General tenant responsibilities include:
1. Paying rent on time.
2. Keeping the rental unit clean and sanitary.
3. Using all gas, electrical and plumbing fixtures properly.
4. Paying for, or repairing damages incurred by the tenant.
5. Not to remove any items from the structures or buildings without permission.
6. To use the premises for its legal purpose.
7. To keep all smoke alarms in good working order and notify the property manager if any repairs to the alarm are needed.
8. Obtain approval before making any changes to the rental unit or installing any alarms or security systems.
The tenant has the right to expect a livable rental unit. Livability means that the unit
. Be weather and waterproof.
. Have working plumbing.
. Provide hot and cold running water.
. Have a working heating system.
. Have an electrical system in good working condition.
. Be free of rodent/insect infestation.
. Have sufficient trash cans.
. Have floors, stairways and railings in good condition.
. Have working windows that open at least halfway or mechanical ventilation.
. Have safe fire or emergency exits leading to the street or hallway.
. Have a working deadbolt lock on the main entrance.
. Have working security devices on windows.
. Have working smoke detectors.
Tenants also have the right to quiet enjoyment and exclusive possession of the rental
Researching Your Prospective Property Manager
Just as a property manager conducts due diligence on prospective tenants in the form of tenant screening, background and reference check, so should a tenant conduct some due diligence on a prospective property manager.
1. Who owns or manages the rental?
Get the full name and address. You will need to know this information for rent payments or if there are any disputes. Look them up in the yellow pages or online.
. How long have they been in business?
. Are you dealing with professionals?
. How many vacancies are there? If too many, that might be indicative of management problems.
. Were you interviewed in an office?
. Did the property manager conduct him/herself in a professional manner?
. Did he/she have a business card?
2. Are they current on the mortgage? Have they ever filed for bankruptcy or had a
The property managers may refuse to disclose this information, but you should ask nonetheless. If you are looking at renting long term, you will want to confirm that the property owner is up-to-date on all payments with no prior problems to ensure long-term security.
Be upfront and let them know this is why you are asking. This will also let the property manager know that you are serious about renting.
RED FLAG: Possible indicators of financial deficiency can be lack of maintenance, minimal or no upkeep to the property or rental accommodations, no tenant screening and refusal to spend money on rectifying any existing deficiencies.
3. Is the property owner planning on selling?
Again, if you are looking for a place to live long term, ask the property manager if the owner is planning to sell the rental property. You do not want to move in first, and find out later, especially if any potential buyers do not plan to use the property for rental purposes.
4. Has the rent be discounted, if so why?
Having discounted rent may sound appealing, but you need to find out why. Quite often, this means that the property manager has had problems renting out the property. This could be due to a number of factors such as:
. An increased number of rentals in the area
. Unsafe neighbourhood
. Problems with the rental property
. Problems with the neighbours
. Rowdy tenants, especially if the dwelling is an apartment building
RED FLAG Seeing a discounted advertised rate should serve as a red flag for you, so conduct your due diligence and determine if it is a suitable rental.
Know Your Information and Have It Ready
These days, most property managers conduct tenant screen and reference checks when deciding on a renter. It is best to be prepared, have the property identification available and know your information.
1. Filling out a rental application
It is standard procedure for property managers to have prospective tenants fill out a rental application. Here are a few of the most common pieces of information you will need to have:
. Date of birth
. Driver’s license
Make sure the rental application form is legible and filled out in its entirety. If the information cannot be read or if you leave spaces blank, the property manager may reject your application.
Also, be prepared to show two pieces of identification, one being a picture ID, as the property manager may want to confirm the information filled out on the rental application.
RED FLAG: When a property manager does not conduct due diligence on you, then you can bet he does not do it to other applicants either. Therefore, you must ask yourself, who are my neighbours and what is their background?
Are my family and I safe?
2. Know your credit history
As part of a tenant screening, property managers may run a credit and/or eviction search on a prospective tenant. Usually at the bottom of the rental application, you will see a consent area that you would sign and date giving permission to the property manager to do so.
