Making Your Tenancy Agreement
Do make sure the plumbing, electrical and appliances work, and check for mold in bathrooms and around windows, in closets and under carpets. Don't sign a tenancy agreement that you do not understand or have not fully read.
- 1 Protect yourself
- 2 Terms in the agreement
- 3 Pets
- 4 Leases (fixed-term tenancies)
- 5 Deposits and paying rent
- 6 Condition when you move in
- 7 Legislation and links
The Residential Tenancy Act requires that your landlord provide you with a written tenancy agreement. The reason for this is that when an agreement is written, you have proof of what you and your landlord agreed to. This proof can come in handy if you have problems later on. Tenancy agreements tend to protect landlord's interests, but may not protect yours. Before signing make sure you can live with the terms of the agreement.
Understand your agreement
Make sure you understand what you are agreeing to. Read every word carefully, or have someone help you read the agreement. Do not sign the agreement until you are sure about what it says.
Get everything in writing. If your landlord agrees to clean or do repairs before you move in, write this in the agreement. If you add or change anything in the agreement, both you and your landlord should write your initials beside every change.
Ask your landlord to cross off any parts of the agreement you want changed. For example, if the agreement says “no pets allowed” but your landlord says you can keep your dog, change that section or cross it off. Both you and the landlord should write your initials beside the change.
Get a copy of the signed agreement and keep it in a safe place. If the landlord breaks a promise, it will be hard for you to prove anything without your own copy.
Get your landlord's name, address and phone number. You need to know with whom you are dealing. Get the name and phone number of the manager or agent you talk with, too. If a landlord or property manager does not want to provide this information, you should reconsider renting from them.
Make sure you know what your rent includes. Does it include parking, cablevision, heat, and light? Or do you have to pay for these things separately? Is this written down in the agreement?
Do not agree to put utilities for units other than yours in your own name. You should not be made responsible for collecting money from tenants in other units. Insist that the bills for shared utilities, like gas and hydro, are put in the landlord's name.
If you live in a house with more than one unit where the utilities for the whole house are shared between the units, make sure your agreement specifies how many other people are living in the house and what your portion of the utilities are. For example, if additional tenants move into a suite with which you share utilities, your portion of the bill could also increase if you only agreed to pay a percentage of the total cost.
Your copy of the agreement
Legally the landlord must give you a copy of the tenancy agreement no later than 21 days after you sign it. Insist on receiving a copy as soon as possible after it is signed.
Verbal agreements: While the landlord is required to provide a written tenancy agreement with you when you move in, the law still protects you even if you only have a verbal agreement. Furthermore, if you didn't have a written agreement to begin with you do not have to sign one later on if the landlord tries to change terms that you agreed to verbally.
New landlord: If you get a new landlord, the rules in your old agreement will stay the same. A new landlord can't make you sign a new agreement. For example, if your place is sold the new owner would have to follow the same rules about rent increases as if your landlord had never changed.
Terms in the agreement
Some things are automatically included in every tenancy agreement, like hot water and locks on the doors. These are basic rights for every tenant. Even if these things are not listed in your agreement, you still have a right to them. Other things are “extras”, like laundry facilities or a parking space. A tenancy agreement includes the things the landlord agrees to provide. It also lists the rules you agree to, like where you can store things.
Be sure to get the “extras” in writing. Your landlord can't change your tenancy agreement unless you both agree. For example, your landlord can't make you start paying for heat if that was not part of your original agreement.
The Residential Tenancy Act allows landlords to take away or restrict certain services if you are compensated with a rent reduction and if the services are not essential to your tenancy. Therefore, it is important to make sure your agreement states everything that is included in your tenancy agreement. See sections 14 and 27 of the RTA.
Illegal parts of a tenancy agreement
There are some things a landlord can't put in a tenancy agreement because they are illegal. For example, your agreement might say, "the landlord may enter your suite at any time." This is illegal. The law sets strict limits on when your landlord can come in, and this cannot be changed by the tenancy agreement. Your landlord cannot make you agree to terms that give up your protections under the Residential Tenancy Act.
In BC, there is no law that allows tenants to have a pet. In fact, the Residential Tenancy Act explicitly gives landlords the right to refuse pets, or to charge an extra deposit for accepting pets. In order to keep a pet you need to have a term in your tenancy agreement that allows you to keep a pet. If your tenancy agreement doesn't allow pets, and you get one anyway, your landlord can tell you to remove it. If you don't, the landlord might give you an eviction notice. See section 18 of the RTA.
