Lease agreements: What you need to know before you sign your lease
Getting to grips with a lease or rental agreement
Would you buy a car for thousands of dollars without reading the fine print on the contract and making sure you understand it all? Yet that’s what many tenants do when they sign their lease without giving it a second glance.
After you’ve found your dream apartment, and the landlord has checked your credit rating, you will both agree on the specific terms of the rental, and this will make up your lease or rental agreement.
You should always take the time to read the agreement slowly, even if you’re with the landlord – don’t let yourself be rushed. It’s an important document and it deserves your time. You can ask questions, and how the landlord answers will give you some indication of what it will be like to rent from this person and what kind of relationship you’re likely to have.
Some tenants and landlords may accept a verbal agreement, but considering the financial responsibilities involved, it’s always a good idea to have an agreement in writing.
A good lease or rental agreement should protect you as well as the landlord, and should clearly set out the rights and obligations for you both.
What makes good rental agreement: 15 points to look for:
- Names and addresses: The lease should include your name and address as well as that of the landlord and your roommates (If you’re signing a joint lease). It should also list the name and telephone number of the building manager, if that’s not the landlord. Make sure you have a number also for emergencies.
- Unit description: The lease should specify which apartment or house you’re renting and should include a description of access to any specific areas, such as a porch, lockers or a backyard.
- Terms: This refers to monthly rent, the length of the agreement, and the dates the lease begins and ends. Look for lease renewal rules as well, and subletting rules, especially if you’re a student. There should also be reference to rent increases: when, how much to expect, and how much notice must be given.
- Payments: The due date and the format (cheque, bank transfer, cash) the rent has to be paid. There should also be a mention of any late charges and when/how they’ll be applied.
- Security deposits: Depending on the province you live in, your landlord may ask you for a security deposit. The lease should specify how much the deposit is, when and under what terms it will be returned, and if any interest will be paid back on the deposit. Check with your provincial rental authority to find out if security deposits are legal in your province.
- What the rent covers: The lease should clearly state who should pay for the utilities, if any appliances are included in the rent, and if any furniture comes with the apartment.
- Special restrictions: pets, smoking, damages and noise: These issues can be thorny ones for landlords. If you have a pet, makes sure that there is no restriction on keeping pets in your a partment, either in the lease or in the building by-laws if there are any. Restrictions don’t apply to service dogs.
Smoking in the common areas of buildings is not permitted on health and safety grounds. Some landlords may agree to let you smoke in your unit, but if there’s a restriction on this, it will be in the lease. Breaking the no-smoking policy if there is one may get you evicted.
If a tenant is too noisy or creates too many disturbances, not only will the landlord have grounds for eviction, but neighbours could also complain and call the police if the noise levels are beyond acceptable. Damaging the building or unit will similarly get a tenant in trouble and be grounds for terminating the lease.
- Parking: If parking is included in the rent, or if there is an extra charge, it should be mentioned in the lease, along with the location of the parking.
- Property maintenance: If you’ve gone through your apartment checklist and taken note of any damages or necessary repairs, then make sure that the lease mentions which repairs or improvements have to be made and by when. You’re not responsible for normal wear-and-tear.
- Right of entry: The landlord has the right to enter your apartment for repairs or to show the apartment to potential buyers or renters, but you have to be given written notice (at least 24 hours in advance), and the conditions for entry should be very clear.
- Insurance: The lease may include a disclaimer, stating that the landlord’s insurance doesn’t cover your personal property or your liabilities. You should always get apartment insurance for your personla belongings.
- Security: If you feel that additional security features are needed, such as changing the locks or adding a deadbolt, and you’ve agreed to this with the landlord, it should be listed in the lease.
- Termination: There should be a clause in the agreement that specifies how and when you can terminate the lease. Typically, you will have to give a few months’ notice.
- Terms for dispute resolution: A good lease should also include a clause for resolving differencessuch as late payment, damages and repairs, or other conflict. It shows good faith on both your parts that if there is an issue, you’re both willing to commit to solving it.
- Signature: The lease is only valid if it’s signed by both parties. Make sure you have a copy and keep it for your records.
The terms of the lease can’t be changed unless both you and the landlord agree to change them. If you do decide together to change your agreement, make sure it’s reflected in writing as well.
Before signing on the dotted line
The lease is an important contract, and breaching its terms could you get evicted or get you a negative rating with the credit bureau or could get your evicted. If you’re uncomfortable with any part of the lease, discuss it with the landlord before you sign and move in.
- Don’t hand over any money until you’ve signed the lease
- Visit the actual apartment you’ll be renting, not any other unit that “looks just like it”
- Make sure you’ve gone through your checklist
- Have a chat with the neighbours
- Visit the neighbourhood at d ifferent times of the day and night
- Read the fine print carefully, and ask for advice if there’s something you don’t understand.
Resources by province – rental agreements
If your relationship with the landlord turns sour, don’t despair: help is available. Use these resources for more information about the rights and obligations of tenants and landlords and help with conflict resolution.
Newfoundland & Labrador
- Service Newfoundland and Labrador for tenants
- Office of the Director of Residential Rental Property