What's a lease?
When you rent an apartment, a home or a room in a house, you will typically have to sign a lease, which is a written agreement between you and your landlord.
The lease, or residential tenancy agreement, is a contract that outlines all the responsibilities of both landlords and tenants, and what’s owed. As of April 30, 2018, landlords of most private residential rental units -- from individual landlords to property management companies -- will be required to use a standard lease.
It’s important to have everything in writing so you know what you’re responsible for, and so you don’t end up paying for things you don’t have to.
What rent do I owe when I sign a lease?
Every month, you must pay your landlord rent. The amount you owe and the date you’re supposed to pay by is written in the lease. Usually, this is the first of every month. If you move in in the middle of the month but you owe rent at the beginning of every month, then you’re only required to pay a portion of the rent for the first month.
Your landlord can also ask you to pay a security deposit. The amount they ask for cannot be more than one month’s rent. When you decide to move out, the landlord can use the deposit as your last month’s rent. They can’t use the money for anything else, like damages. Every year, the landlord must pay you interest on the deposit equal to the year’s rent increase guideline.
If you give your landlord a deposit but for some reason your landlord can’t let you move into the unit by the date agreed upon, they must return the deposit to you unless you agree to rent a different unit.
Once you move in, you can pay rent every month when it's due through:
- Cheques or money orders
- Debit or credit card
- Pre-authorized bank withdrawals
- Post-dated cheques
- Interac e-transfers
Your landlord must provide you rent receipts every month and they are not allowed to charge a fee for this. You can ask for receipts for the payments you made for up to one year after you move out.
Your landlord cannot force you to give them post-dated cheques or automatic payments, but you can choose to do so if you want to.
What happens if I don't pay my rent on time?
If your landlord goes to deposit your cheque and it bounces because your bank account has non-sufficient funds (NSF), then your landlord can ask you to pay a fee (to a maximum of $20), plus any NSF charges they had to pay to their own bank.
If you don’t pay rent on time, your landlord can give you a notice to end the tenancy. You have the right to ask your landlord for a receipt for rent or deposit, up to 12 months after you move out.
Your landlord can also increase your rent periodically. Learn more about that by reading our article on rent increases.
What else can landlords ask tenants to pay for?
In the standard lease, your landlord can ask for a key deposit. The deposit is refundable and must be paid back to you when you move out
The amount of the key deposit can’t be more than the expected cost of replacing the key.
If you lose the key, your landlord may charge you for replacing it, but again, the amount you pay can’t be more than what it actually costs to replace the key.
Your landlord can require you to have liability insurance at all times. You can choose to get contents insurance if you want to.
If someone gets hurt in your apartment, you might be financially responsible. Liability insurance usually covers up to $1 million for the amount you’d have to pay someone who successfully sues you.
Contents insurance covers the cost to repair or replace household items, for example if someone breaks into your home and steals your belongings, or there’s damage due to a fire or flood.
Utilities and Services
Your landlord must provide you vital services, like:
Gas and heat
A minimum temperature of 20 C from September 1 to June 15
The cost of these can be included in the rent, or your landlord can ask you to pay for them separately. Apart from the ones mentioned above, you may also have to pay for:
Additional storage space
Remember, everything your landlord asks you to pay for MUST must be specified in the standard lease. Read over your contract carefully before you sign, and make sure you’re not being forced to pay for things your landlord can’t legally ask for, like damage deposits.
If I'm falling behind on rent, where can I get help?
If you have low income, your local community legal clinic may be able to help you find solutions. You can find your clinic on legalaid.on.ca or call Legal Aid Ontario at 1-800-558-8258.
You may also be able to get free legal advice from Pro Bono Ontario's hotline at 1-855-255-7256.
The Federation of Metro Tenants' Associations offers specific questions about your rights as a tenant. You can call their hotline at 416-921-9494 or email them at email@example.com.