In the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, as in many jurisdictions, it is common practice for employers to provide staff housing in an effort to recruit and retain employees for work in remote locations and to alleviate the high costs of living. Unfortunately, staff housing arrangements can prove problematic for both employers and employees upon the termination of employment or where the employer wishes to recover possession of the premises for other reasons.

Staff housing arrangements should be carefully addressed in employment agreements and benefit policies such that the effect of termination of employment on the right to occupy staff housing, and the procedure applicable to an employer regaining possession of the premises, are clearly set out.  However, employers must also be aware that staff housing arrangements may be subject to residential tenancies or other legislation in their respective jurisdictions.

In the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, residential tenancies legislation does not apply to certain types of staff housing, such as living accommodation in a building used for non-residential purposes whereby occupancy is necessarily connected to employment in or services related to a non-residential business carried on in the building.  In situations where the legislation does apply, the tenancy of a person who is provided with rental premises as an employment benefit is terminated on the day that his or her employment ends. The employee is required to vacate the premises within one week but the employer cannot collect rent during that period.

The Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories recently considered an application by an employer to evict an employee from staff housing notwithstanding that the employment relationship had not ended.  The employee occupied an apartment above a trucking terminal but had become unable to work due to injury and was receiving disability benefits while contesting the denial of a workers’ compensation claim.  The employer wished to renovate the premises for use in its business but the employee refused to vacate.  The Court concluded that the matter was governed by contract law, that the employer did not have an indefinite responsibility to provide housing, and that the employee was in possession of the premises without permission. The employee was ordered to vacate the premises within three weeks.

Prior to extending staff housing benefits, employers should determine whether the arrangements will be subject to contract law, residential tenancies or other legislation, or both. Legislation varies among jurisdictions and may impose notice requirements or other restrictions on eviction.  Careful drafting of employment agreements and policies may alleviate difficulties for employers seeking to recover possession of staff housing upon termination of employment or otherwise.