Utilities included... or are they?

When I first started renting, I used to look for prices that included utilities because I didn’t want to deal with setting up hydro and paying another bill. Ten years later, I still do the same thing because I don’t want to worry about running my air conditioning in the summer. (I know that’s not a great thing to admit, but I’m going to assume that I’m not the only person that does that.)

I’ve heard of landlords adding conditions to lease agreements when it comes to all-inclusive rent — for instance, prohibiting space heaters in the winter and/or excessive air conditioning in the summer.

Perhaps you’ve read before that certain clauses in leases are essentially meaningless and in some ways, that is true (in Ontario a “no pets” clause in a lease is void), but it is also true that landlords generally have the right to include restrictions.

Landlord and tenant boards often suggest settling disputes before they escalate and I would suggest the same — but it’s important to know your rights when it comes to utilities and rental legislation.

Ontario

As I’ve admitted, I am a little more careless about my AC than I would be if I were paying the hydro bill — which is why it’s noteworthy that landlords can apply to increase rent by more than the set guideline if utility charges become excessive.

In Ontario, there is no legislation that specifically addresses stipulations around all-inclusive utilities. A landlord could file against you if you ignored a clause in your lease, but there could also be a case against the landlord should you prove your point. For example, if the unit genuinely needed an appliance like a dehumidifier, it would be hard for the landlord to challenge you, even if the lease stated dehumidifiers were prohibited (according to the Landlord and Tenant Board).

Manitoba

According to the Residential Tenancies Branch, a tenant could challenge whether or not a lease condition was reasonable — and something like a space heater ban would likely not be considered reasonable if the case was brought to court.

Landlords in Manitoba are only permitted to increase rent once every 12 months and so they cannot do so randomly to cover extra utilities. If your rent is less than $1,455, landlords are restricted to the rent increase guideline.

Alberta

Landlords can include any restriction when writing a lease and if you sign the agreement, you’re bound by it, according to Edmonton’s Landlord and Tenant Advisory Board. Having said that, the legislation doesn’t address utility restrictions and if you weren’t violating any laws as a tenant, it would likely be hard for a landlord to terminate your lease based on a claim about utility usage. You could still be challenged in court for violating your lease.

Landlords in Alberta can only increase rent every 12 months and the province has no limit on that increase — but they can’t just up the rent whenever they so choose.

There are ways around the 12-month increase. If you signed a six-month lease and your landlord then asked you to sign another with a new stipulation regarding the utilities (like having to pay a percentage of the bills), the landlord would still be within their rights as they would not be increasing rent, but rather having you sign a new contract.

British Columbia

As with the other provinces, the utilities specifications fall into a grey zone in B.C. According to the Residential Tenancy Branch, landlords could follow through with legal action as with any lease violation should you ignore their terms.

Landlords in B.C. can only increase rent once a year by the standard allowable rent increase. They can, however, complete an application to request an additional rent increase which would look at the reasons they might have for demanding it (i.e. excessive utility costs).

You know your rights, so let’s just agree — if you don’t need the space heater, don’t run it. If you’re wearing a sweater in the summer, turn down the air conditioning. Wasting energy doesn’t help anyone, and if renters expect landlords to be reasonable, tenants can be too.

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