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Your door doesn’t lock properly in the cold. What must your landlord do?


Landlords can’t hide behind northern weather when tenants’ doors don’t lock properly, a new NWT rental office ruling establishes.

One Yellowknife tenant’s front door was so unreliable that a housesitter came back to find an intoxicated stranger passed out in the property, a situation that required the RCMP and ultimately led the tenant to file a complaint against the landlord.

Rarely do tenants take landlords to the rental office. It is far more common for landlords to pursue tenants over concerns like non-payment of rent or damage to property.

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But in this instance, the determined tenant – armed with the opinions of a locksmith and an architect – scored a victory.

All parties involved are identified only by their initials in rental officer Adelle Guigon’s written decision, dated December 8, which was published online this week. The apartment building in question is not specified.

Guigon wrote that “throughout the tenancy, there were problems experienced during the colder months with ice building up on the front exterior door and within the locking mechanism.”

The landlord, repeatedly told of the issue, replaced some weather stripping but otherwise told the tenant to use de-icer.

“It was the landlord’s opinion that, as long as the locking mechanism could function with the application of de-icer, it was a normal part of living in the North,” Guigon wrote.

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By the spring of 2022, the tenant was using de-icer daily to unlock the deadbolt and had to use force to close the door. They began to suspect the deadbolt was not adequately securing the home.

“This concern was borne out on Friday, April 8, 2022, when an intoxicated person entered the premises during the tenant’s absence,” Guigon wrote.

“The tenant’s housesitter discovered the individual passed out in the premises. The tenant and the RCMP were immediately contacted, and the RCMP removed the individual.”

As soon as the stranger was out of the home, the tenant asked the landlord to change the locks. When she did not hear back, the tenant found a locksmith, paid for repair work, and then set about trying to claim the money back from the landlord.

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The rental office became involved when the landlord refuse to reimburse the tenant for that cost.

Architect scorns de-icer method

At a hearing in November, the locksmith said the locking mechanism “was so rusted it couldn’t totally lock,” according to Guigon’s summary.

“In his opinion, it was more likely than not that the housesitter had locked the door when she left the premises but that the lock had not properly caught, meaning the door could be opened with relatively minimal force,” the written decision states.

“He further confirmed that while de-icer was appropriate for occasional use, it does eat away at the metal after a while. Between the moisture freezing the lock over time and the daily application of the de-icer, the locking mechanism had rusted out and was no longer reasonably functional.”

A registered architect, separately asked by the tenant to provide a professional opinion, wrote that the landlord’s preferred solution – de-icer – was in breach of the National Building Code, and no amount of pointing to Yellowknife’s cold weather would suffice.

“There are no allowances in the National Building Code for easing the requirements … based on location,” the architect wrote. “Yellowknife’s winter climate does not, therefore, permit the use of de-icing solution as a code-compliant tool to facilitate regular door operations.”

Guigon ruled that the landlord must refund $393.75 paid by the tenant for repairs, which includes an emergency call-out fee for the locksmith.

“I am satisfied that the landlord was responsible for repairing the locking mechanism to the rental premises and that, in failing to do so, the tenant suffered demonstrable monetary losses as a direct result,” Guigon’s decision concludes.

“The only reason the costs of repairs include emergency after-hours rates is because the landlord failed to address the issue before the emergency arose.”