THE LONGEST COLD WAR IN HISTORY
By EARLE BEATTIE
TWO YOUNG WOMEN of Humber Bay, near Toronto, were having an argument with an older woman not long ago when they suddenly picked up a sixty-five-pound coal stove and threw it at her. The older woman testified in court that red hot coals fell out of the stove and burned her on the leg. The two aggressors were given suspended sentences.
On the other side of the Atlantic in London, England —one July day two years ago, forty-oneyear-old James Davies bit a seventy-six-year-old man named Sol Levy fifteen times. In court he pleaded guilty to causing bodily harm to Levy and drew a nine-month sentence.
These two cases may seem unconnected but they’re not. Both the young women of Humber and the carnivorous citizen of London were engaged in the longest cold war in history. They were tenants. Their adversaries were landlords. This never-ending and world-wide vendetta between tenants and landlords has produced a thousand peculiar stratagems, ornery tactics, ingenious fronts and flanking movements, with more in-fighting than the battle of Stalingrad. Its attacks and counterattacks have centred on rent, upkeep, repairs, damaged premises, offspring, sub-tenants, heat, light, hot water, seizure of goods and eviction. But it has also gone beyond mere rational causes
to become a tragicomic story of human cussedness that is as much a part of the times as traffic snarls. How else can anyone explain the behavior of a notorious Halifax landlady who used to slip into her tenant’s apartment to fry eggs? Or the troubles of a newly married couple who went to Toronto from Saint John, N.B., in 1948? They found what looked like an amiable landlady willing to rent them a bedroom with shared kitchen and living room. But she came up with a quaint set of house rules based on her almost-psychopathic fear of squandering electricity, and skirmishing started. Only two of the four burners on the stove should be turned on at one time and one of these should be on low. The husband was not permitted to sit in the living room while his wife was in the kitchen because two light bulbs were burning when one would do if they stayed together. Other tenants had been subjected to the rules for years but were secretly hitting back by leaving the basement light on. Every time the landlady turned it off, one of them slipped back downstairs to switch it on again. In quiet desperation the young couple finally left for new quarters.
Such crafty tactics have been developed on landlord-tenant fronts in many countries. In New York Mrs. Ray Finklestein had her landlord, Max Berman, brought to the bar of justice for not
Housing controls are rapidly being ended but the ancient vendetta between landlords and tenants shows
WAR IN HISTORY
providing enough heat in the winter of 1951. He was fined five dollars. Six months later they were hack in court again. Berman had fired up his furnace on June 26 just as a heat wave got underway in the city and repeated the heat treatment on three other days. This time he was fined twenty-five dollars for violating the sanitary code.
In Suolahti, Finland, a sixty-three-year-old landlady tried to evict her tenants by exploding six charges of dynamite under the house. And in Juarez, Mexico, Carlos Solano ordered a wrecking crew to topple the walls of his house. Nine tenants were injured and Carlos landed in jail.
This behavior results when taut nerves give way and both sides come out snarling, biting, gouging, slugging and swinging odd instruments at each other. A Toronto magistrate last April dismissed a charge of assault against a landlady accused of biting the finger of her tenant. She said she did if only after the lady tenant pulled her hair, spat :n her face and grabbed her by the throat. A more erious case involved another home owner who „-nded an argument with his tenant by striking him n the head with a sledge hammer.
' The disputes raging around rented premises •eate thousands of courtroom dramas every year nd many Canadian cities have had to set up a -mdlord-tenant court where the two parties can
slug it out verbally before weary magistrates. Take this little scene from a recent Toronto court session: The tenant, a married woman, told of going into the basement of a house where she met the landlord, who brandished a poker in her face.
He: Why did you call my wife an old witch?
(Confusion in the court. Order gradually restored.)
She: Why don’t you tell the magistrate what
you call your wife?
He (leaning on magistrate’s bench): Your Worship, what I should’ve done is collar her by the scruff of the neck and t hrown her outside.
Verdict: Guilty of threatening.
Both sides in the longest cold war have at times been drawn up in full battle array. While tenants operate in guerrilla fashion, because of their vast numbers they exert enormous social and political pressure through labor unions, political parties, veterans’ organizations and newspapers. And they have t he advantage of having infilt rated the enemy’s lines they fight the landlord from inside the landlord’s house.
The owners however are able to open fire from more organized columns through taxpayers’ associations, real-estate boards and t he Canadian Federation of Property Owners Associations. The CFPOA with branches in British Columbia, Alberta, Sas-
Continued on page 37
no sign of slackening. If you’re a combatant, this article will bring you up-to-date on the rules
The Longest Cold War in History
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 21
Quebec and New Brunswick is their general staff. Quebec province has sixty branches, Ontario has thirty-nine. CFPOA members include small home owners, commercial firms, hotels, building management firms, builders, office building owners and theatres. They own one hundred and sixty-seven thousand properties in Ontario alone.
