Housing Issues for Seniors

Seniors 

George has been renting the same apartment on the 3rd floor of his building for 15 years. He doesn’t like the thought of living anywhere else. But he just turned 75 and is getting nervous about going up and down the stairs. Some of his friends are living in a senior’s residence nearby. George thinks it might be a good place for him too.

He’s wondering if he can cancel his apartment lease before it ends. He also has questions about senior’s residences. Who makes sure they provide good services? Is there any protection for residents?

In this article, Éducaloi explains some of the issues regarding housing for seniors.

If I have to leave my apartment, can I cancel my lease before it ends?

If you rent an apartment, you can cancel your lease before it ends in some situations:

  • If you, your spouse or your partner can no longer live in your apartment due to a disability.
  • If you are given a place to live in low-rent housing.
  • If you are elderly and want to leave to live permanently in one of these places, either for the first time, or because you are changing from one of these places to another one:
    • a long-term care centre (“CHSLD”)
    • a supervised apartment or group home
    • a private seniors residence or other housing that offers nursing care and personal assistance services required by your state of health
  • Your safety or the safety of a child living with you is at risk due to a violent partner or ex-partner, or because of aggression of a sexual nature, even if the aggressor does not live with you. To learn more about this, see our article Ending a Lease for Spousal or Sexual Violence.

A long-term care centre is a facility offering medical services and other kinds of support to people who cannot live on their own. They are also known as “CHSLDs”.

As for private senior’s residences or similar housing, you must show your landlord that the move is necessary for your state of health. You must also show that the private residence or other housing you have chosen offers nursing care or personal assistance services that you need.

The steps you need to take to end your lease, including how to send the proper notice, are explained in detail in our article A Tenant’s Right to End a Lease. That article also explains the rules around whether you have to keep paying any rent after you send your notice.
Note that the rules on cancelling a lease before it expires are different from the rules on the non-renewal of a lease when it expires. To learn more about non-renewal, see our article Renewing a Residential Lease and Rent Increases.

Do the same rules apply if I am a tenant in low-rent housing?

No. If you live in low-rent housing, you can cancel your lease at any time for any reason by giving a written notice to the landlord three months before you want the lease to end.

What if I don’t have a legal right to cancel my lease?

If you do not have a legal right to cancel your lease before it ends (see the first question), there are other options:

  • Try to come to an agreement with your landlord to end your lease before it expires.
  • Try to have someone take over your lease by subletting.
  • Try to have someone take over your lease by assigning it.
  • You can move somewhere else and continue to pay your old rent until your old lease expires. Of course, this could mean you would be paying expenses for two living spaces for a period of time.

To learn more about subletting and assigning, consult our article Assigning a Lease or Subletting. Note that if you live in low-rent housing, you are not allowed to sublet or assign your lease.

If I become unable to make decisions for myself, how can I make sure my wishes about where I want to live are respected?

There are situations in which you might become incapable of making your own decisions about your well-being or your property. This could be the case, for example, if you fell ill with Alzheimer’s.
There is a legal test to decide if someone is really incapable of making these decisions. To learn more, see our article Incapacity.
To make sure your choice about where you want to live is respected as much as possible should you become incapacitated, you can start by speaking to family members about your wishes.
You can also create a legal document called a “mandate in anticipation of incapacity”. This document lets you choose in advance who you would like to make decisions about your well-being and property if you become unable to make these decisions yourself. The person you choose is called a “mandatary”. (You can choose more than one person.)
In your mandate, you are free to include any instructions you want for your mandatary. For example, the model mandate in anticipation of incapacity of the Public Curator of Quebec includes the following sample instructions:
“If possible, I would like to live at home. However, if my health requires me to live in a setting that is safer and better adapted to my needs, my mandatary will decide according to the circumstances, while taking into account the following wishes:…”
To learn more about mandates and how to prepare one, see our article Mandates in Anticipation of Incapacity. To learn more about the Public Curator, see our article The Public Curator and Protecting Vulnerable Citizens.
If you are unable to make decisions for yourself and don’t have a mandate, someone close to you will be named by a court to take decisions on your behalf. If no one suitable is available, other legal mechanisms come into play. To learn more, see our article Protective Supervision.
You can also include instructions on where you want to live in a living will. To learn more, see our article Giving Instructions for Care at the End of Life.

Can I be moved to a senior’s residence against my will?

No one can move you out of your home unless you are declared incapable of making your own decisions about your well-being or your property.
There is a legal process that must be followed to have someone declared incapable of making these decisions: it does not happen easily!
To learn more about this legal process, see our article Incapacity.

If I am living in a senior’s residence or other environment outside my own private home, what are my rights?

