You're all set to move into your new apartment. Unfortunately, you're in for an unpleasant surprise when you arrive. Unlike the first time you saw the place, the bathroom is in bad shape, the ceiling is sagging and there's no hot water. What now?
By law, when is a rental unit unfit to live in?
The law considers that a rental unit is unfit to live in when there is a serious risk to the health or safety of the people living there or to the public.
This risk could arise because there's no hot water, no proper heating, it is infested with mice, is falling apart, etc.
If, on moving day, you feel that your unit is unfit to live in, you can refuse to move in. Your lease will then be cancelled. (The legal term for cancellation is "resiliation".) But in these situations, it is a good idea to get more information from the Régie du logement (rental board).
The contract I signed says that I recognize that the apartment is in good condition. What legal effect does this have?
A statement in a contract or lease that a unit is fit to live in is not valid.
This is because the landlord is obliged by law to deliver the unit in good condition.
If, on moving day, the unit is unfit to live in, you can end the lease. If the landlord refers to the lease and shows you this kind of statement, you are not bound by it, even if you signed the lease.
What can I do if the unit becomes unfit to live in?
You have remedy against a landlord who fails to respect the minimum requirements set by law concerning maintenance safety and cleanliness.
The landlord must ensure the upkeep of the unit during the lease. If you notice any deterioration that could turn into a problem, you can send the landlord a written notice asking him to do the necessary repairs. This notice can take the form of a "demand letter". For more information, see our article Demand Letters.
If the landlord fails to respond, you can file a claim with the Régie du logement (rental board). You can request the following:
- payment of damages (money)
- an order that the landlord respect his obligations (maintenance, for example)
- a reduction in rent
- cancellation of the lease
For more information on making a claim at the rental board, see our article The Régie du logement.
Can I abandon my rental unit if it becomes unfit to live in?
Yes. You can leave if it becomes unfit to live in at any time during the lease. However, you must notify your landlord that you are leaving and provide reasons for your departure no later than 10 days after you leave.
Your notice to the landlord must be in writing using the same language (English, French, etc.) in which your lease was written. The notice must include this information:
- the address of the rental unit
- the reasons why it is unfit to live in
- the date on which you will leave or have left
- your new address
- your new telephone number
The Régie du logement has sample notices on its website.
When the unit is once again fit to live in, the landlord must notify you. You then have ten days to inform him whether you will be returning.
The lease will be cancelled and the landlord free to rent to another person if you do one of these things:
- refuse to return to the unit
- fail to give him an answer
- don't leave the landlord a way to contact you (address or telephone number)
Note: A landlord who thinks the unit was and still is fit to live in or that you were responsible for its poor condition can challenge your departure before the Régie du logement.
What are my obligations regarding the condition of my rental unit?
As a tenant, you must keep your unit clean and use it in a reasonable way. The Civil Code of Québec also requires that you keep it sanitary and safe.
For example, unless you have permission from the landlord, you cannot use or keep any extremely flammable or explosive substances, since that would be a safety hazard. Also, you cannot have too many people living in your unit, since that could make it unsanitary. The law says that the number of people in a rental unit must allow every person to live in reasonably comfortable conditions.
If during your lease, you compromise the safety or hygiene of the unit, your landlord can file a complaint with the Régie du logement. He can ask that you pay a sum of money (damages) or that you respect your responsibility to properly maintain your unit.
If you or another person you know causes any serious damage to the unit, the landlord can ask that the lease be cancelled.
This article explains in a general way the law that applies in Quebec. This article is not a legal opinion or legal advice. To find out the specific rules for your situation, consult a lawyer or notary.