Renter's Guide

A guide to a standard lease agreement

Protect your rights as a tenant by investing the time for a detailed review of the terms of your lease. If there is any aspect of it that you feel unsure about, you can always ask the landlord for clarification, or work with a real estate specialist who can help you better understand your legal responsibilities
renters guide
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If you’re looking for an apartment, the last thing you want is to become a victim of a rental scam. One key tool in your arsenal is the lease. A standard lease agreement is a legal document that outlines what the owner of the property is providing in exchange for your rent money.

To put it more simply, a lease is an agreement to rent between a landlord and tenant. Although the basic concept sounds pretty simple, in reality, the terms of a lease can be quite complex and cover a variety of considerations.

Understandably, your first concern when entering into a standard lease agreement is the rental amount you’ll be expected to pay, but don’t underestimate the importance of reading the entire document. Among other details, the lease agreement specifies important conditions under which you as a tenant can possess, occupy and use the property.

Here are a few things you should be aware of before signing a lease.

Pay attention to what is included in the lease

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Basic Information

At a minimum, the lease should include basic information about the rental, such as:

  • The correct physical address of the property
  • The landlord’s personal contact information
  • Effective date(s) of the agreement, including the beginning and end dates of the lease period
  • Options for lease renewal
  • How the rent price can be changed
  • List of appliances and furniture (if any) included in the rent

Renter's Guide - Additional Reading

Rental Amounts and Penalties

The next factor to check in the lease is what you are expected to pay and do, as the tenant of this unit. In particular, pay attention to the following:

  • The total rental cost per rental period;
  • How often rent is due (every week, month, or longer);
  • The day or date rent is due;
  • Acceptable methods of payment;
  • Grace period (if any) for late payments;
  • Fees or penalties for late payments.

Deposits and Additional Fees

In Canada, deposits and fees charged by landlords are provincially regulated. That means that every province may have slightly different rules when it comes to additional charges associated with rental units.

In general, there are six types of rental charges in Canada:

  1. Damage or security deposits;
  2. Rent deposits;
  3. Pet fees and/or pet deposits;
  4. Tenant service deposits (for example: parking, laundry fees, storage locker, etc.);
  5. Key deposits.

To appreciate the type of deposit or fee you may be charged, based on your province, refer to the chart below. Keep in mind that these deposits and fees apply to annual lease contracts. For other terms, such as month-to-month, please contact your local Landlord and Tenant Board.

Type of DepositBCABSKMBONQCNBNSNFLDPEIYTNWT NU
Security Deposit211123111
Last month's rent / deposit1
Pet fee (refundable)2661**555525
Pet fee (non-refundable)455555
Tenant services deposit2
Key deposit7666

Chart Legend:
1. Maximum one month’s rent
2. Maximum 50% of one month’s rent
3. Maximum 75% of one month’s rent
4. Deposit or fee must be reasonable and, typically, cannot exceed one month’s rent
5. These jurisdictions have no legal rules around deposits or fees
6. Deposit or fee may be included in the security deposit (total cannot exceed the maximum of one month’s rent)
7. Landlords may not charge for one, initial key, but may charge a fee for subsequent keys
** Ontario tenants can opt to pay a pet deposit, but landlords are not legally entitled to ask 

Your landlord can request a variety of deposits, most of which will be kept by your landlord for the duration of the agreement. These deposits are considered good faith money — a sum that shows you will take good care of the unit. It also means that barring the need to use this sum of money to rectify damage or dirt caused during your tenancy, the landlord should return the deposit money to you at the end of your tenancy (and, in some provinces, with interest).

Any fees or deposits owed must be clearly stipulated in the lease. That means that each amount you owe, along with the specific terms and conditions, must be written into the standard lease agreement along with the terms under which this money may or may not be returned to you at the end of your tenancy.

Utilities

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In some rental units, utilities are included in the rent; in other rental units, utilities (or a portion of utilities) or separate and must be paid by the tenant.

If the landlord pays for the utilities, make sure the lease is specific about the ways you could potentially lose this privilege. For example, a lease may state that no more than two people can live or stay in the rental unit; exceed this limit and the landlord may claim you are in breach of contract and, as a result, the landlord is no longer responsible for paying for non-essential utilities. (Keep in mind, it is illegal for the landlord to turn off the heat, but they are not required to provide hydro or other utilities.)

