Does the lease have to be in writing?
In Alberta, you do not need a written resdiential lease. However, a written lease is a good idea because then both the landlord and the tenant are clear on their responsibilities. If there is a dispute at a later date, having a written lease can help clarify what was agreed to by both sides. A written lease is also important if the landlord chooses to sell the property. The new landlord will have to follow any written agreement that was already in place.
If the lease is in writing, it must contain this statement in larger text than the other text of the agreement: “The tenancy created by this agreement is governed by the Residential Tenancies Act and if there is a conflict between this agreement and the Act, the Act prevails.”
Also, if the lease is in writing and the tenant has signed it and given it back to the landlord, the landlord must give the tenant a copy of the lease with the landlord’s signature within 21 days. If the landlord does not do this, the tenant can withhold rent until a signed copy is received. This is the only time that the Residential Tenancies Act allows a tenant to withhold the rent.
What can be included in the lease?
The lease should include all of the things that the tenant is responsible for, and all of the things the landlord is responsible for. The lease should include all of the rights and responsibilities of both parties.
There are many practical aspects of renting a place to live that should be dealt with by the lease agreement. At a minimum, a residential tenancy agreement should cover the following items:
- Names and addresses of the parties to the contract (i.e., the landlord and tenant or tenants).
- Date of the agreement.
- Names of all those who will be living in the premises, including children and a description of any pets.
- Address of the premises to be rented and anything else necessary to further define the accommodation. For example, a rental agreement may include other facilities such as a parking stall or storage area. Tenants should be aware of any property they leave at these facilities (i.e. parking stall or storage room) may be subject to seizure in the event of enforcement proceedings for non-payment of rent. For example, where a parking stall is included as part of the rental agreement, a landlord may seize a tenant’s vehicle from the parking stall if rent isn’t paid.
- Privileges that the tenant is entitled to as a tenant. For example, use of a swimming pool, exercise room, etc.
- The date the tenancy is to start and whether the tenancy is a periodic or fixed term.
- Amount of rent to be paid, when it is to be paid, how it is to be paid (by cheque, automatic withdrawal, cash), and any late fees that might apply.
- How the tenancy may be ended, including notice periods.
- Whether there is to be a security deposit, the amount of the deposit, and details of what the deposit covers.
- Who pays for utilities and other services, such as cable TV.
- Extra fees like parking and key deposits.
- Furniture or appliances included in the rental agreement.
- Whether pets are allowed.
- Who is responsible for maintenance and repairs.
- When inspections of the premises will be carried out.
- Responsibility for jobs like snow shoveling.
- Rules regarding subletting or assigning the lease.
- Insurance requirements.
- Procedures that the landlord will follow if there is a complaint about the tenant.
- Other terms to which the parties have specifically agreed.
Landlords may also provide tenants with details of other rules relating to the building that tenants will have to follow, but that are not mentioned specifically in the lease. For example, condominium bylaws or building regulations governing matters such as refuse storage and collection, smoking, etc.
Can the landlord or tenant ever “break the lease”?
There are certain situations where a landlord or tenant may be able to “break the lease” or end the lease early. If the tenant or landlord has committed a substantial breach of the residential tenancy agreement, a 14 day notice can be served to end the tenancy or an application can be made through the Residential Tenancy Dispute Resolution Service or Provincial Court Civil to end the tenancy.
If a tenant wants to break the lease early because of personal circumstances (i.e. lost job, relocating for work), the tenant should talk to the landlord and see if the landlord will consent to ending the lease early. Tenants could offer to help the landlord find a new tenant by advertising the suite online or in local community hubs. The landlord is under no obligation to consent to breaking the lease, but might be willing if the tenant agrees to help with advertising and making sure the suite can get rented. If the landlord agrees to break the lease early, the tenant should make sure this agreement is in writing and signed by the landlord to prevent any problems in the future.
A landlord cannot break a tenant’s lease and make a tenant leave the property before the end of the lease. A landlord can ask the tenant to consent to ending the lease early but the tenant is not obligated to do so.
Can the landlord require a tenant to provide proof of insurance as a condition of the lease?
Yes, a landlord can require a tenant to have insurance as a term of the lease. It is up to the tenant to agree to that term. Tenants can try to negotiate this term with the landlord.
A basic tenant insurance policy will include liability coverage. This helps tenants with situations where they may be at fault for damage to a third party, another suite, or the building. For example, if a fire starts in the tenant’s apartment and it damages another suite, liability insurance will help cover the costs of the damage to the tenant’s unit and the other suite.
Tenant insurance can also include contents insurance. This helps cover the replacement cost of the tenant’s goods and personal items destroyed by fire or water damage. The landlord’s insurance does not cover a tenant’s items. So tenants without insurance will not receive any compensation for destroyed items.
If the landlord requires the tenant to have insurance, they can require the tenant to provide proof of that insurance. The landlord may require this proof only once, or on an annual basis.
Many tenants have insurance even when it is not required under the lease in case of an emergency.
Does everyone who is living in the property have to be named on the lease?
A landlord usually requires that everyone who is living in a rental unit be named on the lease. Landlords have the right to know how many people are living in the rental unit and who is living in it. This information is important to ensuring the Minimum Housing and Health Standards are met, and that both landlords and tenants can exercise their rights if either breaches their legal obligations.
If a person is named as a tenant on the lease, that person is subject to all of the rights and obligations of a tenant under the Residential Tenancies Act. For example, if Joe and Beth are both named as tenants on the lease and they don’t pay their rent, the landlord can choose to collect the rent from Joe alone, Beth alone, or from Joe and Beth.
Where someone is named as a tenant on the lease but has not signed it, they still have rights and obligations under the Residential Tenancies Act. If the lease includes rights and obligations outside of the Act, the tenant who has not signed the lease may not be subject to those provisions. For example, if a lease gives a tenant the ability to end a periodic tenancy with a shorter notice period, a tenant who has not signed the agreement may not get the benefit of the shorter notice period.
If someone moves into the rental unit without the landlord’s approval, then the landlord has the right under the Residential Tenancies Act to require the person to vacate the property. Depending on the circumstances, the person may have to leave within 48 hours or 14 days.
The lease says that no pets are allowed. Is this legal?
Yes. In Alberta, landlords can decide whether or not to allow pets in their rental properties. If a landlord does not allow pets or the building has a no pets policy, then pets are not allowed in the property.
If pets are allowed in the rental property, the landlord may charge a pet fee. The fee must be reasonable, and the landlord should be able to provide the tenant with the reasons why the fee is being collected. For example, if the pet will be walking through the common areas, there may be additional carpet cleaning required.
What happens at the end of a fixed term lease?
The Residential Tenancies Act assumes a tenant will move out at the end of the lease. The landlord is not required to provide the tenant with any kind of written termination notice. Tenants should check their lease as some fixed-term lease agreements require tenants to provide notice if they plan to move out.
At least one month before the lease end date, the tenant and landlord should discuss whether the tenant wants to stay. If the tenant wants to stay, a new lease needs to be signed between the landlord and tenant. However, the landlord does not have to agree to a new lease. The tenant must move out by the lease end date if the landlord does not agree to sign a new lease.
However, there are two situations where a tenant can continue to stay in the rental unit without signing a new lease. The first is where the original lease includes a provision that allows the tenancy to be renewed without notice after the lease ends. If the tenant chooses to stay, the tenancy becomes a periodic tenancy. The second situation is where a tenant continues to live in the rental property after the lease ends and the landlord continues to accept rent from the tenant. The fixed term lease becomes a periodic tenancy in this situation.
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*We would like to thank the Legal Resource Centre of Alberta for providing the material presented above.