Renting out a condo vs. an apartment

Condominiums and apartments may look the same, and to landlords and tenants, there are similarities, but also important differences too.

With an apartment, the landlord is the owner of the building. With a condo, the landlord is the unit owner. Tenants are people who, through a lease agreement, pay rent to a landlord and have the right to occupy a rental unit. 

What legislation applies?

The relationship between all landlords and tenants is governed by the Residential Tenancy Act, 2006 (RTA). That’s true for condo and apartment landlords. The legislation covers the leasing agreement.

In a condo building (but not an apartment) the Condominium Act, 1998 applies too. Landlords must ensure that their tenants have a copy of and adhere to condo rules.

Condo unit owners are responsible for following rules too. The condominium corporation may have its own rules on rentals, which could include lease terms (e.g. minimum number of months) and other landlord obligations.

Do tenants have access to all amenities

Just as tenants must follow the same rules as owners, they also have the same rights as owners when using building amenities.

As for parking spaces and/or lockers, condo owners can decide whether to include them in the lease agreement. Owners can choose to retain those or rent them to another tenant.

How much can landlords charge?

When you rent a unit for the first time, the rent is based on current market prices. There is no maximum. The market price for a unit may be higher than that paid by a previous tenant.

How much and how often can landlords increase rent?

The RAT covers most types of rental units, whether an apartment, a condo, a house or a room in a rooming or boarding house. Generally, landlords can increase rent:

  • only once every 12 months;
  • with 90 days written notice; and
  • based on the guidelines set for that year by the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

Residential Tenancy Act, 2006 (RTA) and the Condominium Act, 1998

About the RTA 

In Ontario, the Residential Tenancy Act, 2006 (RTA) outlines the rights and responsibilities of landlords and of tenants who rent residential properties. It applies to most rental arrangements, such as apartments, houses, condos, basement suites and public housing.

The legislation covers issues. such as maintenance and repairs, tenancy agreements, rent, entering a rental unit and ending a tenancy. In 2017, Ontario passed the Rental Fairness Act, 2017, which modifies the Residential Tenancies Act. Rent control now applies to all private rental units, including those first occupied on or after November 1, 1991.

About the Condominium Act

A condominium isn’t a specific type of building or structure but a type of property ownership. The property includes individual units and common elements. Condominium owners own their unit and also share the ownership and costs of the common elements of the property.

A condominium corporation is an entity that manages the affairs of the property. The creation, ownership, and governance of condominiums are regulated by the Condominium Act, 1998. Every condo document in Ontario is based on this Act.

Condominium rules and policies

As a condo unit owner, you have certain rights and responsibilities. The affairs of the condo follow the Condominium Act; the condominium declaration; and the condo corporation’s by-laws and rules.

What are your rights and responsibilities?

You have the right to:

  • vote at owners’ meetings;
  • elect board members or remove them with a majority of the votes;
  • review corporation records (financial statements, meeting minutes);
  • request a meeting of owners;
  • request that an issue be added to a meeting agenda;
  • get a court order to make the condo corporation carry out a duty required under the Condominium Act.

You have the responsibility to:

  • elect a board to govern the condominium property and run the corporation;
  • pay your condo fees, including any special assessments, chargebacks or liens;
  • follow the condominium’s declaration, by-laws, and rules (see below);
  • maintain and repair your unit and your share of the common elements; and
  • resolve disputes through discussion, mediation, arbitration or court order.

What sets out how condos operate?

  1. The Condominium Act, 1998 regulates the creation, ownership, and governance of condos. It addresses the condo corporations and everything from the sale and lease of units, to reserve funds for repairs and property insurance.
     
  2. Condo declarations are like the constitution of the corporation. It's important because it establishes the division of ownership. What’s considered your unit? What are the common elements that everyone can enjoy or access? Declarations tell you your percentage of ownership, and how much you have to pay in condo fees for maintenance and repairs of the building. They also determine any conditions or restrictions on the occupation of the units or the use of common elements.
     
  3. Condo by-laws details how the condo should operate. The by-laws tell you what the corporation can do, how it’s made up, how long board members serve, how meetings run, and how to manage the property. For example, the corporation needs to assess and collect condo fees for common expenses and may need to borrow money or deal with insurance matters. The by-laws cover a wide range of matters, including the board of directors, occupancy standards, and insurance matters. By-laws must be consistent with the Condominium Act.
     
  4. Condo rules concern the safety, security, and welfare of the owners. This can include issues and items that relate more to day-to-day condo living. For example, parking and noise restrictions, smoking, pets and use of the freight elevator. The board can make, amend or repeal rules, as long as they are reasonable and consistent with the Condominium Act, the declaration, and the by-laws.

Things to consider

Pets

If you can have a pet in a stand-alone home or single dwelling, what about a condominium? If you own the unit, shouldn’t you be allowed to decide on who or what lives in it?

Not necessarily. Owning a condominium is not like owning a freehold home. The Condominium Act allows a condo corporation to make rules that promote the safety, security or welfare of the unit owners, as well as rules that prevent unreasonable interference from happening to individuals using common elements. Some of those rules may concern pets.

A condo’s declaration or rules can, for instance:

  • prohibit pets;
  • limit pets to a particular type, size or weight;
  • set the maximum number of pets you can have; or
  • outline requirements for handling pets in common areas (e.g. entrances to use).

