It’s About Time: Licensing Retirement Homes in Ontario

January 11, 2013 – In Ontario, every retirement home is required to have a licence to operate. This came into effect on July 1, 2012 and is overseen by Ontario’s Retirement Homes Regulatory Authority (RHRA), which maintains a public register containing information about each retirement home and landlord. On one hand, the new licensing standard is a step in the right direction towards greater transparency and accountability. The province is now able to collect data and keep track of the many retirement homes, while the public have increased access to information. However, it is only one small step – there are still many gaps that leave retirement home tenants without protection from various forms of abuse and infringement of their rights.

In light of stories about elder abuse in retirement and long-term care homes, CARP has advocated for greater protection of tenants in retirement homes. In Ontario, retirement homes are considered residential tenancies under the Retirement Homes Act and the Residential Tenancies Act, which means tenants in residential homes are governed by the same rules as tenants in any other residential home. This leaves various gaps for retirement home tenants who are potentially vulnerable and/or reliant on the care services provided in the home. Such gaps include lack of protection against displacement, in which a retirement home can require a tenant to leave often with one or two months’ notice, if the tenant’s health suddenly declines and needs greater care that the retirement home does not provide.

In addition to a lack of protection against displacement, there are no regular spot audits or inspections to ensure that the retirement home is meeting all standards. Instead, issues and concerns are raised through a complaint-based process that relies on the tenants and their families to file complaints, many of which may not be filed or raised by the tenants and families.

Also, there is a lack of controls for the cost of care and unexpected fees. Many retirement homes are expensive and charge fees for services that tenants may expect to be included in the rents. These are commercial operations and there is no required consistency on rates or even the definition of the services being offered, nor any restriction on when they can be changed or increased, unlike the general control over rent increases.

In addition, when there are legal restrictions on charging certain fees, tenants are often unaware of their rights and restrictions on landlords. For example, the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly (ACE) have received complaints about retirement home tenants being charged extra fees by their landlords to cover the cost of the new licencing fees, which is illegal. ACE has written in their newsletter clarifying the rules around the fees and the need to ensure that tenants are protected from bearing extra fees.

CARP calls on the province and the Retirement Home Regulatory Authority to take greater action to ensure that such gaps no longer exist and that those living in retirement homes are adequately protected from being taken advantage of and abused. CARP will continue to monitor and report on any progress on the work of the RHRA.

Read the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly’s newsletter on retirement home licencing fees.

Read Retirement Home Regulatory Authority’s update on their new licencing initiative.