How to Not Get Screwed Over By a Bad Landlord
You don’t have to ask around for long to hear some pretty alarming stories about shady student landlords. When we’re uninformed, it’s easy to get backed into a corner and sign outrageous leases or comply with unfair demands that a landlord shouldn’t be asking of us.
But fear not, this article is designed to keep you out of the nasty-email sending, small-claims threatening, no-good situations with bad landlords.
Read Your Lease. Three Times.
Seriously. All of it. Yes, they are boring and difficult to understand but that doesn’t mean you should assume everything in there is “probably fine.” Ask your landlord to send it over to you before you sit down to sign so you have a chance to thoroughly read it with no one breathing down your neck to hurry up and sign it. Once you’ve read it, send it over to your parents (or sibling, or friend who has lived in a million places) and ask them to scan it over for red flags. While some provinces, like British Columbia and Ontario, have pretty standardized leases, look carefully for anything out of the ordinary in an addendum. Your landlord shouldn’t need your SIN number, credit card information, and a criminal record check is not necessary. It is also illegal for a landlord to charge an application fee. Don’t get caught with that.
With that said, just because something is written in a lease doesn’t mean it is legally binding. Things such as overnight visitors, pets, subleasing, interest charges and renewal dates might be in a lease that you signed, but that doesn’t mean you are bound to them by law.
Once you’ve signed, make sure you have a copy—this will ensure you can go back and look at what you agreed on if an issue arises.
Do a Thorough Walk-Through
Doing a walk through with your landlord on day one is extremely important so that you are both present to take note of any existing damages. Bring your smartphone along and snap pictures of anything you think they might charge you for, and make sure they write down any initial damages. It is always a little awkward to point out everything that is wrong right before you move in, but it is good to have it on record in case they happen to pin a hole in the wall on you that was there all along.
Look into Your Landlord
Landlords ask us for references, and yet we never look into them. If you can speak with the previous tenants, do so. If they had a good relationship with their last tenants, they might be able to have them email or phone you at your request. If the unit is close to your university, it might just take a bit of asking around to see who lived in the place previously. Chat with the neighbours. Ask if they encountered any issues with the landlord. If you are moving into a big apartment building, a quick Google search might pull up a swarm of bad (or good—let’s not assume the worst!) reviews about the management. Some quick research will definitely pay off.
Have Them on Speed Dial
I once went three weeks without heat in February because our furnace broke. My landlord went on vacation without informing us. That experience taught me the hard way to always ask for contact information for both my landlord and a contact person if something goes wrong while they are away. Most landlords will fix things right away (after all, angry tenants aren’t usually what they are after) but only if you can get a hold of them.
Know Your (Tenant) Rights
Tenant rights are designed to protect the tenant. Knowing them will help you if you get into a disagreement with your landlord. They are done by province, and are easily available online. Here’s British Columbia’s. Here’s Ontario’s survival guide. Help lines are also available if you can’t find your question on the website, and some provinces (such as Ontario) will even give you up to 30 minutes of free legal advice if you’re really in a pinch.
While you’re on your province’s tenant rights website doing some leisurely reading, peruse the section that outlines when your landlord can raise rent (and by how much), when they can enter your unit (usually they have to give 24 hours notice), ask you to sign a new lease, and evict you for their own reasons (such as renovations or sale of the house).
It is also extremely important to keep written copies of everything. Hang onto receipts, keep careful track of dates so you know that you are complying with provincial guidelines and make sure important communications are officially written down. Having copies of everything will give you a strong case if you ever need to contact the tenant board.
Be a Good Tenant
Like all things, there are two sides to the coin. While some landlords are downright ridiculous, other issues might arise from not holding up our end of the bargain. Or complying with what was signed. If you signed a lease that said no pets allowed because your landlord is deathly allergic, “Frank” is not the exception. Likewise, if you signed a year-long lease, don’t assume your landlord will love it when you try to bail after six months.
Giving proper notice when you move out is important so that your landlord can find someone else to fill the suite. The length of time you need to give official notice depends on how long you have lived there, but it is usually 60 days.
Another perk of being a good tenant is that you have now set yourself apart as a rare, and highly sought after gem. If you pay your rent on time and don’t cause issues, your landlord is probably well aware of how lucky they are to have you. Preempt rent increases by offering to sign for another year. Your landlord will likely sway towards keeping a reliable tenant over taking a gamble on a brand new one. Even if they say no to your offer, you still have the choice to accept the rent increase or leave at that point.
While a frighteningly high number of bad landlords exist, being informed will help ensure that they don’t push you around.