CFPOA landlord propaganda on taxes, rates, housing plans, civic improvements, social welfare and rental legislation is spread by press and radio and from the public platform and has constantly bombarded rent control.
It has been a seesaw battle. During the depression the tenant was on top, picking and choosing his house or apartment at will and frightening wayward landlords out of their wits by threats to move. Then as the war approached landlords took the offensive. But visions of a rising wartime market for them were shattered in 1941 when the federal government clamped down its Wartime Leaseholds Regulations, freezing rents for all types of dwellings, practically forbidding eviction and providing penalties for infrictions.
The Tenants in the Middle
Rent increases were possible by appeal to the Rental Board but decreases wore also possible and the machinery was cumbersome. The tenant was on top again. Many landlords went underground to strike back at the regulations; they forced the tenant to buy the key to the premises for prices up to five hundred dollars, they sold decrepit furniture for exorbitant prices, they charged a bonus or extracted money on the side from hard-pressed tenants. And tempers flared on both sides as the longest cold war in history reached its hottest phase.
Caught in this deadly cross fire between landlord and tenant, the federal government longed for the day it could get out from under. That day arrived ten years later. In March 1951 Ottawa dumped the whole wearisome burden on the provinces. In the decade rents had edged up from an average of twenty-four dollars a month to thirtyfour dollars, a forty-two percent rise. Only two percent of tenants had paid more than sixty dollars a month rent in 1941, but by 1951 fifteen percent were paying above sixty dollars. The number of tenant-occupied dwellings, not including farmhouses, by 1951 totaled 1,106,770 according to the Dominion Bureau of Statistics.
Now on the offensive again, the landlords gained their first beachhead in the Maritimes as Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island passed responsibility onto the municipalities. This practically ended rent control as few municipalities accepted the burden. Newfoundland retained the Rent Restrictions Act it set up in 1943. The other provinces set. up their own codes. But decontrol h; d been proceeding gradually and was now accelerated. By 1952 about seventyfive percent of all Ontario municipalities wtre entirely free of rent restrictions and Premier Frost has announced that all Ontario provincial controls will end March 2, 1954. Industrial centres can take over if they wish but there is little likelihood they will. Toronto City Council on Oct. 19 rejected by 17-4 a motion to hold a plebiscite on city rent control as once again tenant
and landlord factions clashed. “We are going to have chaos on March 2, make no mistake,” cried Controller Ford Brand. He called for city-operated rent control. Two weeks later a delegate to the Ontario Property Owners Association convention called him a “rat” in irate landlord style.
With the Ontario rental walls breached, landlords expect those of Newfoundland, Quebec, the prairies and British Columbia will soon fall too.
Thousands of Canadians are asking themselves where they will stand as
landlords or tenants when the whole crumbling structure is finally swept away and the spectre of rising rents again appears.
When control ends, the cold war will be held in check only by (1) historic landlord and tenants acts in statute law which governed it before rent control, (2) by leases, and (3) by “case law,” the decisions rendered over the years which have set precedents in housing disputes. These deal with the rights and obligations of landlords and tenants concerning such touchy matters as rent, upkeep, repair, notices to
vacate, other services and legal procedures to take when either party fails to measure up. Rental control, of course, will be a mere relic and landlords will be free to charge what the traffic will bear.
Tenants and landlords can then square off against each other in two ways: (1) with a lease, or (2) without a lease on a mont h-to-month basis. The second course will probably bring both parties to blows quicker. It means the landlord will have less-responsi ble tenants, frequent changes and more work and expense in re-letting, while the
month-to-month tenant can be put out on a month’s notice. The statute law and case law will be the referees.
Five Canadian provinces have Landlord and Tenant Acts. In Nova Scotia it is called Act Of Tenancies and Distress for Rent. In Quebec it is part of the Napoleonic and Civil Codes. In Alberta it is an Act to Regulate the Rights and Priorities of Landlords, but this concerns only a tenant’s bankruptcy. Prince Edward Island has no law other than the 1951 Emergency Rental Act to regulate disputes, and Newfoundland similarly has only its wartime legislation, the Rent Restrictions Act of 1945.
A lease, if it is drawn up fairly, will probably bring as much harmony as cold-war combatants can ever expect to achieve. This is a solemn contract between two persons setting forth the rights and duties of each and its terms are usually upheld in court. Rut where a lease offers no guidance for a point under dispute the court may consult the old Landlord and Tenant Acts.
