What Tenants Should Know
When you conduct your inspection of the rental unit to determine whether you want to rent, make sure that everything is clean and in working order.
If there is something that does not meet your criteria then discuss it with the landlord and ask if the landlord is willing to rectify the problem.
The problem should be fixed prior to move in and/or a reasonable explanation in writing from the landlord as to why it isn't.Landlord responsibilities include insuring that the rental is a safe and clean environment. If those responsibilities are not met and the landlord is not willing to rectify the problem, then it might not be a good rental choice.
If your landlord agrees to rectify the problem but has not yet started before you move in, make sure to take pictures and get a document with signature that the landlord has agreed to fix the issue(s). If the problem is not rectified you will have documentation proving that the landlord responsibilities have not been fulfilled and that you as the tenant where not responsible for causing the issue(s) in the first instance. This is especially important if the issue is a safety or health one that might cause you to end up breaking the lease.
Did the landlord seem to be mindful of your request(s) during the inspection? Was the hallway, exterior of the building and the parking lot clean? Did it appear as though general maintenance was being conducted on a regular basis? Is this a place that meets your criteria and will you be able to make it your home?
The tenant has the right to expect a livable rental unit. Livability means that the unit should:
- Be weather and waterproof
- Have working plumbing
- Provide enough hot and cold running water
- Have a working heating system
- Have an electrical system in good working order
- Be free from infestations of insects and rodent
- Have sufficient trash cans
- Have floors, stairways and railings in good repair
- Have natural lighting in every room
- Have working windows that open at least halfway or mechanical ventilation
- Have safe fire or emergency exits leading to street or hallway
- Have a working deadbolt lock on main entrance
- Have working security devices on windows
- Have working smoke detectors
Tenant responsibilities include informing the landlord of any maintenance issues that need attention or fixing. i.e. leaky pipes or taps or hot water tank malfunction. It is the landlord's responsibility to ensure that maintenance issues or fixes are dealt with. If the landlord is not willing to deal with his/her responsibilities then further action can be taken and local/applicable landlord tenant laws should be consulted to determine what course of action might be taken. Generally though the power of reasoning and reasonability should solve most issues. Knowing tenant rights and responsibilities for your Province is important. The best way to protect yourself is to educate yourself with respect to tenant rights and responsibilities... know what they are!
Breaking a Rental Lease
Even the most fastidious tenant might at some point have to breaking lease because of a job transfer, a health problem, or eloping to Ethiopia . If you have any suspicion that you might have to move out before your lease term is up, the best way to head off problems is to tailor your rental search accordingly. Even if you're midway through your term, these tips will help you through the process of an early breakup with your rental.
Look before you lease
While you're perusing that crisp new lease, on the verge of committing yourself to a yearlong rental, hold that teetering pen a minute. If the term of your lease seems dicey for any reason, consider a shorter-term rental or a month-to-month contract. You'll sacrifice some security rents can rise between renewals, or your landlord may decide not to renew but the bucket of money you'll save versus breaking lease on a long term contract is worth the price of some nail-chewing, or even a slightly higher rent. (This type of agreement is also riskier for landlords, since it costs them extra time, energy, and money to fill more frequent vacancies.)
Another solution may be to rent from an individual rather than a corporation. Despite their best intentions, managers of rental complexes often have less flexibility to negotiate when a tenant has to vacate before the lease is up.
As with most contracts, lease guidelines vary by province. Members of the military, for example, can in some provinces, under some conditions; legally "break" a lease without repercussions, but even this isn't a universal truth. Find out what your tenant rights and options and make sure you are aware of the different tenant landlord laws for your Province. Provincial laws and guidelines are easy to find on the Web.
Negotiating an Early-Release Clause
Any lease agreement worth the price of admission will spell out your and your landlord's obligations if one of you ends up breaking rental agreement/lease. But even if you hope to stay in your rental until death do you part, it's smart to add an "early-release clause" in case an emergency arises.
Most early-release clauses state that in case of early departure, the tenant owes one or two months of extra rent or will be responsible for payments until a new tenant is found whichever happens first as well as the standard moving out requirements required by the lease when vacating a rental. The tenant's security deposit may also be forfeited, if allowed by the province. This may sound painful, but keep in mind that we're talking about breaking a legally binding contract, and try to be humble.
In most provinces, landlords aren't required to negotiate terms not covered in the original lease or subsequent written amendments. This gives you extra reason to be polite and reasonable during lease negotiations. If a problem does occur in the future, your landlord will know that your heart is in the right place.
