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Can university/college student tenants get out of their leases before or during a virtual semester?

With the rise of the Omicron variant, many Ontario universities and colleges are suddenly and rapidly switching to virtual platforms for the Winter 2022 semester. Several universities and colleges across Ontario have already announced plans to delay in-person learning, and plan to switch to virtual lessons indefinitely.

This puts student tenants at an extreme disadvantage.

In most cases, students who are switching to a virtual semester are not returning to their cities of study because of COVID-19. With sporadic lockdowns and closures of gyms, restaurants and public spaces, students are reconsidering the value of living on campus and in their cities of study. 

For most student tenants, it simply does not make financial sense to pay a year’s worth of rent for online school.

In this case, do student tenants have the right to cancel their leases?

Unfortunately for student tenants, there is nothing written in the standard residential lease that would give the tenant this right – whether they are a student or not – despite the impacts of COVID-19.

However, there are three scenarios in which a tenant can hand over the keys early. These include:

• The tenant and landlord agree to end the rental agreement

• Subletting: The tenant assigns the unit to someone else

• The Landlord and Tenant Board issues an order ending the tenancy agreement early

Tenants should also review their leases with a lawyer to see if there is any other way they can terminate their lease earlier. 

We also suggest approaching your landlord and seeing if you can negotiate a lease release for a lesser amount. 

Many students pay for their rent with part-time or full-time jobs that have been eradicated due to the lockdown (such as bartending or retail work). These students find themselves unable and incapable of paying rent due to COVID-19.

What should students do in this case?

First: speak to your landlord to find out if you can defer your rent, come up with a payment plan or find an alternate arrangement.

If you can’t come to a resolution, we recommend that both parties should seek legal advice to discover their options. RealEstateLawyers.ca can help. Whether you are a student tenant, or a landlord of a student tenant, or a roommate of a student tenant – we can help you. If you have any questions about your lease, or any real estate issue, please contact me at [email protected] or call me toll free at 1-888-876-5529.

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