Tenants should beware of the standard lease forms sold by stationery stores for ten to thirty cents. These are drawn up by lawyers for the stationers and as landlords are the chief buyers they are rigged in the owners’ interests. The tenant would be wise, where hundreds of dollars and living conditions are involved to pay a lawyer ten or fifteen dollars to draw up a contract protecting his special interests. Of course the landlord may brush the tenant’s lease aside and insist on the standard form; the tenant’s second line of defense would then be to scrutinize the clauses carefully, try to strike out some and write in a few of his own.
The standard lease, for instance, requires the tenant to make all repairs with the exception of “reasonable wear and tear” and damage by fire, lightning and tempest. A North Toronto tenant thought this left him wide-open and succeeded in getting his landlord to add a clause accepting liability for damage by “floods, explosions, war (declared or undeclared), Queen’s enemies, insurrections, saboteurs, riots, civil commotions, acts of God and structural defect or weakness” and “any damage . . . from gas, water, steam, waterworks, rain or snow.”
Many Ontario tenants, even when they’ve read every word of the small six-point type in their standard leases, still don’t know what they’re signing for. At the top of the lease is the phrase: “In Pursuance of the Short
Forms of Leases Act.” This means that many of the clauses are a short form of the law and the full wording can only be found by reading the Short Forms of Leases Act in the Ontario Revised Statutes. As most tenants never read the act they are literally signing for obligations they never see.
The tenant’s best cover is a private lease negotiated with the landlord term for term; the landlord’s weapon is the one-sided standard lease. The field of battle rages around these vulnerable points:
Late payment of rent: A Montreal man wrote his wealthy absentee landlord asking that the date of payment be changed from the middle of the month to the end of the month. His mild request acted like a detonator on the landlord who opened up a barrage of abuse by return mail, wrote his tenant’s boss, rushed into town and, denied entrance to the house, climbed up on the roof in sheer frustration.
He should have known that federal rent control allowed the tenant two weeks of grace. Quebec’s provincial control regulations, Act to Promote Conciliation between Lessees and Property-Owners, now allows three weeks leeway, and when Quebec rent control
ends the Civil and Napoleonic Codes will permit a tenant without a lease to be three months behind in his rent before action can be taken. New Brunswick’s Landlord and Tenant Act gives a tenant only three days to pay up, B. C. gives him seven, Manitoba fifteen and in Saskatchewan he has two months unless the lease says otherwise. If the tenant signs a standard lease he 11 find he hasn’t got a single day of grace.
Short payment of rent: Sniping back at the owner who refuses to make repairs, a tenant often pays the plumber or carpenter out of his own pocket and deducts the amount from his rent. According to statute law, case histories and standard lease forms, this is the same as non-payment of rent and the tenant can be evicted. The Ontario Short Forms of Leases Act specifically warns that rent must be paid “without any deduction whatsoever.” A Toronto health officer not long ago compelled a tenant to fix his sewage pipe. The tenant complied and deducted the bill from his rent. The landlord who had ignored the problem sued him, and the tenant had to pay the amount withheld plus court costs. In the days when stamps were still required on cheques another landlord had his tenant evicted
inn IP x o TES
Budgies talk, canaries sing.
And starlings hold conventions; Kobins bring the signs of spring And storks bring tax exemptions.
JKAN I.KKDAI.F: KNIGHT
for non-payment because the tenant sent in the rent cheque unstamped.
Non-payment of rent: This clears the field for a knock-down fight on eviction and seizure of chattels. The standard lease is quite aggressive in the case of non-payment, permitting the owner to walk into the premises “to take possession of any furniture or other property . . . and sell the same at public or private sale without notice.”
Statute laws in seven provinces permit the tenant to keep certain personal items. In Nova Scotia these include clothes, beds, six plates, one pair of andirons, one spinning wheel, an axe, saw, fishing nets and ten volumes of religious books. In Manitoba the books of a professional man are exempt from seizure. But if a tenant signs a standard lease none of these will be exempt because in one clause t*he tenant agrees to waive all exemption benefits set forth in the statutes.
While landlords load themselves with ammunition in standard leases to take the law into their own hands, most of them follow for safety’s sake—the procedures laid down in statute laws. In B. G. for instance the landlord can, after giving the tenant seven days to pay up. obtain a summons from the county court giving the tenant three days to say why he should not be put out. If the tenant fails to make a case the court then orders him to leave the premises and if he stays on sends a sheriff to put him out. Then the rent is declared in arrears and the way opened to sell the tenant’s goods.