Running on Empty
Suppose you signed a boilerplate lease with no early-release clause, and you've been in your new place for three months. Suddenly you have a job offer you can't refuse, but it's in Boston and you're in Beloit ; or you take a sudden, fatal hit on your income and can't afford your monthly rent; or your apartment turns out to have mildew problems and your landlord has ignored your health complaints. Here are some do's and don'ts to help you make the best of things when you're running on empty.
- Be straight-up. If your reason for wanting to move might be fixed with a putty knife or an honest conversation, make an appointment to talk with your landlord. Don't be shy; this is your home.
- Treat your landlord with respect. Let her know as soon as possible that you might have to break your lease, so that you can discuss the possibilities and she can get started on finding a replacement. In most Provinces, by the way, landlords are required by law to make an earnest effort to fill vacancies, even if a tenant breaks a lease.
- Ask your landlord if she is amenable to a new leaseholder or sub lessee taking over the remainder of your lease. (The new tenant would be subject to her approval, of course.) If this was disallowed in the original lease and she agrees to an amendment, be sure to put it in writing, with both of your signatures, and don't walk away without a copy. A cautionary note: If you sublet, as the primary leaseholder you will still be responsible for future rent payments, property damage, and the like if the sub lessee defaults on payments. If a new tenant becomes the leaseholder, you're out of the picture. While that might make you happier, either option is preferable to being unprotected.
- Show your landlord that you care. Offer to locate a new sub lessee or leaseholder yourself. Contact friends, family, and coworkers for leads, and be willing to place and pay for ads.
- Be first to bring up compensations for your landlord for the trouble your situation presents to her, using the early-release clause guidelines as a starting point.
- Take off without notice. Think of every rental experience as being married to your credit report. If you skip out, not only do you lose the chance to build up your credit, but it can also create a deep, dark gouge in your credit report, affecting your future ability to qualify for a credit card or buy a house or car. Worse it could end up being reported as credit fraud.
- "Pretend" you're still a tenant. Your landlord deserves to expect that his property is occupied, and it's almost certain that your lease provinces that as a condition. Believe it or not, it's not all about money: If you vacate, the law is rarely on your side, even if you're religious about sending payments. You can be held in default, and your landlord may have legal claim to your belongings.
- Be defensive about negotiations. The point here is to accomplish three things: 1) move; 2) maintain a good landlord-tenant relationship; and 3) avoid blemishing your credit history. The quickest way to guarantee a bad ending is to come out of the wild blue threatening a lawsuit, especially since you probably wouldn't come out as the winner.
Disputes and Other Worst-Case Scenarios
If your efforts to negotiate go bust, what's the worst that could happen? You could end up being forced to stay or forced to pay, depending on the wording of your lease. If you vacate without an early-release clause, in addition to continuing responsibility for monthly rent you might have to pay for your landlord's advertising, cleaning, and other costs.
When a tenant breaks a lease, the law is almost invariably on the landlord's side, so you can be fairly sure that pursuing a solution in small claims court would add to your debt rather than come to your aid. If you've tried negotiating and your landlord still won't give an inch, your final option may be to contact a mediator. Mediators are usually publicly funded and available free or at low cost. To find out whether one is available in your area, contact the office of your mayor or city manager and ask to talk with someone about housing disputes or landlord-tenant mediation.
If your dispute stems from your landlord not abiding by the lease terms say, by not fixing a leaky ceiling or ignoring an environmental hazard again, try first to iron it out with a discussion. If this ends in a standoff, for health-related issues contact your local Health Department. They'll do an inspection and, if necessary, pursue action against the landlord themselves, without your having to get involved or end up breaking a rental agreement/lease.
From stress to success
Moving is stressful even under the best of circumstances. The fact that you might end up breakinga rental agreement/lease in order to do so adds an extra financial and emotional dimension for both you and your landlord. With this in mind, address your landlord with respect and willingness to compromise. You might both even get what you want.
General tenant responsibilities include:
Tenants must honor their lease agreements by:
- Paying rent on time
- Keeping the unit clean and sanitary that includes windows and window coverings and carpets/floors
- Using gas, electrical, and plumbing fixtures properly and for the purpose intended
- Fixing or paying for repairs of things they damage which includes burnt out light bulbs and broken screen doors or windows etc.
- Not removing anything from the structures or buildings that they have not put there i.e. smoke alarm, fire alarm, security lights or any other device or item that might jeopardize the safety of tenants.
- Not adding anything to the structure either inside or out without the written consent of the landlord that includes painting.
- Using the premises as a place to live with the rooms used for their intended purpose.
- Only allowing named Individuals on the lease to reside there.