If you pay for the utilities, find out whether or not you share this cost with other tenants. If you do, find out how the bills are split. For instance, if you are required to pay 50% of the hydro, but you’re rarely in your rental unit, you may start to feel this is an unfair burden.

Whatever the case, specific details as to any agreed-upon payment arrangements and the parties responsible for paying them must be stipulated in the signed agreement to avoid confusion, not to mention to avoid the risk of late or missed payments.

Maintenance and Repairs

The lease should state what you are responsible for when it comes to maintenance of the property.

For instance, you may need to shovel snow or remove leaves from a street grate or a drain at the bottom of the stairs. You may be responsible for cleaning the garbage and recycling bins, among other duties.

By law, in most jurisdictions in Canada, you are not responsible for any maintenance to the external part of the property, unless you agreed to it (often by reading and signing the lease). For that reason, it’s very important to read the entire lease and to learn (and if necessary negotiate) what you will be responsible for, while a tenant at the rental unit.

Because certain repairs demand a significant amount of time and money, the lease terms should address such questions as who will arrange for necessary service calls and who will actually pay for the repairs.

To save yourself a lot of headaches — and potentially thousands of dollars — this is another component of the lease agreement that must be specified in advance in the interest of protecting both parties.

Pets and Animals

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As much as we love our furry friends and don’t want to leave them behind when we move to a new place, the reality is that not all landlords are comfortable — or welcoming — when it comes to our pets. Some might go so far as to include a clause prohibiting pets altogether, or prohibiting certain breeds of pets, such as larger dogs over a certain weight threshold.

Additionally, you might be required to provide a “pet deposit” that the landlord may have to spend on flea treatments, house cleaning and any other services deemed necessary to restore the property to its original condition after you and your pet have moved out.

If you are a tenant in Saskatchewan, you may be asked to supply “pet rent.” This money may be used to cover any damage (visible or not) that might be caused by your pet to the property throughout the lease.

House Rules

Every tenancy and in some standard lease agreements, it should be made clear what the landlord will (or will not) allow you to do while residing in the property. While yearly leases offer more restrictions (on what rules the landlord can impose, say, on overnight guests), it’s best to ask about all house rules, particularly policies related to:

  • Maximum occupancy
  • Quiet hours
  • Overnight guests
  • Parking and storage
  • Smoking
  • Landlord right of entry
  • Granting access to maintenance workers
  • Property alterations
  • Long absences (on your part)
  • Insurance
  • Eviction

In addition to these more obvious concerns, ask your landlord if they have any other rules to be observed while you occupy the property. If so, make sure to document them as specifically as possible to minimize the likelihood of future disagreements.

Termination of the Agreement

Be aware of your rights and responsibilities surrounding the termination of the lease agreement. For example, how much advance notice is required? What exactly are you responsible for prior to moving out? Who will clean the property before you leave? Is sub-letting an option under your lease? Finally, what penalties can result if you fail to meet any or all of these conditions?

Once the lease has been signed into effect by all parties, make sure to keep a copy so you have a record of who is responsible for what and can jog your memory in the event of any problems or disputes that might arise while the agreement is in effect.

Protect your rights as a tenant by investing the time for a detailed review of the terms of your lease. If there is any aspect of it that you feel unsure about, you can always ask the landlord for clarification, or work with a real estate specialist who can help you better understand your legal responsibilities. Many details that may not be stipulated within the terms of a standard lease agreement are regulated by law, so it’s always smart to have an expert who can advise you on the best course of action to protect your interests.

Renter's Guide - Additional Reading

Romana King
Romana King

Romana King is an award-winning personal finance writer and the current director of content for Zolo. King has contributed to business and lifestyle publications including CBC.ca, Toronto Sun, Maclean’s, MoneySense, Globe & Mail Custom Content Team, and Toronto Star. She is a passionate speaker about financial education and engages her audience on a variety of personal finance topics from kids and money, home buying and selling tips, and estate and investment planning. King won the 2015 SABEW Business Journalism award and is currently nominated for a COPA 2019 award, Best Service Article, for her annual project Best Deals in Real Estate. As editor of CI Top Broker, King guided her magazine to obtain its first KRW Business Journalism nomination, and she was part of the small team in 2011 that helped MoneySense win Magazine of the Year at the 34th annual National Magazine Awards.