How Many Tenants Does It Take To Change A Lightbulb?
The Residential Tenancy is clear about the landlord having to maintain the unit and premises. Subsection 20(1) says: A landlord is responsible for providing and maintaining a residential complex, including the rental units in it, in a good state of repair and fit for habitation and for complying with health, safety, housing and maintenance standards.
The question arises however; How far does that go? Does the landlord, for example, have to replace the light bulbs on fixtures in the unit. Surely, there is no question about fixtures in the public areas of a multi-unit building but what about the ceiling bulb in the kitchen?
There are contradictory decisions at the Landlord Tenant Board with some holding the landlord responsible and some not. Some place responsibility on the landlord, others on the tenant. In TET-62920-15 (Re), 2017 CanLII 48850 (ON LTB): //www.canlii.org/.../2017canli.../2017canlii48850.html The Landlord was required to pay for the bulbs. In contrast, EAL-17534-11 (Re), 2011 CanLII 91179 (ON LTB):
//www.canlii.org/.../2011canli.../2011canlii91179.html, it was held that the tenant was responsible for replacing the bulbs. The same was held in TSL-09801-10 (Re), 2011 CanLII 42375 (ON LTB): //www.canlii.org/.../2011canli.../2011canlii42375.html.
In SWT-15221-10 (Re), 2012 CanLII 21994 //www.canlii.org/.../2012canli.../2012canlii21994.html
the Chairman said, ‘… supplying consumables such as light bulbs and furnace filters could equally be considered a tenant’s responsibility. The tenancy agreement was silent on the matter of furnace filters. Since the Tenant did not prove, on a balance of probabilities, that the Landlords were obligated to supply furnace filters, I find the Landlords did not fail to met their maintenance and repair obligations under the Act."
Most aspects of this divide are clear. Proper lighting is a requirement in municipal property bylaws, and the building codes. If there is no bulb in the socket, for example, the lighting system does not work and landlord's duty is to ensure they are in working order. If he bulb in the refrigerator burns out, then the landlord has to replace it assuming it was supplied by the landlord that needs to maintain them.
If any appliances are brought by the tenant, then it's the tenant who is responsible for light bulbs or anything else that goes wrong with those appliances (since they aren't leased from the landlord but are the tenant's property and responsibility). However, while the question of the landlord’s responsibility seems to be unclear by the caselaw provided, once the implications of issue are considered, holding the tenant responsible results in an absurdity.
Consider first the maintenance standards RTA, O. Reg. 517/06:
"Lighting and Ventilation
19. (1) Adequate artificial lighting shall be available at all times in all rooms, stairways, halls, corridors, garages, and basements of a residential complex that are accessible to tenants. O. Reg. 517/06, s. 19 (1).
(2) Artificial lighting shall be provided in exterior common areas to permit these areas to be used or passed through safely, and to provide security. O. Reg. 517/06, s. 19 (2).
(3) Subsections (1) and (2) do not apply to a residential complex that has never been connected to an electrical power system. O. Reg. 517/06, s. 19 (3).
(4) Artificial lighting that has been installed in outbuildings normally used by tenants, including garages, shall be kept in operable condition. O. Reg. 517/06, s. 19 (4).
(5) Artificial lighting shall be maintained in a good state of repair. O. Reg. 517/06, s. 19 (5)."
The landlord under RTA Section 20 cannot put these obligations on to the tenant, as is true of lawn care and snow removal. Breach of Maintenance Obligations Interpretation Guideline 5: “… landlords responsible for maintaining their complexes, … If a tenant agreed to assume the responsibility to maintain any part of the unit … this would not be enforceable." //www.sjto.gov.on.ca/.../05%20-%20Breach%20of... In Montgomery v. Van where the Court of Appeal makes it clear that shifting the responsibility for maintenance to the tenant--in the lease itself---is illegal and void."
But how could it not be the landlord’s responsibility for all the maintenance. If a tenant makes repairs, how can the landlord be sure those repairs are up to code? If they aren’t then the landlord could be held liable if there is injury as a result. If a tenant attempts any maintenance and injures himself or another, who would be liable then?
It should be understood that real estate law is fundamentally different than that in relation to the law of chattel because even owners are, in theory, themselves just tenants in temporary care of the land. Land owners are either ‘tenants in fee simple’ (single owner) or ‘tenants in common’ or ‘joint tenants’. The justification for building codes is the protection of the public.
Consider a light bulb burns out in the ceiling. Most tenants would simply replace it but what if the tenant is 93 years old. Surely, such a person would not be expected to get on a ladder and replace the bulb. Could it be that the law is dependent on the physical characteristics of the tenants? Different rights for different tenants based on their characteristics is the exception (eg. accommodating for disability), not the rule as such a rule would lead to legal absurdity.
* Acknowledgement - This article inspired by Vicky Kay