- Advising the landlord ASAP of dangerous situations that need to be rectified immediately to minimize building damage, risk of physical harm to you or any Individual. Tenants have both a legal and a moral obligation to report criminal activity that involves liability issues. i.e. any criminal activity that puts the tenant(s) or landlord at risk for potential of serious harm. TIP: Use some common sense and good moral judgement. If in doubt speak with a knowledgeable person about the dilemma and get some advice on reporting to the landlord.
General tenant responsibilities include:
Tenants should show respect by:
- Adhering to the lease agreement as noted above
- Treating the landlord or property manager with respect
- Respecting the rights and privacy of other tenants
- Allowing other tenants and the landlord the quiet and peaceful enjoyment of a multifamily dwelling.
- Parking where you are suppose to
- Not yelling or swearing so as to cause a disturbance or offend anyone
- Being helpful in a situation that benefits others
- Treating others as you expect to be treated
- Never becoming involved in a heated argument or a physical confrontation
- By letting common sense and good judgement prevail
Moving Out of a Rental
Getting a Jump on Moving Day
No one looks forward to moving day, but it's almost as inevitable as death and taxes. If you're planning a move, the kindest thing you can do for yourself, your roommates, and your furry friends is to try to lighten up. It helps to be organized, and start early! Even if you're also juggling finals and goodbye parties, do one moving task a day beginning up to six weeks before vacating a rental.
- If you'll be hiring movers, contact three companies for estimates, and start taking videos or photos of appliances, antiques, and irreplaceable treasures.
- If you're moving on your own, contact truck rental companies and line up some hale and hearty friends for the big day (bribe them with beer and pizza).
- Begin collecting boxes and packing materials.
- If you have pets or young children, arrange for a sitter to take them on moving day.
- Gradually begin deep-cleaning to reduce the stress of final cleanup.
- Start packing items you won't be using before the move; kids can help by packing their own off-season clothing and soft toys, or placing stickers on boxes.
Most leases and rental agreements specify how much notice you're required to give your landlord before vacating a rental- usual 30 days. Put your notice in writing and include that day's date, your unit's number if you're in an apartment, and a forwarding address for your deposit refund. Keep a copy in a safe place. If you're forced to move before the term of your lease has expired and end up breaking lease, discuss options as soon as possible with your landlord. In most provinces, landlords are required by law to hunt for a new tenant as soon as possible, sparing you from paying for the full term.
Ask your current landlord for an extra day or two at the month's end. You may be required to pay a prorated fee, but it's worth it for a low-stress cleaning day. If not, ask your future landlord if you can move in a day or two early.
Making a Clean Break - Cleaning and deposit
Now that your furniture and boxes are out of the way, it's time to get busy with the all-important job of cleaning. Think of it as being paid by the hour; you want that money back, right? If you're a neatnik, this may be easy, but if you haven't so much as dusted since you moved in or if you're the last to leave a messy four-bedroom house, it could take a day or two.
If your landlord gave you a checklist, follow it closely. If friends are available to help, divide labors based on equipment needed one of you can scrub the stove while another washes windows and another gets started on the bathroom.
When you're all done, take that tour with your landlord. Inspect every nook and cranny together, and write down any problems. If he or she is dissatisfied with any areas, stay calm, and discuss it on the spot until you agree on a solution. Discuss how much deposit money you should expect, and when you will receive it. In most provinces, law dictates that deposits (or portions thereof) must be returned within 30 days. Put all of this in writing, and have the landlord sign and date the sheet.
Finally, take pictures of everything every corner of every room. Photographs will be your best defense if you end up in a disagreement.Unscrupulous landlords care little about tenant rights and so itâ€™s wise to have evidence that supports your claim and refutes his
In case of dispute
In some provinces,one of the landlord responsibilities required by law is to provide you with an itemized list of deductions. What makes a deduction reasonable? Your lease should spell that out.
If you don't get your deposit back within your province's legal time frame, or if you receive what you consider an unfairly high deduction, follow these steps:
- Phone your landlord, and tactfully ask about the delay. Invite him or her to meet with you to review documents and photographs. Sometimes simply showing that you're willing to pursue a solution gets the ball rolling.
- If the problem persists, phone your local Better Business Bureau and ask for their advice.
- Consult with another neutral third party. Many cities offer publicly funded mediation at little or no cost. Call the office of your mayor or city manager and ask to be connected with someone who specializes in housing disputes or landlord-tenant mediation.
- As a last resort, you can contact small claims court. (Then again, simply mentioning court might jog your landlord's sense of fairness.) Filing a small claims suit can sometimes cost more than the money you're trying to reclaim. Find out what your local tenant/landlord laws says about responsibility for court fees; in many provinces tenants have no legal mandate to pay for the landlord's attorney fees, even if the lease says otherwise. Contact your province bar association to get a good picture of your options. In many cities legal support is available for tenants at low or no fee.