Whether you are living in a public or private residence or institution, you have certain basic rights. These include the right to be treated with dignity, have your privacy respected, live in a clean, safe environment and make choices about medical care.
You also have a right to receive a written copy of a code of ethics that spells out the conduct expected of staff toward residents.
If you are living in a private residence, you have the right to receive some additional information in writing. (Private residences are run by private operators instead of the government.)
The operator of a private residence must provide all residents with a written document stating the following:

  • All the services to be provided and their cost. These services might relate to hygiene, medical care, call-for-help buttons, entertainment and transport, for example.
  • The procedure for filing complaints and contact information of the person who handles complaints.

There are also some private facilities that have contracts with government agencies or institutions, but they do not have to follow this rule about providing additional information in writing.

Who checks on the quality of services in residences and other living environments for seniors?

The way quality is monitored depends on the type of living environment.

Private Residence

Operators of private residences must meet quality standards set by the government and get a certificate saying they meet these standards. They must renew this certificate every three years. At any time, the government can order inspections of these residences.
The quality standards cover matters such as providing space to receive visitors in private, treating residents with respect, keeping files with up-to-date medical information (unless the resident objects to the residence having this information), doing housekeeping and installing call-for-help systems.

Public Facility or Facility Operating Under a Contract from the Government

There are several kinds of these facilities:

  • Long-term care centres (“CHSLDs”): they provide a complete range of medical services and other kinds of care for people who can’t live on their own.
  • “Intermediate resources”: these include supervised apartments and group residences. These facilities provide some support services but not on-site physiotherapy, nursing or medical care.
  • “Family-type resources”: these house a maximum of nine people, who must be able to live fairly independently.

CHSLDS
CHSLDs must be certified by two standards organizations (the Canadian Council on Health Services Accreditation and the Conseil québécois d’agrément), and renew that certification every 3 years. These standards organizations are independent of government.
To keep their certifications, CHSLDs must give satisfaction questionnaires to residents and family members every three years.

Also, representatives of the ministry of health and social services visit these facilities from time to time to check on the quality of services. Reports on visits are available on the ministry’s website (in French only).
Each CHSLD must also set up a committee to inform residents of their rights, defend their interests and try to improve the quality of services. You can ask the director of the CHSLD for the contact information for the committee.
Intermediate and Family-Type Resources
These facilities must meet standards set by the government agencies that coordinate health and social services in various regions of Quebec, called Health and Social Services Centres. (They are commonly called a “CSSS”.)
All CSSSs must keep a register of these facilities and are responsible for re-evaluating them regularly.
If you need to contact a CSSS to find out about quality standards in one of these facilities, check the blue pages of your phone book for the CSSS in your area or the map of CSSSs across Quebec.
Representatives of the ministry of health and social services also visit intermediate and family-type resources from time to time to check on quality. Reports on these visits are available on the ministry’s website (in French only).
Each facility must also set up a committee to inform residents of their rights, defend their interests and try to improve the quality of services. (In some cases, there will be one committee for several facilities.) You can ask the director of your facility for the committee’s contact information.

What if I want to file a complaint about the services in a private residence or other facility?

You can start by speaking to the person or people concerned to try to resolve the situation. If this does not work, you can file a formal complaint.
The complaints procedure is slightly different depending on where you live.

Complaint Procedure – Private Residences

You or someone acting on your behalf can file a complaint by phone, mail or in person with the “Regional Service Quality and Complaints Commissioner”. Part of the Commissioner’s role is helping people express their complaints.
To find out the name and contact information of the commissioner in your area, ask a staff member of the residence, call the general government information number (1-877-644-4545) or check the list of regional commissioners on the website of the ministry of health and social services.
If you are not satisfied with the response of the regional commissioner, or if you do not get an answer within 45 days of when the commission got your complaint, you can ask the Québec Ombudsman to review your complaint. (1-800-463-5070)
If your complaint concerns the fact that services listed in your lease are not being provided, you can also contact the Régie du logement (rental board). Call 1-877-644-4545 to get the number of the Rental Board office in your area.

Complaint Procedure – CHSLDs, Intermediate Resources & Family-Type Resources

You or someone acting on your behalf can file a complaint by phone, mail or in person with the “Local Service Quality and Complaints Commissioner” of the facility. A staff member of the place you live can give you the name and contact information of the Commissioner.

Part of the Commissioner’s role is helping people express their complaints.
You can also get help from the Complaints Assistance and Support Centre (CAAP) in your area. Their services are free and confidential. Call 1-877-767-2227.
Another source of help is the “users’ committees” that represent the interests of residents of CHSLDs, intermediate resources and family-type resources. Ask the Local Service Quality and Complaints Commissioner or the director of the place you live for the contact information for this committee.
If you are not satisfied with the response of the local commissioner, or if you do not get an answer within 45 days of when the commissioner got your complaint, you can ask the Québec Ombudsman to review your complaint (1-800-463-5070).
You should know that the procedures described above do not cover complaints about treatment provided by a doctor, medical resident, pharmacist or dentist. To learn more about this, consult our articles Filing a Complaint Against a Health Care Institution, Complaints Against Professionals and Medical Responsibility
Also, in the case of serious incidents, such as a physical attack, you can contact your local police department.

By Réginald Gauthier

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