Can a landlord charge a tenant for renovations?

Residential Tenancies Column (aka Landlord and Tenant Law)I just got a question from a tenant. The landlord replaced all the windows in the rental property, and then gave the tenant a bill for half the cost of the renovations. Seriously.

The tenant doesn’t have to pay the landlord the money. There are some costs that are simply the costs of doing business, and maintaining the property by replacing windows is just one of many costs this landlord is going to run into.

If the tenant had broken a window because, I don’t know, there was an intense game of indoor baseball going on, then yes, for sure, the landlord could charge the tenant for the repair and replacement of the window. Or the landlord could charge the tenant when the tenant moved, and keep some of the security deposit to cover the cost.

The Alberta Residential Tenancies Act doesn’t actually set out who is responsible for repairs and that’s why sometimes, there is confusion about what repairs the landlord can charge the tenant for, and what repairs the landlord can’t. The common sense approach is that any “big” repairs are the landlord’s responsibility and “teeny tiny” repairs are the tenant’s responsibility. So, while the tenant can change the lightbulb, it’s the landlord that installs the new light fixtures when the old ones break.

There are also the Minimum Housing and Health Standards that can help us to decide who should pay for repairs. One of the landlord’s responsibilities is to make sure that the rental property meets these standards. The standards set out that the windows must be in good repair, free of cracks and weatherproof. So, if the windows in the property do not meet this standard, then it’s the landlord’s job to make sure that the windows get repaired or replaced. If the property is not being maintained, then the tenant can call Environmental Public Health and talk to an inspector about the problem that they’re having with the rental.

What should the tenant do? The tenant should tell the landlord, in writing, that he or she is not going to pay for the windows. The tenant could put in reasons why she isn’t paying (and while it might be tempting to write that you aren’t paying because the charge is ridiculous, it’s probably better to refrain). Hopefully the landlord will just go away at this point. If the landlord still insists on being paid, then there are three ways the landlord may react.

  • The landlord could sue the tenant for half of the cost of the renovation. The landlord is going to have to convince a judge that the tenant should have to pay for the windows, which seems unlikely.
  • The landlord could keep the security deposit when the tenant moves out. If the tenant doesn’t agree with a charge made against the security deposit, then the tenant can bring an application in Provincial Court or through the Residential Tenancy Dispute Resolution Service for return of the security deposit.
  • The landlord could pass the bill to a collection agency. If the tenant is contacted by a collection agency, then the tenant can inform the agency in writing that the tenant is disputing the debt, and ask that the landlord prove the debt in court. If the tenant does that, then the collection agency cannot contact the tenant any longer. Service Alberta has a tipsheet about dealing with collection agencies.

In the meantime, the tenant might want to think about moving. If the landlord thinks that the tenant should pay for the windows, what else does he think the tenant should pay for?

Note: Laws about renting are different in each province and territory. Here is a list of places where you can find out about the law in your province.

Where Can You Go for LT help

This article was originally published on the Centre for Public Legal Education blog, Blogosaurus Lex, on Sep. 26, 2012.

Logo forThis column was produced with the generous support of the Alberta Real Estate Foundation.

 

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Authors:

Rochelle Johannson

Rochelle Johannson is a staff lawyer with the Centre for Public Legal Education (CPLEA) in Edmonton, Alberta.

 


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