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Judge sides with Ottawa Community Housing over tenant snow-clearing duties

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Ontario's top court has dismissed a case brought by an Ottawa mother and son after a dispute over snow-clearing duties under their lease agreement with the Ottawa Community Housing Corporation (OCH).

OCH denied liability in the legal action involving Daniel Crete, who claims he was injured in March 2017 after falling on ice on the front step of a row house that he and his mother, Marguerite Crete, were renting.

According to court documents, the Cretes alleged the corporation was responsible for winter maintenance at their leased property, including the clearing of ice and snow at the front step.

OCH claimed the Cretes, as the tenants of the property and signatories of the lease, were responsible for snow and ice clearing, citing a provision added to their lease that assigned the winter cleaning duties to the tenants in the area that Daniel fell. The corporation countersued against the family for contribution and indemnity for any amount it is ordered to pay.

Marguerite Crete and her late husband had been leasing the property since 1988, but argued in her initial case before the Ontario Superior Court of Justice last year, that the provision was inconsistent with Ontario's Residential Tenancies Act (RTA), and should be voided.

Justice Heather Williams ruled last year the provision in the lease was not inconsistent with the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) and held that it required the family to handle winter maintenance in the area where Daniel fell.

Williams stated in her ruling that a section of the RTA which requires landlords to maintain a property in "good repair," did not extend to snow and ice removal. The judge applied another section, which requires tenants to maintain cleanliness, including snow removal, for the exterior common areas regularly used by the tenant.

The case was dismissed and the family appealed their case to the Court of Appeals for Ontario, who agreed the provision assigning winter maintenance duties of areas regularly used by the tenants was legal under the RTA and did not conflict with the law's general maintenance rules.

The judge also ordered the family to pay for the costs of the appeal to OCH in the amount of $15,000.

In an emailed statement, OCH said it could not discuss specifics related to the case, as it remains subject to ongoing litigation.

"OCH respects the legal process and complies with all relevant laws and regulations governing landlord-tenant relationships and affordable housing initiatives in Canada," a spokesperson for the organization said.

"We can share with you that maintenance information, including ice and snow removal, is provided to tenants upon lease signing and in various forms of communication throughout their tenancies. Ottawa Community Housing regularly reviews its policies and procedures to align them with our commitment to providing safe and affordable housing and current laws and regulations."

OCH provides offers approximately 15,000 homes to about 33,000 tenants across the National Capital Region.

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