Thinking about renting a house? Even though the decision seems less serious than making an actual purchase, remember that the property you choose will become your home for the upcoming months or years. As much as we all decide based on our feelings, it’s vital to keep your decision-making at least a bit rational. Check out our list of eleven issues you need to address before signing a contract. People sometimes forget about these steps to avoid unnecessary disappointment after moving in.
Deposit and Rent
While this sounds like a completely obvious point, it’s always good to double-check exactly how much in deposit and rent you're supposed to pay before you actually sign a lease agreement. For example, many people tend to forget that a weekly rental price times four doesn’t add up to a full calendar month, and they lose money.
Another thing to consider is how much money your landlord demands as an up-front payment — including both the rent and deposit. If you're asked to pay for more than an equivalent of two months’ rent as a deposit, something is probably wrong with the offer. The same applies to being asked to pay more than a month’s rent upon moving in, and the last thing that you need is a landlord with financial problems. Even if you’ve found the property of your dreams and you’re willing to take a risk, remember that if a landlord or his company goes bankrupt, you will be left homeless with shorter notice than you’d imagine.
Even though you certainly intend to pay your rent on time, let’s face it — unless you order your bank to do the money transfer regularly and leave it up to yourself, you simply forget to make a payment exactly on time. While some landlords don’t make a fuss about tenants being late a day or two, others may charge extra fees for every day after the rent is due. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation is quite strict here:
"The day after rent is due, if it is unpaid; the landlord can give a “Notice to terminate for nonpayment of rent.” The tenant then has 14 days if they are monthly or yearly renters, and 7 days if they are daily or weekly renters, to pay. If this grace period passes and no rent has been paid, the landlord can file an application with the Landlord and Tenant Board for rent arrears."
Clearly, bringing up this issue may raise an eyebrow with your landlord, but it’s important to know what to expect in any case.
Water and Heating Systems
Many people rent during the summer and forget to make sure the heating system is in good condition. However, checking whether water and heating systems work well is vital before moving to a new home, since whenever something goes wrong here, it often demands quite extensive and tiring repairs.
Utility costs can often turn out to be a catch in seemingly perfect properties. Does the house have romantic old windows and high ceilings? Before falling in love with the house, think about how much energy will be needed to heat up the place. Tom Sykora from Montreal shares his experience:
"When I rented my first apartment, I was so excited about it that I completely forgot to ask about utility costs. And guess what. My excitement was gone as soon as the first bills arrived."
To avoid these unpleasant surprises, make sure to clarify whether any utilities are already included in the rental price or whether the approximate utility value is included in your monthly rent payment and handled by the landlord. Some owners like to leave the utilities entirely to the tenants, which means extra paperwork for you — but you will be 100 per cent sure you're paying just what you really cost. Before you sign anything, try to get an estimate on your monthly expenses — either by asking the landlord for utility bills or simply calling your local utility companies and finding out about previous expenditures.
Find out the extent of the maintenance services the landlord provides. Whether it’s an ant infestation or a broken electrical socket, it’s important to know who pays for the repairs and professional help before you move in. You should also find out whom you're supposed to contact in case such issues arise and you should establish a usual period for the landlord to handle them. The general rule is simple:
“If something breaks because of the tenant’s fault, then the tenant will have to pay for repairs,”
says Zvi Rudawsky, principal of Boutique Apartments in Denver, Colorado, for CBS Chicago. However, if something breaks as a result of long use, the landlord should cover the repair costs.
Always ask if the house has been tested for harmful substances such as radon, lead, and asbestos. Even though you shouldn’t encounter problems in newer developments, some older houses might still include these harmful chemicals. Generally, landlords are obligated to give you thorough information on these issues, but it’s always best to consult an expert report before moving in and risking your family’s health.
Some landlords welcome redecorating, while others expect tenants to leave a property in exactly the same state they found it in. While you might pick a beautiful new colour for your kitchen and decide to get yourself a brand new floor in a bedroom, your landlord might not be entirely happy with the new design. Before starting with home adjustments, make sure to find out whether redecorating is allowed and what happens after you move out.
Don’t let yourself be rushed during the apartment viewing. Relax for a moment and listen to the sounds of the house and the neighbourhood when everyone is quiet, as that’s what the home will often be like if you move in. Can you hear any annoying buzzing and whirring? Whether it’s the fridge, an electrical circuit, the heating system, or music from a neighbouring home, it’s important to realize it will probably not go away. Try to visualize yourself living in the house and decide whether the noise level is still acceptable to you.
Some landlords don't tolerate smoking on their property, so if you'd like to enjoy your morning coffee with a cigarette, make sure to ask about this in advance. The good news is that while landlords can include a no-smoking clause to your contract, the situation is very similar to pets: they can't evict you on the grounds of breaking the no-smoking rule. To justify an eviction, the landlord must prove that the tenant's smoking habit infringes upon others' enjoyment of the property or damages it. However, Ontario legal provisions allow landlords to ask whether you're a smoker prior to signing a lease, so be prepared for a bit of legal discrimination.
Not many people know that under the Residential Tenancies Act, a landlord can't evict you for having a pet despite signing a “no pets” clause in your lease. However, according to Jennifer Ramsay’s analysis for Torontoist.com, the Ontario Human Rights Legal Support Centre says you can still get evicted if your pet is causing property damage, noise disturbances, an allergic reaction — issues that aren't directly connected to pet ownership but that infringe on others' rights. It seems that the law is on the pet owners’ side. On the other hand, it’s still wise to discuss pets with a prospective landlord first so that you don’t involuntarily become a homeless pet owners' rights advocate. Note: If you are renting a Condominium with a no-pet policy please remember that you must abide by all Condominium rules.
Penalties for Breaking the Lease
You never know what could happen. You might get an unexpected job transfer or fall in love and wish to move to Spain four months into your year-long lease agreement. It’s nice to know what the conditions are if you need to break the lease before its end. Check the fees that apply and see what options you’d have. Some landlords simply demand two months' notice, while others have a special policy that applies in these cases.
There is a lot of great information for Landlords and Tenants including forms here.
Title Photo by Tommerton2010