I have a water tower and can shower at work), I am eating out rather than making my own food and I'm using a lot of bottled water for things like the toilet which all costs money.

I found this section of the Ontario Tenant Protection Act, but it doesn't really speak to remedies or how long things are allowed to go on. It looks like the water may be back on tonight or tomorrow, should my landlord be responsible for my additional costs? (this was due to a leak in the basement apartment)
posted by dripdripdrop to Law & Government (20 answers total)
"Rights" are a funny thing. The law handles things like this on a case-by-case basis, paying attention to the written law but also paying attention to basic fairness. Also, individuals can handle things between themselves, taking into account basic fairness and respect for others.

Accordingly, if I were you, I would discuss this with your landlord. I would withhold something like, say, $25 or $50 from my rent, depending on just how much trouble I was actually caused (and how much the rent is in the first place). The landlord isn't intentionally screwing you (at least, there's no evidence of that yet, especially if the situation is fixed today). He has a duty to provide water - that's part of his end of the bargain. So some appropriate rent reduction seems fitting. But as he's making a good faith effort, it's hardly fair to try to gouge him.

(I will now cue the people-who-have-never-rented-an-apartment coming on and saying, "DON'T WITHHOLD RENT! THAT'S EVIL! YOU'LL GET INSTANTLY EVICTED!", as if they have any real experience with the matter.)

There are generally two ways to handle things - formally and informally. The formal way in this case is to complain to the Tribunal, do tons of paperwork, wait six months or a year, and THEN get your $25. That seems rather stupid to me, when it is likely that adults can settle the problem informally.
posted by jellicle at 9:03 AM on October 2, 2006

I would write a polite letter to the landlord informing him of the extra costs you incurred due the lack of running water (the meals out, bottled water, etc) and let him know that you will be witholding X amount of dollars from your rent. Maybe leave the dollar amount blank and take the letter with you and discuss it with him in person, then fill in the amount you agree on and make a copy for yourself. He may be willing to comp you more than you expect.
posted by chiababe at 9:14 AM on October 2, 2006

Call this number and ask.
posted by dobbs at 9:21 AM on October 2, 2006

Never ever ever withhold rent in Ontario. Pay the full amount, and try to negotiate a different amount later. If you don't pay the full amount, then you are in the wrong just as much as he is.
posted by maxpower at 10:21 AM on October 2, 2006

Let me preface my first comment:

I've rented perhaps 20 different apartments / rooms / houses and have taken a landlord to tribunal court and won -- all in Ontario. In my experience, the tribunal was quick (about 2 weeks from filing simple paperwork to court appearance). But a tribunal appearance was the last straw in a battle with the landlord from hell. Your situation is very different.

Don't withhold rent. Stay on the right side of the law so the law can protect you (or in this case the Tenant Protection Act).
posted by maxpower at 11:11 AM on October 2, 2006

another vote for just talking with him, and possibly throwing out a small figure--$20-100 us (sorry but i'm too full from lunch to figure out canuck currency). no need to withhold rent, or send a letter.

reminds me of a time when the water went out in an apartment on Friday. Saturday morning, the plumber showed up ans assured me that the water would be on by the early afternoon. so i went mountain biking, and got quite dirty ... only to return to find that our water would be out at least until tuesday. i never even asked for any money, though ... i just wasn't that inconvenienced, other then the saturday night bath thing.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 11:20 AM on October 2, 2006

Response by poster: I don't want this to be a big deal, I'm only out around $50 at this point. My landlord already has my rent cheques* for the rest of the year anyway. I just wanted to see if there was any formula or something written in stone.

My landlord's been pretty decent about it, I plan on just asking if they're willing to defray some of my costs.

*Canadian spelling used due to the regional nature of this question :)
posted by dripdripdrop at 11:23 AM on October 2, 2006

Wow, jellicle called that one, eh?

Yep, And he's still giving really, really stupid advice by advising people to withhold rent, because it does, will and has gotten folks instantly evicted, including folks I know.

