Don't sign your lease agreement before you read this!
Looking for rental accommodation can be a tiresome business – so much so that by the time you've found your perfect apartment, you're all too willing to sign the lease without giving it a second glance just to finally move in!
Tenants who do so would be ill-advised, however! A lease or rental agreement is a binding document that outlines your rights and responsibilities as a tenant as well as those of your landlord. As such, it will govern your experience as a tenant in rental accommodation – for better or for worse!
This is one of the most important reasons to read your lease in detail before you sign it! Take it home if you need to, and ask all the questions you need to clarify any terms in it that you're not sure about. You may want to beware of any landlord that is trying to rush you into signing or fails to respond to your concerns – if the landlord behaves this way before you've even moved in, imagine what it would be like if you were already moved in and needed repairs done, for example.
What you should know about leases and rental agreements
Some agreements are made verbally between tenants and landlords, and in some provinces, this is accepted. However, it's always best to get everything down on paper to protect yourself.
To make sure that you're well protected under the law, make sure that the landlord uses a standard lease agreement for the province you live in, and negotiate any other items you feel should be included. If, for example, the landlord agreed during your visit of the apartment that the windows needed to be changed, this should be reflected in the lease, with a mention of when the repairs will be made.
At the top of the lease, your name and that of the landlord should be identified, as well as that of any building manager or caretaker, along with respective addresses and telephone numbers. You should also ask which number can be reached in case of an emergency. If you have a roommate, we recommend you sign a separate lease each.
Next, make sure that there is a unit number for your apartment and that it includes a general description of the unit and any relevant information, such access to common areas, a garden, a porch, or extra storage space.
The financials is an important section. This should list the amount for the rent (usually monthly), when it is due, and in what format it is to be paid (cheque, bank transfer, etc.). Information about late rent charges should also be included.
The financials should also include who is to be responsible for paying for utilities, and if any furniture comes with the apartment or not. Look for extra fees also for things like snow removal, and make sure you know who's responsible for payment.
Next, look for a mention about deposits. Sometimes they're called damage or security deposits. This money should be held in trust by the landlord until you move out, unless there is rent that has been left unpaid or furniture has been damaged. If there's no mention of a deposit but the landlord has asked you for one, first check that deposits are allowed in your province, and then ask to have it included in the lease before you hand any money over.
Under "terms", there should also be mention of the length of the agreement, and the date that the lease starts and ends. The lease renewal information should also be there somewhere, along with mention of rent increases: when, how much to expect, and how much notice must be given. If you think you may want to sublet your apartment, it should be stated in the lease that you are allowed to do so.
Your lease will no doubt include certain restrictions, for example on whether or not you can keep pets, or smoke in the apartment or building, or whether there are specific parking places or quiet hours that have to be observed.
It's possible that you may not even be able to smoke on your patio or in front of the building. Disturbances and noise may also cause issues between you and your landlord, so be sure to comply with quiet hours. Some buildings may include parking in the rent, but most probably there will be an additional fee to park indoors.
Disputes and termination
Every good contract should have a get-out clause, and so should your lease agreement. It should specify the circumstances under which you can terminate your lease, and how much notice you will have to give. The lease should also include a clause about resolving differences over common areas of conflict, such as late payments, late repairs, etc.
The items in the lease can't be changed unless both the tenant and the landlord choose agree, and these changes can be amended to the lease and signed again by both parties.
Additional elements of the lease
The lease should also mention any additional property maintenance issues, such as when the landlord may have access to your rented apartment for repairs: make sure that there is a clause in the lease that states that written notice must be given 24 hours in advance (unless it's an emergency, of course). Other conditions for entry (if any) should be listed in the lease.
The lease may also mention insurance, to state that the building is insured; however, this insurance doesn't cover your belongings or liability, so be sure to obtain your own apartment rental or tenant insurance.
Making a deal
When you've taken the time to read through the lease thoroughly (don't let the landlord rush you!), check to see that the lease mentions which province will regulate this agreement. Then validate the document with the date and your name and signature (make sure the landlord signs it too!). Keep a copy for your files, and don't hand any money over until you actually sign the lease.
Trouble? Get some help with your rental agreement
Conflicts may sometimes arise between tenants and landlords. Read our guide to handling disputes, and if you need more help or information about your rights and obligations, contact the following resources:
Newfoundland & Labrador
- Service Newfoundland and Labrador for tenants
- Office of the Director of Residential Rental Property