There’s nothing quite like the thrill you feel when you move into a new place — especially if it’s your first home. Like owning a house or condo, renting a property can come with surprises. From minor annoyances like a noisy neighbour to significant issues like a flood or fire, doing your due diligence now will make things easier should any problems arise.
Finding a great place is just the first step. Once you’ve found a place to call home, you’ll be required to sign a lease. This legal agreement between you and the landlord lays out the terms and responsibilities for each party.
Before you sign the lease, here are 10 things you need to do first. Remember, what seems like a perfect fit may not be, and it’s better to discover that before you commit.
Ask Yourself: Can You Afford It?
You found the perfect place, and it’s got everything! A great location, a brand-new building, sweeping views, even a gym. But it’s expensive. At this point, it’s easy to convince yourself that you can afford it. But can you?
A good rule of thumb is that your rent should be about 30 per cent of your after-tax income. Everything else, including utilities, will come out of the remainder.
Inspect the Property
Do an inspection of the property with the landlord. Use a form like this one from CMHC or this one from the BC government. Check with your municipality or province/territory to see if they have a similar form.
Note everything on the form, even the slightest scratch on the stove or mark on a wall. Take pictures as well. This is also an excellent time to build rapport with the landlord.
Explore the Neighbourhood
So you’re not surprised by noise, bright lighting or a sketchy vibe, check out the area around your rental at different times of day. You may discover a deal-breaker like noisy traffic or a loud park. It’s a good idea to talk to other tenants to see if they have any complaints.
Evaluate the Landlord’s Reputation
Before committing to a lease, you should vet a potential landlord or property management company, as the landlord-tenant relationship significantly influences your overall renting experience. You can check the landlord’s reputation by reading online reviews from current or past tenants and contacting local housing authorities. Verifying the landlord’s track record regarding property maintenance, timely repairs and following the law will help you avoid potential issues.
Confirm What Can You Change
Even if you love the rental, you might want to add some personal touches to make it feel more like home. Can you paint the walls or change the fixtures? If you can, will you have to change everything back to how it was when you leave?
Ask About Pets
If you already have a pet, this is likely the first question you’ll ask a potential landlord. Even if you don’t have pets now, you might want to get a fur baby later. Confirm that you’re allowed to and check if there are any restrictions on the type of pet (cat, dog, etc.) as well as the size. If you’re a current pet owner or plan to become one, check out the neighbourhood to ensure it has pet-friendly areas and if there’s an off-leash park close by.
Ask About Parking
If you’ve got a car (or plan to get one), you’ll need somewhere to park it. Confirm with your landlord that you’ll have your own space. Even if you don’t have a car, you may want to use the space for visitors. If you don’t need parking at all, ask if you can rent it out or try to negotiate a reduction in rent.
If the property has no parking, check into street parking. How much is there, and what’s the demand like? Find out if you need a permit from your municipality and what it costs.
Read the Lease and Understand the Terms
The lease will contain all the terms and conditions of your agreement with the landlord. As with any contract, get everything in writing. Make sure you’ve read the lease carefully because once you’ve signed it, you’re bound by its terms. If you have any questions, make sure you get the answers first. It’s a good idea to have a lawyer do a once-over.
These are some of the terms and conditions the lease should cover:
– Rent due date
– Form of payment
– Rent increases
– What the rent includes (parking, utilities, etc.)
– Length of lease term
– Lease renewal
– Notice and termination
– Damage deposit amount and refund policy
– Other landlord responsibilities
– Other tenant responsibilities
Check the Maintenance Policy
What kind of upkeep do you have to do (changing bulbs, cleaning), and what does the landlord take care of (grounds, hallways, leaks)? What happens if there’s an emergency? Can you get in touch with the landlord 24/7?
Buying an insurance policy is another good idea. It can protect you from small emergencies like minor water damage or significant damage requiring you to move out temporarily. It should also cover your contents in case of theft.
Know Your Rights
Review the relevant tenancy rights in your province/territory or municipality. The government agencies that enforce them can be of great help in resolving any disputes with your landlord.