Real Estate Guides

5 key responsibilities as a renter

There's more to being a tenant than setting up the wifi and lo-fi and relaxing in your new space. In order to have a long-lasting, respectful relationship with your landlord consider being a responsible renter. Who knows, it could be part of that plant, then pet, then person formula
saving for a down payment. Couple laughs and chats

Renters have rights, but they also have responsibilities. As a tenant, it is essential to be respectful and to follow your contractual obligations. But what if your landlord is a jerk? Do you still have to pay rent or give them access to your unit? Turns out, your responsibilities as a renter are not contingent on a landlord’s good behaviour. In fact, a tenant can quickly find themselves off-side at their local Landlord and Tenants Board if they shirk their own responsibilities — and this can overshadow a landlord’s poor behaviour. If you concentrate on your five key responsibilities as a renter it will go a long way with a great landlord and make sure the finger remains pointed at a bad landlord.

Remember, your responsibilities as a renter are vital to securing a great experience and an even better reference. So, consider these five basic, yet essential, duties as a guide for being a conscientious renter.

1. Follow your rental agreement

To protect yourself as a tenant, make sure you sign a written lease. This lease should specify, in detail, all the aspects of your tenancy that you agreed to before you moved in, such as whether or not you’re allowed to have pets or if the unit is smoke-free and how best to contact your landlord in case of maintenance and repairs.

Your rental agreement should clearly state how much you are required to pay each month for rental, as well as any separate, additional costs (such as parking or laundry fees). The lease should also state how payment is accepted and what costs you’ll incur if rent is late. (It’s not uncommon for a landlord to charge a fee for late payment, missed payment or payments that didn’t go through, known as non-sufficient funds or NSFs.) The lease will state how long your tenancy will last.

Consider the lease as your rental agreement — a written contract that obligates both you and the landlord.

2. Pay rent consistently and on time

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Paying your rent each month at the appropriate time and remaining consistent throughout your time as a tenant is vital. We just cannot stress that enough. But, quite often, a tenant will withhold rent from their landlord in an effort to get a complaint heard or a broken item fixed. Don’t.

Even if a tenant has legitimate concerns, not paying rent will often mean these issues will not be addressed should you end up in Small Claims Court or at the Landlord and Tenants Board. Why? Because these courts and boards focus on law and in contract law, the person most responsible is the person who breaks their contract. By not paying rent, you are breaking your contract (remember that lease?) and this puts you in the hot-seat.

If you do have a legitimate concern or complaint, make sure you contact your landlord immediately. Always document the communication and, if your concerns are being ignored, seek help from a local legal aid clinic or through the Landlord and Tenants Board. No matter what the reason, don’t stop paying your rent. As long as you adhere to your side of the contract, the law will support your right to have your concerns heard.

When it comes to paying rent, make sure you pay by cheque or through online e-transfer. To protect yourself, it is best not to pay cash or wire transfer, as you’ll have no record of payment.

If you do not pay your rent this is considered a breach of contract and your landlord has every right to go through their provincial or territorial regulations to evict you from the rental unit.

If you are unable to pay rent on time, it’s best to let your landlord know, as soon as possible. Together, you may be able to organize a revised payment schedule or receive an extension — both of which help keep you on the right side of that contractual obligation you agreed to when you signed your lease.

Remember, you cannot refuse to pay rent if your landlord has not completed unit maintenance. The only time you can refuse to pay rent is if you have not received a signed and dated copy of your lease.

3. Maintain the property to the best of your ability

In general, tenants are responsible for the overall appearance and cleanliness of their rental unit (which is why landlords usually look for renters that will treat the property as their own). For instance, if shovelling snow is stipulated as your responsibility in your lease, and you don’t shovel the walkway during the winter months, then you will be responsible for any bylaw tickets. You may also be responsible for anyone who slipped on the sidewalk outside of your rental unit — which means your tenant insurance should have sufficient liability coverage. To avoid legal hassles and extra financial costs, maintain the property and protect yourself with tenants insurance. “Tenant insurance pays to replace your belongings when damaged from a covered claim and includes personal liability insurance,” explains Kevin Bartel, an insurance agent at Alberta-based Freeman Insurance Agencies.

If there are damages or issues with the property, it is only your responsibility, as a tenant, to make repairs if they were your fault and require minimal fixing. For example, this could include repairs to internal cabinet hardware or stains on carpets and the like. All other maintenance and repairs, however, are to be managed and taken care of by the landlord.

4. Follow the law

Each province across Canada allows landlords the right to evict a tenant that is participating in illicit activities that may damage their property. Eviction can also be granted where a tenant poses a danger to the other people in the rental property or if you act in a way that may void the landlords home insurance policy.

5. Provide proper notice

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Just as your landlord must provide you a written notice if there is a rent increase or if they want to visit the unit, you as a tenant must provide a written notice to your landlord if you plan to vacate the unit. Typically, if you are choosing to move out at the end of the term, a fixed-term lease will require a 30-day notice. Check the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) fact sheets for your province or territory to gain a complete picture of notice needed in your area.

On the whole, your relationship with your landlord will be much better if you openly communicate any issues, abide by the rental agreement and, generally, act like a responsible renter. Now, let’s take care of business.

Alyssa Davies
Alyssa Davies

Alyssa is a personal finance blogger who focuses on mixing finances with laughter. Through her blog, Mixed Up Money, she helps people relate, learn and become inspired. She recently joined Zolo as the content specialist and brings her passion for property and smart money matters to this growing brand.