Before meeting with the property manager, you should order a copy of your credit report. Know and understand the information on it so you will be prepared should the property manager have any questions or concerns. Be up front about any late payments, delinquencies, or derogatory information and discuss this with the property manager.
FYI, it is a good idea to run your credit report once per year to make sure everything is correct and up-to-date and to protect yourself from identity fraud and theft.
Most property managers will do a reference check on their prospective tenants. This may include personal, employment, and previous property manager references. Decide whom you will be listing as a reference and ask each one if they will give you a positive report. Never assume this. Advise them that they might be contacted prior to you meeting with the prospective property manager. Make sure you have their full name and contact information ready to provide when
Other information that you may be asked to provide include a pay stub from your employer or a T4 or bank statement if you are self employed.
How to Conduct Yourself
Treat your interview with a prospective property manager the same as if you were meeting a potential employer. A great first impression can make all the difference.
1. Dress appropriately
Present yourself in a neat and clean manner. You do not need to dress formally, but make sure you appearance is respectable.
2. Speak professionally
Always speak in clear, calm and courteous manner. Try to ask questions in a polite and professional manner.
3. Setting policies that discriminate against families
Even though it is illegal to discriminate against families, many property management practices are far from family-friendly and are downright illegal. Excluding families because you feel children will cause more wear and tear and you prefer a “mature, quiet” environment is illegal. And while you’re permitted to limit the number of residents in a unit (in most situations, two occupants per bedroom), you may not apply that standard differently when dealing with families.
4. Be organized
Again, it is important to arrive at your interview with the prospective property manager fully prepared. Have all information, references and identification available with you and if possible in an organizer or binder of some sort.
What to Ask the Prospective Property Manager
When you are looking for a place to rent, you should have a clear idea of what you want and expect. Have a list of questions ready to discuss when you meet with your prospective property manager.
Some questions or concerns you may want to address are:
. How are repairs and maintenance handled?
. How is rent collected? In person, by mail, online or post-dated cheques?
. Will the lease agreement be a month-to-month or a fixed term? Ensure confirmation in writing.
. Who pays the utilities? Tenant or property manager?
. What kind, if any, security is available? Do windows and doors have proper locks that ensure personal safety and security?
. If you wish or need to end the tenancy early, are you allowed to sublet?
. Modifications; is any personalization of the rental unit allowed, such as paint and wallpaper? If a yard is available, can a garden be planted?
. Are pets allowed? You may not have one, but what about your neighbours? And maybe it is something you want to look into in the future?
If you do end up signing a lease with a property manager and these issues are covered,
make sure you get them in writing in the lease to avoid any confusion.
Tenant Advocacy Groups
There are numerous tenant advocacy groups across Canada. These groups have been around for many years and are beneficial and informative for tenants, especially if a tenant is experiencing problems with a property manager.
The following is a list of topics to address when consulting a tenant advocacy group:
. Tenants’ rights information
. How to resolve disputes and conflicts with a property manager
. Legal information for tenants
. Information on evictions
. Information regarding low income housing
. How to handle repairs with your property manager
. Information on rent control and stabilization
. Information on security deposits and how they are managed
. Information on affordable housing
. Information on safe, healthy living
. Publications and news items
. Changes in the laws with regards to tenants and property manager
. Information on municipal and local bylaws
. Workshops that are offered to educate on tenants’ rights
Joining a tenant advocacy group joins your voice with others. If you live in an apartment building or condominium, you may want to form your own association or group within the building if one does not already exist. Voice your ideas and concerns and as a group approach the property manager with these. Being reasonable and making every effort to work with the property manager to settle an issue is usually the best solution.
