Renting an in-law suite


Dear David,

My friend is renting the basement of a home with an in-law setup. The homeowners are trying to sell. Visitors seem surprised that she is living there and some have asked if she’ll be moving out. When we looked at the listing on it made no mention of a basement tenant, where does that leave her if the house sells?  – AWKWARD

DEAR AWKWARD: If your friend is worried she may be uprooted, the first thing to do is read the Residential Tenancies Act of 2006, which can be found online (the Act has been amended several times over the years, I believe most recently in 2021). The second thing she should do is review her lease. When a tenant has a lease in place, they can’t be displaced under normal circumstances unless they are in breach of the lease or one of its provisions. 

Tenants will frequently sign a lease when they first move into a unit. Because it’s not mandatory to have a lease in place, many end up renting month-to-month when the lease eventually expires. A landlord doesn’t have the power to remove a tenant at will if they don’t have a lease, but without this contract in place, certain circumstances may leave the tenant vulnerable to being displaced. 

Unless they are violating provisions in the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA), there are a limited number of reasons why a tenant could be forced to leave. One exception would be if the landlord or the landlord’s immediate family wants to move into the unit (a rule that applies if the property consists of three units or less). This summary of what’s contained in the RTA is very general, so I recommend a tenant read the RTA themselves and call the Landlord Tenant Board to get appropriate advice for their situation

You referred to your friend’s rental as an “inlaw setup”. This is a term that tends to be thrown around loosely. To establish your friend’s rights as a tenant, she will need to confirm that she’s living in a legal rental unit, which she might be able to establish by calling the Landlord Tenant Board. I see a few clues that lead me to believe the unit may not be legal – potential buyers being surprised by her presence is one of them. The public comments you see on the listing are an abridged version of what a Realtor sees on their version of the system. If the rental unit was legal, I’m guessing there would be details about the basement tenant in the Realtor comments on MLS. The scope of the Residential Tenancies Act may apply differently, depending on whether the unit is legal or not. 

PRO TIP: Signing a lease can be a double-edged sword for landlords and for tenants. A tenant who wants to stay in place will typically want to sign a long lease, and a landlord (or a potential buyer) that wants to live in the unit themselves may not be open to additional lease terms. A long lease provides comfort, but puts restraints on both parties. As a landlord or tenant, you need to pick your poison. #Advice #AskDavid #TheNegotiator

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