Life leases and the law
Unlike rental housing (governed by the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006) and condominiums (governed by the Condominium Act, 1998), there is no legislation in Ontario that specifically regulates life lease housing.
The terms and conditions of occupancy are governed by contract law, and any provisions set out in individual life-lease agreements would apply in the event of a dispute before the courts.
Many existing pieces of legislation apply to life lease housing in the same way they apply to other forms of housing, including:
Two Ontario laws specifically mention life lease housing:
- the Assessment Act, 1990 clarifies that life lease housing is considered residential for tax purposes (as opposed to a business, for example), as are houses and condominiums.
- the Land Transfer Tax Act, 1990 says that life lease buyers do not have to pay land transfer tax if the:
- buyer plans to live in the residence
- project is built and operated by a non-profit organization
- the Retirement Homes Act, 2010 may apply to some life lease sponsors who provide services such as preparing meals and assisting residents with feeding, bathing and personal hygiene.
Life lease agreement
The main legal document for this type of housing is the life lease agreement that the buyer and project sponsor sign. The agreement does not give the buyer property. Instead, it gives the buyer the right to occupy the unit until they sell the life lease or pass away.
The life lease agreement is referred to by many names, such as:
- right to occupy agreement
- life lease occupancy agreement
- life equity agreement
- life lease contract
This agreement is a binding contract that can be enforced in a court of law, if necessary. Be sure to read it carefully before buying a life lease interest. It is a good idea to seek legal advice – you will want a lawyer that has experience with life lease agreements.
Termination of a life lease agreement
The agreement spells out the terms under which a life lease may be ended early.
For example, the lease may be ended early if the lease holder:
- does not pay monthly maintenance fees
- does not follow the project’s rules and regulations (for example continually makes excessive noise late in the evening)
- is unable to live independently without presenting a health or safety risk to self or neighbours
Life lease agreements usually give the sponsor the ability to end the resident’s lease with only 30 days notice, if the sponsor determines that the resident is no longer able to live independently.
Dispute a termination
There is no formal process to dispute the termination of a lease, unless one is outlined in the agreement. A life lease holder may negotiate with the sponsor or lodge a complaint with the board of directors.
Depending on the circumstances, the holder may also decide to take their case to a lawyer or file a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.
In life lease housing, disputes may arise between the sponsor and a resident regarding rules or services. Some sponsors have a resident’s committee or dispute resolution policy in place, while others do not.
The board of directors is not involved in the day-to-day operations of a life lease project. However, residents may raise an issue with the board if they are not happy with the way their concerns are being addressed by the management staff. The board’s decision is final.
If the resident is still not satisfied with the process or the resolution, they may be able to seek outside assistance. Depending on the nature of their complaint, they may choose to contact a lawyer, a senior’s advocacy group or the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.
Consult with a lawyer
Some life lease sponsors require buyers to show that they have consulted a lawyer of their own choosing before they sign a life lease agreement.
Others will recommend that purchasers get legal advice but will not require it. In these cases, you may make a personal decision based on your research into the sponsor’s track record and your level of familiarity with the specific life lease project.
When seeking independent legal advice, ask the lawyer:
- if they have experience with life lease agreements (choose one who is familiar with life lease housing)
- to review the life lease agreement
- to review any additional information provided by the life lease sponsor
Lawyer referral service
The Law Society Referral Service can provide the name of a lawyer who practises in the relevant legal area. That lawyer will provide a free consultation of up to 30 minutes.