What to look for before signing a rental agreement

Get Digs
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February 6, 2020

After weeks (or months) of searching, you’ve finally found the perfect apartment to call home - congrats! You may be tempted to skim over the details of your rental agreement and sign on the dotted line. Before you do, here’s what to look for in a lease agreement, regardless of which part of Canada you live in.

What should be included in your lease?

A written rental agreement to lease an apartment, home or condo sets out the legal rights and responsibilities of the landlord and you, the tenant. To protect yourself, you want to ensure the following are included in your lease agreement:

  1. Property details – The lease should stipulate the property you are leasing with the address and unit or apartment number, if applicable. It could also include the number of parking spaces available with the property.
  1. Lease term – Typically, a lease is for one calendar year, then switches to month-to-month. Other lease types include a short-term rental, which is six months or less, or even a month-to-month lease. It’s important you understand the time frame you are locking yourself into.
  1. Rent – As well as the amount due, the lease should be clear about which day of the month rent is due and how payment to the landlord can be made. As a tenant, you have a voice in determining how you choose to pay your rent. (With Get Digs, you can make a payment with your rewards credit card. We’ll send your landlord an automatic e-transfer on the day your rent is due). 
  1. Security deposit – Also known as “first and last,” it’s common to pay a security deposit of one month’s rent in advance of moving in. Your agreement should outline the amount due and the provisions for having the money returned. Generally, provided you leave the property in the same condition, you should get your deposit back in full, or it could be applied to your final month’s rent.
  1. Utilities – The rental lease should outline who is responsible for utilities. “All-inclusive” rentals usually mean utility costs are included with the rent. However, if you’re renting a house, it’s common for the tenant to pay utilities, including heating, water, gas and internet. You may also be responsible for other rental services, such as a water heater or parking costs.
  1. Emergency contact information – If the kitchen tap won’t turn off, can you contact the landlord in an emergency? Is there an on-site property manager you can call? Make sure emergency contact information, including a telephone number, is included in the lease agreement.  

There are standard written lease agreements available in each province. Residential Tenancy Agreement can be found here for Ontario, British Columbia, Manitoba, Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and PEI.

Remember, a lease agreement is negotiable. You can always request for things to be added or removed before signing.

Questions to ask before signing a lease

  1. Am I required to have tenant insurance? A landlord cannot legally force you to take out tenant insurance, but they may decide not to rent to you if you decline. Tenant insurance not only protects the property against any unintentional damage caused by you, it also protects your possessions from theft or damage. 
  1. What are my responsibilities as a tenant? Who shovels the snow? Takes care of general maintenance? Mows the lawn? Typically, a landlord is responsible for keeping the rental property in good repair, while the tenant is responsible for keeping the property clean and orderly. Details of maintenance and repairs could be included in your lease agreement. If not, have a conversation with your landlord ahead of time and be clear about what your responsibilities are. It may be unreasonable to expect your landlord to come and change a lightbulb, just like it’s unfair to expect a tenant to take care of mold on the walls.
  1. Can my landlord inspect my property at any time? A landlord can enter your rental property under certain circumstances. Usually, your landlord is required to contact you 24 hours in advance to notify you of visiting the property and must visit between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. However, a landlord could enter your home without notice in the event of an emergency. You have a right to privacy. If you have any concerns, consult the tenancy act in your province.
  1. Will there be a credit check? Be prepared. It’s possible that part of the paperwork required with your rental application is a credit check. Your credit score is based on your payment history of credit cards, loans, car payments, etc. A landlord could request a credit score to assess your likelihood of paying your rent and other bills. You can access your credit score through RBC’s online banking or CreditKarma - both are free of charge. If your credit score is low, be upfront and honest with the landlord in advance. Let them know if there were extenuating circumstances, such as an illness or breakup that might have impacted your finances.
  1. Can I sublet my rental? If you are planning to sublet your property to another person, you will need to ask your landlord to consent in advance. To protect yourself, put your request in writing with the dates of the sublet. As a rule, your landlord needs to provide a good reason for refusing a sublet.
  1. Can I break my lease? Circumstances change. You decide to take a promotion in a new city or go to grad school. You may decide to break your lease and vacate the property before your lease agreement is over. If you’ve signed a one-year agreement and wish to move before then, legally you cannot terminate the policy unless you and your landlord agree. Notify your landlord in writing and provide an explanation as to why you wish to terminate your lease. If your landlord agrees, it’s important to put the agreement in writing and have both the tenant(s) and landlord sign it.
  1. Can I paint the property? A landlord is responsible for painting the interior and exterior of your property at reasonable intervals. If you wish to paint the interior of your property, you should seek your landlord’s permission first. Otherwise, you could be on the hook for returning the property back to its original condition (i.e. repainting it that boring beige).
  1. Can the landlord stop me from having pets? This is a tricky one. While a landlord can refuse to select an applicant with a pet (unless it is a service animal), tenancy agreements cannot prevent a tenant from having a pet. Therefore, a landlord can’t evict you for having animals, unless the pet is noisy or damaging the property, or the rules of the condominium corporation forbid pets. That said, it’s probably best to be upfront if you do have a pet; maintaining a strong and transparent relationship with your landlord is likely to save headaches down the line. 

A lease agreement is a big financial commitment. You want to make sure you understand what you are committing to and that you are comfortable with it. If you live in a province with a standard lease agreement, like Ontario, we recommend comparing your lease agreement to this to ensure your bases are covered. 

When you negotiate your lease, you may want to speak to your landlord about Get Digs and how using the service can make payments easier for both parties. Providing the landlord with a simple and convenient way to accept rent payment and you with a way to earn points on one of your biggest monthly expenses! Learn how to pay rent with your rewards credit card.

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This article offers general information only and is not intended as legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. While information presented is believed to be factual and current, its accuracy is not guaranteed and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by RBC Ventures Inc. or its affiliates.

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