Breaking a Rental Lease: Planning Ahead
Even the most fastidious tenant might at some point have to break a long-term lease
because of a job transfer, health problem, or even 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 are midway
through your term, these tips will help you through the process of an early break up with
1. Look before you lease
While you are perusing that crisp new lease, on the verge of committing yourself to a year long 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 will sacrifice some security – rents can rise between renewals, or your property manager may decide not to renew – but the bucket of money you will save versus breaking a long-term lease is worth the price of some nail
chewing, or even a slightly higher rent. (This type of agreement is also riskier for property managers, 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 property manager has to vacate before the lease is up.
2. Negotiating an Early-Release Clause
Any lease agreement worth the price of admission will spell out your and your property manager’s obligations if one of you breaks a lease term. However, even if you hope to stay in your rental until death do you part, it is 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. The tenant’s security deposit may also be forfeited, if allowed by the state. This may sound painful, but keep in mind that we are talking about breaking a legally binding contract, and try to be humble. In most cases, property managers are not 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 property manager will know that your heart is in the right place.
3. Running on empty
Suppose you signed a boilerplate lease with no early-release clause, and you have been in your new place for three month. Suddenly you have a job offer you cannot refuse, but it is in Toronto and you are in Vancouver; or you take a sudden, fatal hit on your income and cannot afford your monthly rent; or your apartment turns out to have mildew problems and your property manager has ignored your health complaints.
Here are some dos and don’ts to help you make the best of things when you are running on empty.
… 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.
… “Pretend” you are still a tenant. Your property manager deserves to expect that his property is occupied, and it is almost certain that your lease states 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 property manager may have legal claim to your belongings.
… Be defensive about negotiations. The point here is to accomplish 3 things: 1) move; 2) maintain a good property manager – 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 would not come out as the winner.
… Be straight up. If you reason for wanting to move might be fixed with a putty knife or an honest conversation, make an appointment to talk with your property manager. Do not be shy; this is your home.
… Treat your property manager with respect. Let him/her know as soon as possible that you might have to break your lease, so that you can discuss the possibilities and they can get started on finding a replacement. In most cases, property managers are required by law to make an earnest effort to fill vacancies, even if a tenant breaks a lease.
… Ask your property manager if he/she is amenable to a new leaseholder or sub lessee taking over the remainder of your lease. (The new tenant would be subject to his/her approval, of course). If this is disallowed in the original lease and he/she agreement to an amendment, be sure to put it in writing, with both of your signatures, and do not 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 are out of the picture. While that might make you happier, either option is preferable to being unprotected.
Show your property manager that you care. Offer to locate a new sub lessee or leaseholder yourself. Contact friends, family, and coworkers for leads, and be willing to pay for ads.
Be first to bring up compensations for your property manager for the trouble your situation presents to him/her, using the early-release clause guidelines as a starting point.
4. Disputes and other worst-case scenarios
If your efforts to negotiate go bust, what is 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 property manager’s advertising, cleaning, and other costs.
When a tenant breaks a lease, the law is almost invariably on the property manager’s side, so you can be sure that pursuing a solution in small claims court would add to your debt rather than come to your aid. If you have tried negotiating and your property manager still will not give an inch, your final option may be to contact the Office of Residential Tenancy (previously Rentalsman). 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 property manager not abiding by the lease terms – example, 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 will do an inspection and, if necessary, pursue action against the property manager themselves, without your having to get involved or break your lease.
5. From stress to success
Moving is stressful even under the best circumstances, if you have to break a legal contract, address you property manager with respect and willingness to compromise. You might both get what you want.
The 4 Keys to Great Credit
Your credit history can make or break you when trying to convince lenders you are a good risk. Here is how to build the best record you can – before you need it.
Getting credit when you do not have any – or when you are recovering from credit disaster, like bankruptcy – can be daunting.
1. Open a chequing and savings account
Having these bank accounts establishes you as part of the financial mainstream. Lenders want to know you have a chequing account available to pay bills, and a savings account indicates that you are putting aside something for the future.