The solution is "talk with your landlord and negotiate an appropriate reduction in rent. If that fails, go to arbitration while looking for a new place to live."
posted by solid-one-love at 11:32 AM on October 2, 2006

Why is the water shut off? Is there other work happening on the building? Or is this somehow part of a larger dispute?
posted by mikel at 11:33 AM on October 2, 2006

(sorry but i'm too full from lunch to figure out canuck currency)

divde by pi
posted by jeffmik at 12:06 PM on October 2, 2006

When my building was replumbed, I lost water for eight hours to 24 hours of every day for three weeks, often with little notice -- and there were people in and out of my suite for a week. When I filed in BC under the Tenancy Act, I asked for 1/2 of my rent for that period, since I couldn't cook, shower or drink water and lost exclusive enjoyment of my home and facilities. I believe I ended up being awarded $150, which was more like 1/5. I felt ripped off, but I think I got that amount because the landlord had asked for $150 for carpet cleaning. (He was lying and I had photos, but the arbitrator was lazy and probably figured it was easier to call it even. I only counter-claimed for the loss of water because the lying landlord had claimed I damaged the carpets.)

So, write a letter and ask for compensation. Keep a copy. Keep any notices you received. When you move out, file under the tenancy act. Keep in mind you pay $X to file, unless you can make a case for being poor. (I was a student and got the fees waived.)
posted by acoutu at 12:22 PM on October 2, 2006

Jellicle indeed called it, but he's dead wrong -- don't withhold rent in Ontario. The moment you do that, you and in the wrong and bad things can and do happen very quickly, depending on how much of a dick your landlord is.

If the situation is minor and is resolved quickly, it may not be worth the hassle and subsequent bad blood to take it to the tribunal If you don't want to take it to a tribunal, the best thing you can do is approach the landlord and explain the situation and hope that s/he decides to compensate you.

I am a lawyer in Ontario, but I am not your lawyer, this is not legal advice, etc.
posted by modernnomad at 12:41 PM on October 2, 2006

Yep, And he's still giving really, really stupid advice by advising people to withhold rent, because it does, will and has gotten folks instantly evicted, including folks I know.

Bears repeating. Do not ever, under any circumstances, withhold rent unless you have a new place to live already lined up. Plus, it makes you the bad guy.

That said, eviction for non-payment of rent comes with something like a 14-day time to respond--and as long as you pay the rent in that time, the eviction order must be cancelled. However, the second order within (I think) one calendar year cannot be redressed by those means. ORHT website has info.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 2:20 PM on October 2, 2006

I am curious what you mean by "had to." To me this implies there was some emergency water situation. Since a pipe does not notify anyone when it is going to break, a landlord has limited ability to notify you when water will be out.

And really, if you owned a home, would you expect the municipal water system to reimburse you anything whatsoever for meals eaten out and bottled water after a main breaks? The few times I have been in such a situation, the only "notice" I ever received that the water would be off is an impromptu river in the street.

If your landlord is nice enough to give you anything, that's great. It's worth asking politely. But be aware that the answer might be no.

And never ever withhold rent anywhere in any state/province unless there is a clause in your lease that specifically allows it, and even then be sure you follow every word of that clause very very carefully.
posted by ilsa at 2:30 PM on October 2, 2006

Ho-de-hum. Eviction proceedings follow a standard path - landlord files a complaint, tenant gets a notice, tenant has time to respond, if tenant DOES NOT RESPOND AT ALL tenant gets another notice, with more time to respond, if TENANT DOES NOT RESPOND AT ALL tenant will eventually get evicted. If tenant does respond a hearing is scheduled, you get to present your side, etc. etc.

It is utter bullshit to say that withholding $25 or $50 from rent, for landlord's breach of the warranty of habitability, has ever gotten any tenant evicted. (Warning: I can't be responsible for your willful failure to respond to legal notices. If you refuse to present your side of the case, that's your fault.)

There's some kind of bias that comes up repeatedly in landlord-tenant questions (especially Canadian ones). It goes like this:

--When the landlord has agreed to provide you with a habitable place to live in exchange for your rent money, and he fails to keep his end of the bargain, somehow you are still bound to your end.

This is foolish. Imagine you signed a contract for a car. The dealer didn't deliver it to you. Should you make payments? The answer is clearly no, yet these people would disagree. I admire them for their gullibility. It makes me want to sell them things.

On the contrary, the law recognizes offsetting interests. Corporations (who make the largest use of the legal system, by far) routinely disagree over fulfillment of contracts - one side thinks the other is underperforming, and stops paying on the contract, and it ends up in court. Neither side is necessarily wrong - at least, you can't tell from the information provided. While one side or the other or both may be ultimately determined to be wrong, ceasing to pay for an inadequate service is not, in itself, wrong - it may be deemed to be perfectly right.

