What Happens with a Lease when a Catastrophe Happens?
When a Unit is Unfit for Occupancy Due to a Serious Catastrophe Requiring Long-Term Repairs, the Law of 'Frustrated Contract' Ends the Tenancy Relationship.
A Helpful Guide For How to Determine and Understand When the Doctrine of Frustration Applies to a Residential Tenancy
Incidents that cause serious damage such as a fire, a tornado, a flood, a major water leak, or another catastrophic circumstance, may occur and cause impossibility of occupancy of a residential unit. Even a change in law may occur in such a way as to make compliance impossible. When a tenancy is made impossible due to unforeseeable outside forces, such is referred to as a 'force majeure event', and the legal result is that the statutory obligations as well as the contractual obligations of the landlord and the tenant come to an end as per section 19 of the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006, S.O. 2006, Chapter 17. This ending of the tenancy relationship due to the frustrating event occurs regardless of whether the frustrating event happens within a lease period or happens afterwards when the lease is expired and the tenure is converted into a month-to-month arrangement. Specifically, the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006 says:
In some circumstances, premises may become unoccupiable when ordered condemned by the local municipality such as occurred in the case of AS v. CJM, TSL-05808-10 (Re), 2010 CanLII 58985 wherein it was stated:
1. At the hearing before me the parties filed an order dated September 27, 2010 issued by the City of Toronto that says the residential complex is unsafe and that occupancy of the rental unit is prohibited.
2. As I explained at the hearing section 19 of the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006 (the ‘Act’) says: “The doctrine of frustration of contract and the Frustrated Contracts Act apply with respect to tenancy agreements.” Essentially the doctrine of frustration says that when a contract becomes impossible of performance, then the contract has come to an end. As the doctrine applies to residential tenancy agreements what this means is that when a residential complex cannot be physically lived in anymore because it has been condemned, the tenancy has come to an end by operation of law.
3. As a result, an order will issue declaring the tenancy termination by operation of the doctrine of frustration.
Accordingly, and apparently, despite that premises may become condemned due to the neglect of the landlord, as a matter of law, frustration of the tenancy agreement, and thereby termination of the tenancy agreement with corresponding termination of the tenancy, results when the premises are officially condemned.
Ceasing of Security of Tenure
Where a tenancy agreement is deemed frustrated, such as in circumstances where a fire requires restorative work that will be extensive and take considerable time, the security of tenure, including first right of refusal to return following restorative work, is absent. Only where the restorative work can be done in a reasonable amount of time will the tenancy agreement be without frustration and therefore with security of tenure protected as per the case of Y.Y. v. A.T. and L.W., TEL-32649-12 (Re), 2013 CanLII 51226 where it was said:
1. The Residential Tenancies Act, 2006 did apply to this unit from June 1, 2012 until December 1, 2012. At that time the unit was deemed uninhabitable and the tenancy agreement became frustrated pursuant to the Frustrated Contracts Act and as permitted under section 19 of the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006 (RTA).
2. As a result of the lengthy period of time required to make repairs to the unit there is no foreseeable date that the Tenants would be permitted back into the rental unit. There is no requirement under the RTA for the Landlord to offer the Tenants first right of refusal when the unit does become habitable.
3. Based on the evidence provided and the fact this vacancy of the rental unit is not for a short period of time I have deemed the rental contract to be frustrated as of December 1, 2012.
An unforeseeable destructive event, often referred to as a force majeure, that renders a rental unit unoccupiable for an unknown length of time, generally, results in a frustration of the tenancy agreement, regardless of whether the event occurs during a lease period or during a month-to-month period. When such an event rises to the level of a frustration, the obligations of both landlord and tenant end and the tenancy arrangement, including the security of tenure, end.