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Legal Checklist Before Renting an Apartment

Looking for a rental apartment can be a bit stressful. You want to find a nice place that’s affordable in your chosen neighborhood, and that can be a tall order. Once you do find a place that checks most of your boxes, it’s easy to just say yes before it’s snatched up by someone else.

Unfortunately, if you rent without checking things out thoroughly you could end up in a bit of trouble. Before renting an apartment, it’s important to understand common legal issues that could come back to bite you.

Closeup of a sculpture of Themis

Basement apartment in a house

If you’ve found a cheap basement apartment in your area, it may be too good to be true. Many homeowners build secondary dwellings within their homes to rent out for extra income. Homeowners are obligated to build basement apartments to local building codes and apply for the proper permits. As a landlord, a homeowner should be subject to the same rules and regulations as an owner of a high-rise rental. Be wary if there is no written agreement, or if the landlord asks for rent payments in cash.

You also have to make sure the unit is safe. Do you have a separate entrance? Locks on your doors? Proper windows and ventilation? Don’t put your health and safety at risk for an affordable apartment.

Pet Policy

Every province has its own rules regarding how landlords deal with pets in rental units. For example, if you live in Ontario, know that you can be denied a rental apartment for having a pet, but if you get a pet after moving in you cannot be evicted. Furthermore, there cannot be a “No pets” clause in your lease agreement. Landlords also cannot deny you if you have a service animal.

Basically, do not take a verbal “No pets” rule at face value. Always do your research so that you know your legal rights when it comes to living with your pet. While having a pet is not considered a human right, you should know what’s allowed and not allowed before moving in.

That said, if you move into a condo apartment for rent, condo boards can make their own rules and they can ban all or some pets from the building or complex.

Beautiful young woman

Heat and water

When touring an apartment for rent, make sure you try all the taps to make sure they work (for both cold and hot water). You also need to ask about heat. Whether the cost is rolled into your rent or is a separate bill makes no difference. Your landlord has a legal obligation to provide you with heat for the colder months of the year and hot and cold water.

Tenancy agreement

Ask for a copy of your lease agreement. Legally, your landlord or building manager has to provide you with one if you request it. You should always be able to reference your lease. If you sign a new lease each year, ask for a copy of the new one each time you renew, as terms can change.

If there is no tenancy agreement at all and you’re renting completely under the table, you won’t have the legal protection you’d be entitled to if you had everything in writing. It’s in your best interests to read and sign a legally binding tenancy agreement before renting. You’ll be glad you did!

Close up of lease agreement

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