But tenants with leases can keep their premises, according to the statute laws, if they pay the rent and court costs before execution of the eviction order. This provision conflicts with the landlord’s absolute power to evict in standard leases but courts decide between the two on the merits of the case.
If the tenant’s goods are seized for
non-payment of rent, statute law makes it necessary to sell them at a public auction. Nova Scotia’s Of Tenancies and Distress for Rent law requires the landlord to post five handbills giving notice of the sale five days in advance and to sell the goods for the best price. Any cash raised over aiu above the arrears must be paid to the tenant. If a landlord takes too much the tenant can appeal to the court.
Don’t sneak your goods off to the neighbor’s or hide them in a shed either if you’re a tenant in arrears. All provinces have penalties for this. In Manitoba and Ontario the landlord can collect double the value of the goods spirited away. In New Brunswick he can collect three times the amount if the goods come back into the tenant’s hands through trickery.
When a landlord exercises his right to “distrain” goods his victory is often a Pyrrhic one as the value of the tenant’s goods isn’t worth the trouble. Tenants should know though that the furniture they’re buying on the installment plan can be taken and sold for back rent. Statute law and leases also give landlords priority claims in cases of bankruptcy.
Failing to keep in repair: On the right flank of the main battle over rent is the local action raging around upkeep and repairs. Who’s responsible for what? Standard leases require the tenant vaguely “to repair” except reasonable wear and tear^ Despite this Ontario tenants who sign these leases often phone their landlords when a lap breaks or the toilet won’t work to demand repairs and get quite selfrighteous if he dawdles. He could easily reply, “Fix it yourself and get it done in three months or out you go.” The Short Forms of Leases Act sets the time limit.
No clause in the standard lease commits the landlord to repairs but as he is responsible to apartment tenants for heat and water he can be expected to repair a broken furnace or a plumbing defect due to wear and tear. Tenants without leases have only a verbal agreement to rely on and the general custom. Few provincial statutes offer much on this issue. Quebec’s Code is unusually specific. It requires the landlord to make all repairs except such lesser repairs as those to hearths, plastering, broken windows, doors, blinds and hinges, which are the tenant’s job. Repairs due to “age or irresistible force” are for the landlord.
One clause in the standard apartment lease pledges the tenant to strict observance of twenty-eight “rules and regulations” which follow the regular covenants. According to this Spartan set of rules the tenant can’t throw ashes into the water closet, erect awnings without getting the landlord’s consent, keep inflammable goods on the premises, put objects on the outside of window sills, leave water running, put hooks into walls, leave broken windows broken, make improper noises, throw articles out doors, down passages or through skylights, keep an animal on the premises, keep a parrot or other noisy bird, do cooking if there is no kitchen, hold an auction sale, play instruments or a radio after 11 p.m. (they haven’t caught up with the television set) or allow the premises to get dirty. The tenant must keep hardwood floois waxed, put down rugs and move out any member of the family who comes down with an infectious disease.
Needless to say landlords generally don’t attempt to enforce such regulations, but they could in times of stress.
Damaging of premises: Earl
Whitewood, a Toronto real-estate man, tells how he had to check up on two tenants who were ignoring the rent.
The dirt on the apartment floor was so thick he had to scrape it down with a coin to find out it was an oak floor. The basement was filled with undulating hills of ashes sloping into the washtubs with tin cans poking up here and there. The wooden coalbin had disappeared as fuel. Then he checked on the garage.
“In cases like this, it usually goes for firewood too,” he commented. But here, oddly enough, everything looked perfectly in order. Then he opened the garage doors and found himself staring into the field beyond. The back
of the structure wasn’t there.
The tenants left on their own volition. When a tenant runs amok like this in rented premises the landlord can end the lease and sue for damages by virtue of the statute laws and the standard lease forms. A Vancouver landlord once sued his tenant for allowing bedbugs to infest his house and won the case. But if the tenant s chesterfield is damaged because the roof leaks the standard lease forms ' make it impossible for him to collect. This clause reads: “The lessor shall
not be liable for any damage to any
property at any time in the said premises or building from gas. water, steam, waterworks, rain or snow which may leak into, issue or flow from any part of the said building . .
Standard leases exempt the tenant from damage due to fire, lightning and tempest.
Heat and water failure: Standard leases make the landlord responsible for heating an apartment during the winter, usually October 15 to May 15. “up to a reasonable temperature.” That’s all he contracts for and if it’s cold before or after the set dates it's the
tenant’s tough luck. Many hot words have been exchanged in the cold war over heat and what constitutes a reasonable temperature. Seventy degrees is considered standard. Holders of house leases provide their own heat.
