There was an article recently in the Toronto Star with the catchy title, ‘Tenant from hell leaves a string of landlord victims’. Generally speaking, we tend to hear more about nightmare landlords who take advantage of tenants by raising rent, refusing to do repairs, or subjecting their tenants to unsafe and uninhabitable conditions. This article, however, shed a new angle on the ongoing housing battle regarding privacy protection laws and how these restrictive laws are potentially harmful to landlords.
Previously, a landlord who wanted to find out the rental history of a potential tenant, such as previous board decisions or the amount of rent that may be outstanding to previous landlords, could ask the Landlord and Tenant Board for the files on that tenant. The Office of the Information and Privacy Commission has since ruled, however, that this is a breach of an individual’s privacy. Under the new guidelines, only persons that are party to an application may access the board file. Those who are not party to an application must apply under The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) for access.
FIPPA has two main objectives. The first is to provide the public with access information under the control of a government institution. The second is to protect the privacy of individuals. FIPPA prevents the release of personal information, which includes information such as an individual’s name, address and any financial transactions with which the individual was involved. What this means for landlords, is that existing Board files are prohibited from release because of the personal nature of the information that they contain. Rental histories from previous Landlord and Tenant Board files are out of reach.
The question here is whether in protecting the privacy rights of individuals, FIPPA has prevented landlords from taking measures to protect themselves from deceitful tenants with past records of defaulting on rent payments or of damaging rental properties. According to section 10 of the Residential Tenancies Act, a landlord is entitled to request past rental history from a potential tenant, but there is no way in which a landlord can confirm the validity of the record. This allows a tenant more freedom to lie about past history, since the landlord cannot access the files to prove otherwise.
Proponents of the privacy measures can just as easily argue that a tenant could change their ways, and that one bad landlord/tenant relationship should not prevent a tenant from moving forward to happy and mutually beneficial landlord/tenant relationships in the future. The argument that a landlord’s access to these files could make finding suitable accommodations extremely difficult for a reformed tenant has equal merit in this standoff.
Depending on what side you sit on, these rules could mean considerable benefit, or could open you up to potential trouble. As the debate continues, the one clear point is that both landlords and tenants have inherent risks in rental agreements, and should be careful about the people with whom they do business. For further information, please contact one of the lawyers at DSF.