If you have an assistance animal covered by the Guide Animal Act your landlord has to accept it. You must not be charged a pet deposit for an animal covered by the Guide Animal Act.
Leases (fixed-term tenancies)
You may agree to rent a place for a certain length of time, like six months or one year. This is called a lease, or a fixed-term tenancy agreement. Leases are often good for landlords, but not always good for tenants. However, a lease can protect you from eviction in some cases (like if the landlord wants to move into your suite or sell it).
Don't sign a lease unless you are sure you want to live in the place. You can't break a lease because you didn't do a careful enough inspection of the suite before you moved in, and decide after moving in that you don't like it.
There may be parts of the lease that allow the landlord to break the lease and force you to move. This helps the landlord, but does not help you at all. Read the lease very carefully.
Breaking a lease
If you need to break a lease, be aware that you may have to pay rent until your landlord rents the place out to someone else or until the term of your lease is over. This is what a lease means, whether it is stated explicitly in the agreement or not. Many leases say that you have to pay a certain amount of money in order to get out of the lease. The amount charged to you cannot be charged as a penalty, but instead is meant to cover the landlord's cost of re-renting the place. This amount is called "liquidated damages." A landlord cannot say that you will lose your damage deposit if you break your lease unless it is a reasonable estimate of what it will cost the landlord to re-rent the place.
Two kinds of leases
There are two kinds of leases:
- A lease that says you must move out at the end of the lease. You can only stay if you sign a new agreement with the landlord. Be careful! The new agreement does not have to contain the same terms because it is, in effect, a new tenancy. Also, rent can start at any amount because it is a new agreement.
- A lease that says you must stay for a certain length of time, but doesn't say when you must move out. This type of lease is better for tenants. With this type of lease, if you want to stay on after the lease ends and rent month-to-month, you do not have to sign a new agreement. If you want to move on the date that your lease expires, you must give a full month's notice in writing to your landlord.
If you get a new landlord
If your place is sold, the new landlord can't make you a sign a new lease, or change the rules in your agreement. The new landlord also can't evict you for landlord use until the fixed-term lease expires.
If your landlord gives you a new agreement when you are already living in a place, you don't have to sign it if you have a month-to-month tenancy or a lease that goes month-to-month at the end of the term of the lease. However, you would have to sign a new agreement if you have a fixed-term lease that ends on a certain date with the stipulation that you have to move out at the end of the term. It's best to avoid fixed-term agreements with a move out date because the landlord may change the terms or raise the rent if you want to sign a new agreement and stay.
Deposits and paying rent
Security deposit and pet damage deposit
A landlord can ask you for a security deposit (also called a damage deposit) of a half month's rent to cover the cost of damage you do or rent you do not pay. A landlord can also ask you for a pet damage deposit of a half month's rent to cover any damage done by your pet. See the section on Security Deposits and Additional Fees.
Changing your mind
Don't pay any money unless you are sure that you want the place. Don't sign anything and don't give any money to the landlord until all of your questions are answered. If you pay a deposit and then change your mind, you might not be able to get your money back. If the landlord can't rent the place to someone else, they might try to make you pay the month's rent.
Some landlords ask tenants to pay a deposit when they apply to rent a place. The application says that the deposit will be put towards the security deposit or the first month's rent if the tenant is accepted. This is illegal. Landlords cannot collect application fees, or collect deposits except at the time a tenancy agreement has been entered into. Some tenants who have paid these illegal application deposits have found it difficult to get their money back. You may want to reconsider renting from a landlord who would charge an illegal application “deposit.” See the section on Security Deposits and Additional Fees.
Rent is due on the first day of the month, unless you have a different agreement with your landlord. It is your responsibility to make sure your landlord gets the rent on time each month. If you don't pay the full rent on the due date, the landlord can try to evict you. See the section on Evictions.
When you pay rent
- Pay by cheque or money order if you can.
- The law requires that the landlord give you a receipt if you pay in cash, but you need to make sure you get it. If you pay cash and don't get a receipt, you have no proof that you paid rent to the landlord.
- If the landlord won't sign a receipt, ask a friend or neighbour watch you count the money over to the landlord. They can be your witness if the landlord says you didn't pay.
- Keep your receipts and cancelled cheques in a safe place. You might need them later.