If the heat is cut off or not maintained at a reasonable level tenants can take two courses of action: they can
sue him for breach of a covenant in the lease or they can appeal to the local health board. A Toronto apartmentblock owner let his furnace go out during the war rather than obey an emergency order to convert from oil to another fuel. The tenants moved into a hotel, then sued him for damages. The court ordered the landlord to reimburse them for the hotel bills hut ruled that no “general damages” need be paid the tenants for personal inconvenience. That was because their standard leases stated, likt* ali such leases, that “should the lessor make default (e.g. for heating) he shall not. In* liable for indirect or consequential damages.”
When heat and water are cut. off tenants usually use a more immediate weapon, the magistrate’s court. Hundreds of landlords are hauled into Canadian police courts every year because they refused to obey health department orders to provide their tenants with heat or water.
Hot water often becomes a fighting point, too. For some strange reason standard apartment leases ignore any mention of who’s responsible for hot wafer. Tenants should see t hat a clause to this effect goes into their leases.
Trouble with taxes: As landlords usually ptty all taxes and rates, trouble on this front is limited. But in districts where taxes for separate schools are higher, a few skirmishes have occurred, leading to a minor religious war. One Hamilton landlord insisted that all his tenants, Catholic or Protestant , declare themselves supporters of public schools. To avoid this issue recent standard lease forms have added a new clause “that if the lessee (tenant) he assessed as a Separate School Supporter he will pay to the lessor a sum sufficient to cover the excess of the Separate School tax over the public school tax, if any, for a full calendar year.” Some ardent Protestant landlords have found themselves helping to finance Catholic education by not including this clause.
Sub-letting strife: A large number of agile tenants have successfully infiltrated the landlords’ lines by camouflaging themselves as landlords. And nothing makes a landlord angrier than the discovery that his tenant has sublet several rooms and is now making more money out of the house than himself. The landlord has to pay all the taxes and make major repairs while the landlord-tenant has few worries about overhead. This situation was vividly dramatized recently when the furnace broke in a Toronto house and the case went to court.
“Who’s responsible for buying a new furnace?” Magistrate Elmore asked in summing up the futility ot the whole situation. Not the owner, he said, because the tenant had let the house to eleven sub-tenants. They could look to the tenant for a furnace hut the tenant couldn’t be expected to buy one as he paid rent to the owner. And as the eleven sub-tenants were even further removed from responsibility his solution was that “the best idea is for everybody to move out.” Standard leases and statute laws require the tenant to get the landlord’s permission to sub-let.
Not giving enough notice to vacate: A lot of grief in landlord-tenant troubles stems from the* fact that the two sides often try to part company without sufficient notice. Standard
lease forms usually require tenants to give a month’s notice if they pay monthly. If the tenant fails to give notice he becomes a month-to-month tenant but on many leases landlords write in clauses saying that the lease is automatically renewed for a year or two when no notice is received. The term of notice varies from province to province. Nova Scotia and New Brunswick require three months’ notice for it yearly or longer lease. The Quebec law requires no notice for leaseholders. If the tenant remains on the premises eight days after the lease ends it is regarded as a “tacit renewal” of the lease for one year or for the term of the lease if it is less than a year. In Quebec, as in some other provinces, annual leases are drawn so as to end May 1 in the case of a house. In Manitoba, New Brunswick and Ontario a tenant who doesn’t get out after he
has given notice has to pay double the rent for the time he overstays.
Tenants are required by standard leases and statute law to leave their premises in good repair, with allowance for reasonable wear and tear during the tenancy.
Obeying these covenants the regular rent-paying tenant receives a promise in statute laws and standard leases of “quiet enjoyment.” This, however, is legal double-talk and means neither quiet nor enjoyment. It simply means that the landlord can’t come on the premises any time he wishes and throw his weight around. He’s allowed to enter the premises at reasonable times to show prospective tenants around.
One tenant sued his landlord for breaching this rule because the landlord had slapped the tenant’s children and threatened to wring their necks and cut the tenant’s throat. The court held no breach of “quiet enjoyment” had occurred as the action took place in front of the house, not on the premises.
These are the rules and tactics for house-to-house warfare but if either side should seek peace in this longest cold war in history it will come when landlords and tenants know their respective rights and duties and negotiate realistic, modern and fair-minded agreements, eliminating areas of blur, then stick by what they’ve signed for.
That should neutralize armies of otherwise nice people and stop them from throwing hammers, stoves, fists and miscellaneous articles tit each other; biting, scratching, spitting and shouting; kicking the furniture, smacking children around and hauling each other into congested courts across the country. But somehow there seems small chance it will actually happen. *