Lawsuits for Unpaid Rent in Small Claims Court

No doubt that most landlords and tenants deal with each other peacefully and with a required degree of dignity. Well….  The fact, nonetheless, is that the Landlord and Tenant Board looks like the busiest quasi-judicial body in the province. Conflicts between landlords and tenants are an unfortunate reality of everyday life. 

The Landlord and Tenant Board has an exclusive jurisdiction over almost all landlord and tenant disputes.  Nevertheless, some of them end up in the Small Claims Court.

Primarily, the Small Claims Court is the appropriate judicial venue for a landlord when the tenant moved out, since the moment this happens, the Landlord and Tenant Board loses its jurisdiction over a landlord’s claim.

Some small claims arising out of landlord-tenant disputes deal with damages to the rental unit, but, as can be expected, the vast majority of Landlord and Tenant Board cases that end up in Small Claims Court are about landlord’s claims for unpaid rent. Grounds for such small claims are usually of three different kinds:

  1. The tenant leaves without paying.
  2. The tenant vacates the rental unit without a 60 days notice. Though this is often contested by tenants, this is legitimate grounds for a lawsuit because the Residential Tenancies Act does not allow a tenant to leave without such a notice.  
  3. The tenant leaves before the time set in a written contract with the landlord, which, In most cases, is 12 months. Though this is also often disputed by tenants, generally, a tenant is under obligation to stay until the contract for the fixed term of tenancy expires.

In cases where there is no dispute about the tenant’s right to leave, the amount of a landlord’s claim  may be as small as rent for one month or even a part of the month. When the tenant terminated the tenancy and vacated the apartment before the time set out in the written agreement, claims may be for several months of rent and the amount of the lawsuit can be more significant.

As in most other small claims cases, the best way to prove a case for both parties is to have written evidence. The landlord, for instance, should be able to produce a copy of the agreement, supporting the claim that the tenant left well before the agreement came to the end.  The tenant, on the other hand, in many circumstances, should have a copy of the notice to terminate the tenancy which was served on (provided to) the landlord within the prescribed time limit. It would also be a good practice to have some proof of service of the notice.

Finally, mitigation of damages is an important factor to consider in this type of the Small Claims Court cases.  The landlord cannot count on a significant amount of rent money if he or she did nothing to find a new tenant after the previous one left in violation of the conditions of the rental agreement about the term of the tenancy.

Sylvie, Toronto

I really appreciated your attention to details, your level of preparation which was impressive, and enthusiasm. I am really happy we have Spectrum Paralegal in our corner. Thank you for being the champion of our small claims court!