Caution for Retirees! Contracts for Rental Retirement Residences in Ontario

Caution for Retirees! Contracts for Rental Retirement Residences in Ontario
By Anne-Marie Ambert, Ph.D.

Generally, seniors who are looking to move into a rental Retirement Residence, whether for Independent living or Assisted Living, tend to look at everything, from the location, food, staff, activities, and accommodations–but there is one key question they never ask: Can I see the contract I would sign? This mistake can have serious consequences because the contract assigns an apartment, a price, types of services received, issues of privacy or lack of, quality control, and so on.
Contracts are not necessarily standard and, with a few exceptions, are not subject to the scrutiny of any government body in Ontario.** Most rental Retirement Residences have a yearly contract that is renewed with a required one-month notice on either party for non-renewal. The good thing is that no one is locked in.

There are three parts to the fees retirees pays in these rented Residences:
(a) a monthly rent which is largely based on the size and physical amenities of an apartment, studio, or room;

(b) a fee for meals and services, such as housekeeping, recreational and social activities, classes, nursing staff—which all residents can partake of.

and (c) an additional food fee for each additional occupant. For instance the second person in a couple has to pay an additional monthly $ 500 to 1,000 for food and services where applicable.


1. The contract has to clearly give the prices for the rent, standard services, meals, and additional fee for each additional occupant of an apartment.

2. It should also include a detailed list for special non-standard services and facilities for which residents have to pay additional fees (examples: meals brought to the apartment, dispensing medicine).

3. Some Residences’ standard service fees are the same for all apartments or units. In other Residences, the larger the apartment, the larger the “standard” service fees—which is a “what the market can bear” approach rather than an equitable one. In other words, a larger apartment can be charged three times the standard services fees assessed to a smaller unit, even though the residents in the larger unit may use far fewer of the services included. Ask the question: Are the services fees the same for every apartment size?

4. Be very concerned if your contract does not put the exact size (square footage) of your unit, along with its suite no and suite type (a one bedroom + den, for example), and a floor plan showing the location.

Potential residents at some of these institutions are given a floor plan with a square footage under which is written in very small print that one can barely read or may not notice “This plan is for illustrative purposes and actual dimensions may vary.” This is a warning sign. While a few square feet fewer is nothing to worry about, this italic can hide a 150 square feet difference—which will matter because the resident will be paying more for less. This constitutes pure misrepresentation of facts. This is akin to false advertising. WHAT TO DO?

. Ask for the real dimensions and have them inserted and signed in the appropriate area where the unit is described.

. Measure the unit yourself. If there is a difference, and it matters to you and your lifestyle, negotiate a lower price, especially if you have already visited and liked other Residences elsewhere (this gives you leverage);

. If this does not work, negotiate for a larger or small unit and, here as well, follow the above steps.

. You could even contact a Consumer Advocate at a television station, for instance, keeping in mind that you may need to look elsewhere for a pleasant place to live.

5. Another related problem is that a potential resident who is not satisfied with the above and wants either a smaller or a larger unit, may be offered a different unit temporarily from which he or she will move as soon as the unit the potential resident wants is free. One is often told: “You will be given precedence because you will already be a resident.”

Indeed, internal moves are frequent but the “given precedence” part often does not materialize: after all, it is not in the contract! Then the hapless resident may be forced to live in too small a place or too expensive a place for far longer than promised and may have to look elsewhere and move.

6. Any promise made by the “sales” person should be put in writing in the contract. Insist. (Even if the sales rep is “so nice” and becomes your “best friend.” They do not work for you but for the Retirement Residence.) For example: lower fees promised if you want to spend some months in Florida in the winter or go to the cottage in summer; or, if you have a special diet, make sure that they will have the gluten free bread or sugar free condiments for you.


7. Most of these institutions refuse liability for anything that happens to residents. You slip on a wet floor and break your ankle? You trip on a loose carpet or on an irregular surface just outside the door and you break your hip, well, tough luck! They will sympathize with you and call an ambulance but they’re generally not legally responsible because the contract so states. If they have not done due diligence… it would take years in court to get results favorable to the resident or deceased resident. However, some residences, do lower or eliminate fees to show their good will after such incidents.

All residents are required to have a tenant’s home (and accidents) insurance, just as we normally do in our own homes.

8. If a resident requires more care and hires a caretaker from one of the many agencies he or she is referred to, the Residence generally does not check this caretaker’s credential nor the care received because this is a private transaction between you and that agency. Often, they don’t even check the care received by their own staff in the privacy of the residents’ apartments. (I assume that this is different in long-term care facilities but I may be wrong.) Families have to be vigilant and, in some cases, there is no family.

9. Many Residences include a Privacy and Confidentiality Schedule. This generally occurs at the end of the contract and has to be signed. One of the vexatious clauses in effect declares that the signing resident allows for his or her photo or video to be used by the Residence or company for various promotional purposes without the resident’s right to inspect or approve of the product or receive payment. I assume that a person can refuse to sign this clause, when it exists, and initial the refusal.

* Retirement residences can be either condo, life lease, or rental. The focus here is on rental. For life lease consult

**The two entities involved are the Landlord and Tenant Board (Residential Tenancies Act) and the Retirement Home Regulatory Authority (Retirement Home Act of 2010). But neither is very helpful in protecting residents legally, especially when it comes to contracts.

Anne-Marie Ambert, Ph.D.
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