If pets are permitted, there may be cases where the condo corporation can raise an issue with the condo owner. For instance, a barking dog that causes a nuisance or a dog that poses a potential threat to residents or the property. Condo rules may even allow for a demand to remove a pet.

Enforcement

Declarations are stronger than rules and do not have to be deemed “reasonable”. The courts have held that some prohibitions of domestic pets in a rule are in fact unreasonable and, therefore unenforceable. 

Condo corporations should enforce any pet provisions clearly and consistently. If not, it makes it more likely that a court rejects the condo’s pet restrictions.

Exceptions

For condominiums that prohibit pets in declarations or rules, the only exception is for animals assisting persons with disabilities or illness. Rights to such therapy animals fall under the Human Rights Code.

Keys and Fobs

When owners or tenants take possession, they should receive the keys to the unit, as well as keys and/or fobs to the mailbox and common doors and areas.

For security reasons, consider the following best practices:

  • Common areas: Copying keys for family and friends creates a breach in the building’s security, as there is no control over who has access. Fobs and swipe cards are often used for common areas because they offer increased security. The fobs/swipe cards given to each resident can be tracked and canceled by building managers if a resident loses one or if it's stolen.
     
  • Changing locks: Locks are typically considered common elements. Unit owners cannot change them without express written permission to the condo corporation.
     
  • Replacing keys and fobs: If you lose your key or fob, the condo corporation can charge you to recover the costs of supplying another, including any administrative work.
     
  • Entry to your unit for maintenance: From time to time, contractors may have to conduct maintenance in your unit (e.g. plumbing, HVAC, windows), as arranged by the building. You may or not be home at the scheduled time. Building management must provide prior notice, and no one can enter your unit without such notice. The condo managers have master keys in order to allow contractors access to all units, but they should never give those out to a contractor. Staff who enter a unit should leave a note with the time and reason for entry.
     
  • Entry to your unit for an emergency: Staff is permitted to use the master key to enter your unit, without proper notification, in case of an emergency. For example, a fire, water leak, or for an urgent health problem.

Insurance

The Condominium Act requires condominium corporations to insure the units and the common elements against major perils, such as fire, smoke, lightning, windstorm, or hail.

Effective November 1, 2017, condominium corporations now have an obligation to provide information to owners about insurance, including about property insurance for major perils such as fire.

If a unit is damaged for such reasons, the corporation will use its insurer to cover the costs of repairs. While the condo corporation is responsible for repairs to the unit itself, the unit owners will use their own insurers to cover:

  • damage to any contents; and
  • repairs to any physical improvements made (in some cases).

Condo corporations should regularly review their insurance policy to ensure that it offers sufficient replacement coverage, and coverage for a range of related costs, e.g. engineering and other professional fees; demolition costs; disposal of materials; permit fees; and getting older buildings to comply with current codes.

Deductibles

Some condo corporations have insurance deductibles (in their by-laws), which they could add to the common expenses paid by all owners or charge an individual owner. The lesser of a cost of repair and the deductible is added to the common expenses of the owner if the damage is caused by the act or omission of said owner, the unit's tenant or a person residing in the unit. An owner, in turn, could look to their own insurer to cover the deductible.

Other Insurance

Regarding insurance, the Condominium Act deals mostly with property coverage. However, the condo corporation must also get other types of insurance, such as liability insurance (for potential breaches of duty; insurance on the ownership and use of equipment like boilers or vehicles; and errors and omissions coverage for their directors and officers of the condo board.

Damages and repairs

Who handles condo upkeep, renovations, and restorations? There are important distinctions in responsibilities. One has to do with individual units and common elements (see Repairs and maintenance), while the other has to do with repairs and damages within the unit.

Repairs

Condo unit owners are responsible for the ongoing maintenance and repair of their own units. The condo corporation is usually responsible for the unit's plumbing and electrical, but not in all cases. Sometimes, the plumbing and electrical equipment behind the wall that only services the owner’s unit is also the owner’s responsibility. Exclusive use common elements may also be the responsibility of the owner. The condo plans and declaration sets those boundaries, i.e. what is considered part of the unit.

Damages

While the condo owner handles routine wear and tear repairs, the condo corporation is responsible for repairs after certain damage. This includes damage from a flood and broader structural damage.

Some corporations have by-laws that define a standard unit and its basic elements. So if the condo owner has made improvements (such as trading carpet for hardwood or installing built-ins or custom cabinets), the corporation is obliged to only cover the damage costs for the basic elements. The condo owner or their insurance would be responsible for the balance of damage costs. 

Subletting and short-term rentals

When renting out a condo unit, owners are responsible for following the rules of the corporation. Always check the rules to make sure you're not in violation.

Some rules could include lease terms that avoid short-term rentals, such as a minimum number of months on a lease. This prevents owners from converting their units into a vacation rental or homestay operation. Condo declarations can also spell out requirements, such as each unit shall be occupied and used only as a private single-family residence.

If you're renting out a unit for a longer term, any tenants have to abide by the terms too. Therefore, a tenant cannot, in turn, lease the unit out for short-term stays. Make this clear in the rental agreement.

If you decide to sublet your unit, notify your insurance company to see if and how your policy covers and damage caused by tenants.