Renting an apartment can seem intimidating, but many places now have simple rent agreements that can make the process a lot easier – and help you figure out what you’re allowed to push back on if you feel your landlord may be stepping over a line.
“People feel like they’re under a lot of pressure when they go in (to rent), so they can take a look at a (blank landlord tenant lease agreement) before they meet with a landlord and see the different sections of the lease … (and) have some familiarity of what to expect,” said Dania Majid, a lawyer with The Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario.
In Ontario, for instance, landlords have to use a document called the Ontario Standard Lease, which was brought in on April of 2018 and has to be used by anyone renting a house or apartment.
It’s meant to lay out a tenant’s rights and responsibilities in plain language and provide additional resources and information tenants can use if they run into problems.
Typically, when you opt to rent an apartment, you visit the property in person, speak with the landlord or property manager, and fill out a lease application.
The standard lease will include the tenants’ names, the property’s address, the landlord’s contact information, as well as how much the rent is and when it’s due.
It also lists what’s included in the rent, such as utilities, parking, or any party rooms you may have access to, as well as information about who’s responsible for repairs and maintenance, when the landlord can enter your unit, and what landlords can’t do.
“You really want to be aware of what your rent gets you because that really outlines the nature of your contract with the landlord,” Majid said.
Your responsibilities, outlined in the Ontario Residential Tenancies Act but reinforced through the standard form lease, include duties like being a good tenant and neighbour, caring for your space and giving proper notice if you plan to move out.
Your prospective landlord can ask questions about your income and credit history, as well as the name of a guarantor or references, but can’t get into whether, for instance, you’re married, a citizen, or planning to have children.
“The standard form lease is supposed to guide the landlord in terms of the types of legal questions they could ask, but really it comes down to income and trying to make sure the tenant can afford the rent that’s being charged, and really it shouldn’t go beyond that,” said Majid.
Landlords are also allowed to ask for a deposit for last’s month’s rent and a refundable key deposit, but not first and last month’s rent, since the amount can’t be more than one month’s rent or the rent for one rental period (for instance, one week if you’re paying rent weekly). They also can’t charge you more than the actual cost of replacement for a lost key.
Landlords can also increase the rent once every 12 months, but only by however much the Landlord and Tenant Board’s guidelines approve that year. They also have to give tenants at least 90 days notice ahead of an increase. If municipal taxes drop below 2.49 per cent, landlords are actually obliged to reduce the rent.
You cannot be evicted with due process, nor can a landlord shut off your water or electricity, go into your apartment without notice or prevent you from having guests or pets.
If your landlord’s behaviour is making you uncomfortable, you can check with the Landlord and Tenant Board or the Human Rights Commission to see if you have grounds to file a complaint.
But if the issue is minor, such as a leaky faucet, you should check in with your landlord before taking any kind of legal action. That type of issue can likely be solved with a phone call.
“It really depends on the situation and what kind of solution the tenant is looking for,” Majid said.
It’s also important to remember that an oral agreement will still be considered a valid contract, so the rights and responsibilities outlined under the Landlord and Tenant Act will apply even if you rent without a lease – some issues may just be harder to prove.
Overall, standardized lease agreements such as the Ontario Standard Lease are meant to make the process easier for renters, and came about after a push by tenant advocates for a standard form, a simple rent agreement, that was easy to understand, included pertinent information available in multiple languages and laid out all the legal terms of the tenancy.
One section of the Ontario Standard Lease advocates still worry about is the “additional terms,” where landlords can add any terms they choose.
“If there is anything illegal, those terms are void under the standard form lease, but they should be aware that illegal clauses could creep up through that section of the lease,” said Majid.
“We still caution tenants to make sure they read through those terms carefully.”