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Older tenants may need help standing up for their rights

October, 2009

When it comes to dealing with leases, some seniors become susceptible to unscrupulous landlords because they don’t understand their rights.

While an older person may have capacity, the range of capacity is wide. To fully comprehend the responsibilities and obligations of tenants and landlords one must read the detailed lease thoroughly. Some older people may be intimidated by a landlord. Seniors coping with such stresses as physical ailments, a pending move or isolation may agree too quickly to a landlord’s requests rather than checking their rights and negotiating a better agreement.

I recently assisted a 90-year-old man with his move to a senior’s residence. I was hired after he had given his three months’ termination notice to the landlord. Before the three months were up, he found an appropriate residence and moved in quickly, leaving behind the items he was not taking with him. Soon after, we returned to the old apartment with the women who were hired to organize the move and sell the remaining belongings. While we were there, a man and woman paraded into the living area, introduced themselves as co-landlords with the live-in landlord, and began questioning us as to when the apartment would be vacated. We assured them that the apartment would be empty at the end of the notice period. They proceeded to insist the apartment be cleared as soon as possible, claiming that the three-month notice period was for the landlord to prepare the apartment for renting.

They refused my request that they should leave, saying that we had no right to be there while they had every right since it was “their” apartment. Realizing we were at an impasse, I carried through with my threat to phone the police. When the police arrived they were professional and helpful – but not pleased about being called for a minor issue. However, they did clarify the law. The tenant has full rights to the apartment for as long as he paid the rent and landlords have no right to enter the apartment without the tenant’s permission.

My client was in the apartment at the time of the incident and was clearly stressed. To make matters worse, he is hearing-impaired and could not understand what had transpired. The police warned the landlords not to enter the apartment again without the tenant’s permission, stating that if they did, they would be arrested.

Had I not been there, my client, in order to maintain peace, would probably have handed over the keys and forfeited his belongings to the landlord.

Unfortunately, the ordeal did not stop there. My client handed over cash to the landlord when he asked for money to pay Gaz Métropolitain – with no bill or receipt. This was done when I was not present. To ease my client’s anxiety, I had the apartment vacated two weeks prior to the end of the termination notice and had the keys returned to the landlord. The landlord was asked to sign for the receipt of the key, and was asked not to contact my client since each contact caused him to slip into a state of anxiety. The landlord refused to sign the letter.

Had my client not had involvement from an outsider looking out for his best interests, he would have been forced out of his apartment early, would have abided by the landlord’s “rule” that there be only one garage sale – with few people allowed to enter the apartment during the sale – as well as other ludicrous requests. I tried to transfer Hydro over to the landlord, but was told it could take 10 days for the transfer, which could only be done after the key was turned over. It remains to be seen if this story has ended.

With senior residences, the leasing agent goes over the lease with the tenant. Any promises made at the signing should be added to the lease in writing. Yet it is still important to ask questions:

What is the policy in the event of death or the need for a move to a nursing facility? This should be stipulated in the lease. If a resident has a physician’s letter stating he or she is in need of a nursing facility, the law states that only one month’s notice is required.

I urge seniors who are not sure about their rights as tenants to seek assistance from family, friends, the Rental Board or community groups before committing to a new lease or any changes to an existing one.

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