Ceasing to pay for inferior rental accommodations is not, in itself, wrong in any fashion. You may be deemed to be wrong, if landlord did hold his end of the bargain and you did not. You may be deemed to be right, if landlord didn't hold up his end of the bargain. We simply don't know from the information available. I take the poster at his word that landlord is doing something which breaches the warranty of habitability - slightly, all things considered, but breaches it nonetheless. In a perfect world, both tenant and landlord should recognize this and the landlord should voluntarily reduce the rent accordingly.

The black-and-white, all-or-nothing attitude is a poor one to use in the real world. In the real world, all things are a shade of grey and negotiations occur all the time, over all sorts of trivial things. This is one of those things.
posted by jellicle at 5:19 PM on October 2, 2006

Hmm. Who to believe? The lawyer who says jellicle is wrong, or jellicle, who claims that something that I have witnessed never happened. Hmm. I'll have to think about that.
posted by solid-one-love at 5:34 PM on October 2, 2006

Has Jellicle ever been in an eviction court? Well I have. Maybe Ontario ain't Texas or even Illinois, how it really works is this:

*Someone decides not to pay rent.
*Landlord sends a notice saying "hey what gives with the rent?"
* If our hypothetical someone doesn't cough up rent money within a few days, landlord sends an eviction notice. Where I come from this is a "3 day notice to vacate."
* If money or keys do not materialize on landlord's desk by the 4th day, landlord goes to local eviction court.
* Within 5 days a court date is set and an official subpeona is served to our someone.
* Court date (again within 5 days) wherein someone gets 5 days to vacate or have the constable heave someone's stuff out the window. Yes they do, I've watched.

Now it would be terribly petty to go to this trouble over anything less than a few hundred dollars. It is in everyone's interest to come to a mutually agreeable settlement, and if I were your property manager I would try to find some middle ground, such as offering to let you use water from another unit (that has water). But I have known some very petty people over the years. And frankly, if a particular resident has been a jerk, a landlord might take advantage of just such a situation.

Oh for pity sake, just have a polite talk with your landlord and hope he's a reasonable soul.
posted by ilsa at 8:28 PM on October 2, 2006

Jellicle, landlord-tenant law in Ontario is statute-based. You can't import principles of contract law into it and simply presume they hold true. The Ontario Tenant Protection Act s.61 is all that dripdripdrop needs to know. Upon witholding rent, his or her lease can terminated within two weeks. It doesn't really matter what seems logical in your gut; unfortunately the law rarely works that way. If the landlord is a dick, dripdripdrop could be on the street in a week. Is that likely? Hard to say -- it really (unfortunately) depends on the landlord.

It may indeed be ridiculous for the landlord to evict dripdripdrop over witholding $50; with that I agree. But on the other hand (again under Ontario *law*) landlords can increase rent every time a new tenant signs a lease. So if the landlord thinks the property can be quickly rented out again at a 5% increase, there's nothing to stop them. It's simply not worth the risk to do this. Far better is, as ilsa suggests, having a chat with the landlord and coming to an amiacable solution.

Finally, if the conditions are truly unhabitable (though they are not, by the sounds of it), even then you do not withhold rent, you take the landlord to the Tribunal, which is a cheap and easily accessible solution in which you can represent yourself.
posted by modernnomad at 7:10 AM on October 3, 2006

I should clarify that s.61 does allow you to avoid eviction by paying up once you have received notice.
posted by modernnomad at 7:12 AM on October 3, 2006

Response by poster: This has certainly turned into more of a debate than anticipated. I would never push something like this as far as witholding rent or a tribunal, but I wasn't sure how long it would be out when I asked. Hopefully this info will help someone down the road.

The water was shut off due to a persistant leak in the basement, so it really wasn't the landlord's fault (outside of planning a little better). I've talked to them and they've been really good.

The water came back on yesterday and now my world is again a wonderful (and cleaner) place. I'm only out about $25 in water so I don't even think it's worth making the landlord refund that. The meals out could just as easily be chalked up to laziness.
posted by dripdripdrop at 8:04 AM on October 3, 2006

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