Opening bank accounts is something you can do even if you are too young to establish credit in your own name. Until you are 18, you cannot legally be held to a contract, so any credit you get will have to be through an adult – either someone who co-signs a loan for you, adds you to their credit cards or opens a joint account with you. Having bank accounts, though, gets you started on the right path and give you practice in managing your money.
2. Get your credit report – if you have one
Next, you need to find out how lenders view you. Most base their decisions on credit reports, which are compiled by for-profit companies known as credit bureaus. You are entitled to a free credit report from the 2 major bureaus each year.
Typically, a credit report include identifying information about you, such as your name, address, social insurance number and birth date. The report may also list any credit accounts or loans opened in your name, along with your payment history, account limits and any balances you owe. If you are young or newly arrived in Canada, you may not have a report or it may have little information. If you have had credit problems, your report will list them.
3. Fix any errors or omissions
Some credit reports include errors-accounts that do not belong to you or that include out-of-date or misleading information. You should read each of your 3 reports and note anything that is incorrect.
Negative information, such as late payments, delinquencies, liens, and judgments against you, should be dropped after 7 years. Bankruptcies can stay on your report for up to 10 years. Once you have a list of problems, ask the bureaus to investigate errors listed on their reports. You can use the form that came with your report if you received it by mail, or use the web link if you
accessed your report on the internet.
4. Add positive information to your report
The more information you can provide about yourself, the more comfortable lenders may feel extending credit to you. In addition, certain information – such as having the same job or address for a few years – can make you appear to be more stable in the lenders’ eyes. While this information isn’t used in creating your credit score, it’s often used by lenders in addition to credit scores to make lending decisions. You may also find that your report does not include credit
accounts for other information that it should.
Information to Look For When Reviewing Your Credit Report
1. Is your employer and your job title listed? If you have had the job less than 2 years, your previous employer and job title should be listed as well.
2. Is your address listed and correct? If you have been there less than 2 years, is your previous address listed as well?
3. Is your Social Insurance Number listed and correct? This is the way most lenders will identify you.
4. Is your telephone number listed and correct? Many lenders may not extend credit if they cannot call you to verify information.
5. Does your report include all accounts you have paid on time? Some lenders do not report regularly to credit bureaus, and some report to only one. You can ask the creditor to report the account to a bureau that does not list it. If a creditor refuses and does not respond, you can send a letter to the bureau with a copy of your latest statement and cancelled cheques to prove you are paying on time.
There Are Three Common Routes for Establishing New Credit
1. Apply for department store and gas cards
These are usually easier to get than major bank credit cards such as Visa or MasterCard.
2. Consider taking out a small personal loan from your local bank or credit union,
and paying the money back over time
The bank may require you to put up some collateral – such as the same amount you are borrowing, deposited into a savings account. But the loan, if reported to the credit bureaus, can still help build you credit history. Make sure that it will be reported before you borrow the money.
3. Apply for a secured credit card
These work something like the loan described above: You deposit a certain amount at a bank, and in return, you are given a Visa or MasterCard with a credit limit about equal to the amount you deposited. Avoid any card that charges a big upfront fee for processing your application or a high annual fee.
Once you have credit, use it right:
. Charge small amounts on each card – but never more than you can pay off each month. You need to use credit regularly to establish your credit history, but there is usually no advantage to paying interest on those charges.
. Once you have been approved for one card or loan, do not rush out and apply for several more. Applying for too much credit will hurt, rather than help, your score.
. Pay your bills on time, all the time. This includes household bills such as utilities and telephone as well as your credit card bills and loans. Late payments on any of these accounts can wind up in your credit report, and can really hurt your credit score, the three-digit number widely used by
lenders to evaluate your creditworthiness.
. Do not max out your credit cards. In fact, do not even come close. Try to avoid using more than 30% or so of the credit you have available to you – even less, if you can. Your credit score measures the difference between the credit available to you and what you are actually using. The smaller the gap, the more it hurts your score. Lenders will worry that you are becoming overextended and will not be able to pay your bills if you charge too much.