Finding your first home in Canada is exciting, but what happens if you need to end your tenancy early? There can be many reasons to want out of a lease, from landing a new job, to family emergencies, or health concerns. However, if you’ve signed a lease, it’s not as easy as simply handing your landlord back the keys. Your ability to end a tenancy prematurely without paying financial penalties will depend on your specific situation, the paperwork you signed, and your landlord’s willingness to negotiate. Here’s what you need to know about renters’ rights in Canada before you plan a move.
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Renting a home is a common living arrangement in Canada. A standard lease agreement, unless otherwise negotiated, is typically for a one-year period. The agreement should include the monthly rent amount, the date rent is due, and the services covered by the monthly payment (for example, utilities, storage, or parking). Some Canadian jurisdictions allow landlords to ask for a security deposit.
After a year passes, most lease agreements transition to a month-to-month contract. This means a tenant isn’t obligated to make another year-long commitment, although they still have to provide adequate notice to their landlord if they wish to end their lease. The amount of notice required depends on which province or territory you live in.
It’s important to understand a lease is a binding contract where you commit to paying an agreed upon sum over a certain time period. If you break a lease early, or don’t provide adequate notice of your intention to do so, you may be held responsible for paying rent until the end of your contract term. For example, if you signed a one-year lease for $2,000 a month and left four months early, you’d be on the hook for the remaining sum of $8,000, even if you are no longer living in the home. You may also lose your security deposit.
Discuss the situation with your landlord
Ultimately, the easiest way to legally end a lease early is for your landlord to agree to it. If you have a good reason to leave your rented home, like landing a great job in another city or having to take care of an unexpected family emergency, your landlord may be understanding. If your landlord agrees to end your tenancy early, make sure to get their permission in writing to prevent any misunderstandings or legal issues down the road.
Sublet your rental
Many tenants faced with breaking a lease agreement choose to sublet their home instead. This means finding someone else, called a subtenant, to rent your home while the lease stays under your name. Sublets are appropriate when your absence is temporary and you intend to return to the unit.
Your subtenant will pay the rent, but you’ll be responsible for collecting it and giving it to your landlord. You’ll also be on the hook for any damage to the unit or violations of your lease terms. This is why it’s important to choose a subtenant you can trust and who has a reliable rental history. If you wish to sublet your home, you need your landlord’s written approval.
Assign your lease
Lease assignments are used when you intend to leave your rental for good. If you assign your lease to another person, they’ll become the tenant and will be responsible for paying rent to the landlord and abiding by all terms of the lease. If you wish to assign your lease, you must first make a written request to your landlord. Further rules surrounding lease assignments will depend on the province or territory you reside in.
Approach the tenant board
If your landlord isn’t meeting their legal obligations, such as making repairs in a timely fashion or maintaining the unit to a safe standard, you can approach your province or territory’s tenant board to end your lease early. To pursue this avenue, your concerns should be major ones that present a clear and present health and/or safety risk, such as uncontrolled mould, water damage, faulty electrical wiring, harassment, or deliberate withholding of a vital service. It’s important to document your issues by saving written correspondence and capturing photographic or video evidence of the problems.
Victims of sexual or domestic abuse
If you’re a victim of sexual or domestic abuse, you may be able to circumvent the normal rules around giving notice to end a lease. In order to qualify for a shortened notice period, a tenant must have suffered domestic or sexual abuse at the hands of a spouse or former spouse, live-in partner, someone they are/were dating, or someone related by blood, marriage, or adoption who lives with him or her. Essentially, you must show that staying in your rental would constitute an unsafe living situation. The specifics around how to end a lease as an abuse victim vary by province and territory, but typically you’ll have to fill out legal forms and provide a signed statement to your landlord.
Your landlord didn’t use the standard lease form
Each province and territory has a standard lease agreement that should be used by most landlords, with some exceptions. In Ontario, if your landlord doesn’t give you a signed copy of the standard lease form, you can demand they provide one within 21 days. If they fail to do so, you can legally end your lease early, even if it’s for a fixed term. However, even in this scenario, you must provide the landlord with at least 60 days notice of your intent to terminate. If you haven’t been given a standard lease form, do your research to know your rights and obligations within the province or territory you reside in.
If you end your lease legally, you’ll be entitled to get back any prepaid rent and security deposits. The exception to this is if you choose to sublet your rental. Since you’re still responsible for any damage to the unit and the assumption is you’ll return to continue the lease, your landlord can retain any prepaid rent or deposits.
Tenancy rules can be complicated and vary between provinces and territories. For further reading and information specific to your province, check out the articles in our Tenants’ Rights series. As a newcomer in Canada, it’s important to know your rights and obligations so that you’re equipped to handle any situation and avoid getting scammed.