- If you refuse to move in because the place is dirty or needs repairs, you may lose your money. If you gave the landlord a security deposit of one half month's rent, you may have to pay more. The landlord can take you to dispute resolution to get the rent.
|| If you don't move in
Once you give the landlord a deposit, you have established a contract. If you decide not to move in, the landlord can make you pay the month's rent, unless another tenant moves in. If you didn't move in because there was a serious risk to your health or safety, you will need proof. For example, take photographs of the problem or ask a health inspector to come to the place. If you need repairs right away, you can take the landlord to dispute resolution.
Condition when you move in
Condition inspection report
The law in BC requires that you do a condition inspection report with the landlord when you move in and when you move out of your place. You must also do a condition report when you begin keeping a pet if you did not do one when you moved in. See the section on Condition Inspection Reports.
Repairs and cleaning
Your landlord must make sure your new place is clean and that everything works—before you move in. However, don't just expect that your landlord will have done this. You should protect yourself by checking everything before you move in! If the place needs repairs or cleaning right away, give your landlord a list of what needs to be done. Give the landlord a deadline for completing the repairs and cleaning. Sign and date the list, and keep a copy. See the section on Repairs and Services.
If you must clean the place in order to move in, you may be able to get money back for your labour and the cost of cleaning supplies and equipment. Keep your receipts. You may have to go to dispute resolution to get money back from the landlord. You will need proof of the condition of the place before and after you cleaned.
In many municipalities, secondary suites, such as basement suites in houses, are not permitted and are considered “illegal.” However, illegal suites are covered by the Residential Tenancy Act and you are protected by this provincial law just as you would be in any other type of tenancy—except that the suite may be shut down by the municipality if the municipality has a policy of shutting down secondary suites. If this happens the tenant could have to move with as little as one month's notice. If you are renting a suite in a house try to find out if it is a legal suite. If it is not, find out what the municipality's policies are on closing down illegal suites. In terms of dealing with your landlord, you have the same rights as any other tenant even if you live in an illegal suite.
|| Get it in writing
Ask the landlord or manager what the rent includes. Ask if the heat, lights, cablevision, laundry, fridge, stove, storage or parking are included in the rent. Also, make sure the agreement states if use of a yard or recreational facilities, such as a swimming pool, are included. Tell the landlord that you want a written agreement that lists the things included in the rent. If the landlord makes a promise to paint, clean or fix something, get that in writing too.
Many tenants move into a place only to find that it is not suitable to their personal situation. For example, if you are allergic to cigarette smoke, make sure your written tenancy agreement states that it is a non-smoking building. If the landlord breaks your agreement by allowing a smoker to move in next door when you had an agreement that it was a non-smoking building, you may be able to claim for compensation from the landlord. However, if your written agreement does not mention it, and you later find that you can't tolerate the smoking, it may be you who has to pay if you are breaking a lease or moving without proper notice. The same is true with pets. While your agreement may say that you are not allowed to have pets, other people in the building who have lived there longer may have different agreements. Don't assume your agreement is the same as anyone else's in the building. If you don't want to live in a building with pets make sure your agreement clearly states that there are no pets in the building.
Always make sure
Always make sure:
- the agreement is dated,
- the agreement is signed by both you and your landlord,
- both you and your landlord put your initials beside any changes to the agreement,
- the agreement says the same things you and your landlord agreed to when you spoke (if you don't put it in writing, it is not part of the agreement), and
- you get a copy of the agreement right away (in case you need proof).
- Residential Tenancy Branch
- RTB Policy Guideline 20 - Illegal Contracts
- RTB Policy Guideline 28 - Pet Clauses
- RTB Policy Guideline 29 - Security Deposits
- RTB Policy Guideline 30 - Fixed-Term Tenancies
- RTB Policy Guideline 31 - Pet Damage Deposits
Resources and forms
- TRAC Template Demand Letters - Request for Copy of Tenancy Agreement, Change to Tenancy Agreement, Request for Locks to be Re-Keyed at Start of Tenancy, and Request for a Rent Receipt
- Renting it Right- Videos on Tenancy Agreements
- RTB Residential Tenancy Agreement
- RTB Manufactured Home Site Tenancy Agreement
- RTB Condition Inspection Report
|This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Tenant Resource & Advisory Centre, 2012.|
|Tenant Survival Guide © TRAC Tenant Resource & Advisory Centre is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada Licence.|