A Word From HOJO on Lease Deposits

Concordia’s Housing and Jobs Office Doesn’t Want You to Get Ripped Off

Graphic Madeleine Claire Gendreau

First and last month’s, security deposit, key deposit—these are terms you might be familiar with. They’re also illegal in Quebec.

A deposit is something you pay in addition to rent, either as security for the property—for example, to ensure you will return the apartment in the same condition you rented it—as insurance for the landlord in the case that you skip out on your lease, or as security for replacement costs of anything from keys to laundry cards. What many people don’t know is that such fees, paid often upon the signing of your lease, are not allowed in our province.

Currently, the only payment that can be required upon signing a lease is the first month’s rent. A landlord is allowed to ask for this in full when you sign a lease. No other payment is required or allowed under Quebec rental law. At least not yet.

Landlords would like to change this and they have successfully lobbied the government to consider allowing deposits. The Quebec Minister responsible for housing, Martin Coiteux, announced in April that he is considering reforms to the Rental Housing Board of Quebec, and this may include the legalization of deposits.

The Association of Quebec Landlords argues that landlords suffer losses resulting from damage to apartments and unpaid rent, and they need legalized deposits to cover these costs. They propose that deposits would create an incentive for tenants to maintain their apartments.

However tenants’ rights activists contend that deposits privilege landlords over tenants. Deposits create barriers to housing for low-income tenants and first-time renters. This is and should be a concern for all tenants, especially students.

The Regroupement des Comités Logement et Associations de Locataires du Québec—the umbrella group representing housing committees in Quebec—and other organizations such as the Concordia Student Union’s Housing and Jobs Office are fighting the proposed change.

We argue that low-income tenants will be unable to pay deposits, and this will be an additional barrier to renting in an increasingly expensive rental market. This will increase marginalization and discrimination in housing—a burden which often falls on marginalized people such as people of colour, queer/trans folks, single parents, people with disabilities, international students, and others.

For students, deposits would be especially cumbersome. Many students are low-income and first-time renters. They would require twice as much cash up front to rent an apartment than they do now. Further, this payment would often fall at or near the beginning of the semester—students’ most popular moving-in dates—when many are already struggling to make tuition payments.

Many students leave Quebec upon the completion of their degree, which would make it harder for them to access appropriate recourse if a deposit were not returned. This could create a situation of exploitation when landlords are aware the departing tenant won’t be remaining in Quebec.

There are specific concerns around how deposits would be regulated, and how regulations would be enforced. RCLALQ notes that the experience of implementing deposits in other places hasn’t gone well. For example, in Ontario and France, deposits have quickly risen to become the number one source of conflict between landlords and tenants—conflicts that must be mediated by the rental board. This raises particular concerns for us here in Quebec where our rental board, the Régie du logement, is severely backlogged.

As it stands, a tenant who files a case at the Régie du logement will wait, on average, seven months or more to have their case heard. That is a long time to wait, and a real source of stress for tenants. It has come to light recently that one source of the backlog is illegal absenteeism by staff of the housing tribunal. The auditor general of Quebec announced in May that Régie du logement employees had used 57 per cent more time off than permitted.

This is a hard pill to swallow for those waiting to have their cases heard, and raises additional concerns about the impact of legalizing deposits on tenants. If deposit conflicts were not addressed quickly, the tenant would be the one out of pocket.

Landlords argue that they need deposits to protect them from damages and compensate them in cases of abandonment. But there is already recourse for landlords in this situation that are comparable to—or better than—the recourses available to tenants. For example, the average wait time for a hearing on unpaid rent, where a landlord files against a tenant, is less than two months—compared to the general average wait time of seven months.

If landlords, who often see their process expedited (as in the example of hearings on unpaid rent) are not satisfied with the Régie du logement’s ability to enforce current housing regulations, how confident can we be as tenants that deposits would be properly administered?

Let’s Fight Deposits Together

The regulations already in place with regards to unpaid rent and damages are fair, and the cost to landlords is far less than the impact that tenants would feel from the legalization of deposits.

A ruling in favor of rental deposits would place the right of the landlord to profit and property above the right of citizens to access housing. By creating an additional financial barrier to housing, the Régie would be adding to the problem of financial discrimination in housing and contributing to the lack of affordable housing in Montreal.

This is an issue with the potential to impact all tenants, and students in particular. If you would like to join the campaign against deposits, you can contribute your voice by joining RCLALQ’s letter writing campaign. You can also come in to HOJO for more information. If you have paid an additional fee—and you have a receipt indicating this—you can speak to your local housing association, or the HOJO team, to learn if you may be able to apply that fee to your next month’s rent.