Screening Tenants – Lease Agreement And Repairs

by Mr. Cheap

This post is part of a five-part series about tenants leaving a condo and finding and screening the new tenants:

Repairs

Alexandra and Rachelle had more good advice when it came to repairs. I was getting anxious about how to handle the trade-off, and had visions of one set of tenants leaving at 11:59 pm and the new tenants arriving at 12:01 am the next day. The current tenants promised to leave the apartment clean (as it was when they took possession), but I was terrified of having to finding cleaning and painting ninjas to blow through the place in tight time between tenants.

I can’t find a reference to it while writing this, but I’m 99% sure that I read an official guideline that Ontario tenants moving out are suppose to leave at noon on the last day of their tenancy, and that new tenancies start at noon, so in theory there’d be a 24 hour window between tenants in the worst case scenario (if anyone has a link to this or can find it in the RTA I’d appreciate it if you could post a link in the comments).

What the expert advice was was to do the repairs while the current tenants are still in place. They may not be overjoyed about it, but landlords can certainly get access to a unit to make repairs. I think painting would be a big pain with tenants still in place, and cleaning would be a fools errand: it would just get messy again during the move out. If there was anything MAJOR that needed to be repaired, while the current tenants are still in place would definitely be the time to do it in my opinion. It’s somewhat mercenary, but the tenants are leaving so a landlord’s commitment to customer service can be relaxed.

I was able to assess the unit when I started showing it, and my tenants were upfront about the “damage” they had done to the unit (it was basically some scrapped up baseboards, a few paint chips and a couple longer gouges through the paint). In my opinion, very reasonable wear-and-tear over 3.5 years of tenancy (I told them the condition was fine with me as long as they left it clean).

I’m not a handy guy at all, and I really didn’t want to paint the entire unit (or pay someone to do it) when it still looked like it was in good shape. I got some spackling paste (available at any hardware store and most dollar stores / department stores) and patched up the chips and gouges in the wall. I bought the smallest can possible of the colours I used for the walls and baseboards, and JUST painted the spackled / damaged areas. It cleaned up AMAZING and you couldn’t see it had been repainted unless you were up close and knew what you were looking for. Many painting sites warn about “flashing” where new paint has a different sheen the the rest of the wall with the old colour. For whatever reason, even with a 3.5 year difference between the paint coats this wasn’t an issue. I used Benjamin Moore’s Barely Beige CC140 for my walls. Maybe this is better for not showing flashing – I don’t know why it worked out as well as it did.

In my opinion there’s nothing worse than moving into an apartment that’s dirty from a previous tenant, so if the previous tenants didn’t clean the place SPOTLESS, I’d make sure it is for the new tenants.

Lease

You want to use a legal lease. You can get a tenancy agreement form if you’re a member of the landlord self-help center, from your property owner associations (most communities have one), from a friend who is a landlord in the same province / state, many book stores sell legal forms that probably includes a residential lease agreement, or you can buy from a website (a number of lawyers will sell them on-line for a nominal fee – do a Google search and make sure it’s applicable for where you live).

I go through the entire lease, item-by-item, and discuss each with the tenant, explaining what each obligates them, and myself, to. It’s often an excellent opportunity to make sure you’re on the same page. It is a very GOOD sign if a tenant asks many questions and clarifications and reads through carefully. Rather than indicating that they’ll be contentious, this shows me that they’re taking it seriously and intend to follow their legal responsibilities (which is all I, as a landlord, ask for).

One of my father’s friends knowingly puts a number of illegal conditions in his lease. His attitude is that if the tenant doesn’t know these are illegal, he can “encourage” them to follow those rules (even if he doesn’t have the law to back them up). Many contracts are “severable” which means even if specific clauses are illegal and unenforceable, the rest of the contract remains valid. Many of us are familiar with this from employment contract, such as:

In the event that any provision or portion of this agreement shall be determined to be invalid or unenforceable for any reason, in whole or in part, the remaining provisions of this agreement shall be unaffected thereby and shall remain in full force and effect to the full extent as permitted by law.

or something to that effect. I’m not a lawyer, and some things I’ve read warn that an illegal clause CAN invalidate an entire lease agreement. I wouldn’t be happy if someone tried to trick me into signing a contract with clauses they know are illegal, so I don’t do this with my tenants.

Trade Off

Once you have the full deposit (first and last month’s rent in Ontario) cleared, the old tenants moved out, the place repairs and cleaned, you’re ready to move the new folks in! Meet up to hand over the keys and cross your fingers that the new tenants will work out.

You’ve done everything you can at this point and the rest is up to lady luck.

Thanks again to Rachelle and Alexandra!

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Rachelle

Mr Cheap

Good job outlining the lease agreement, while an illegal clause in a lease agreement doesn’t invalidate it, my personal motto is to put only clauses that can be enforced at the Landlord & Tenant Board. My belief is that tenants and the adjudicator are more likely to take the lease seriously if the landlord is careful to only include valid provisions.

Furthermore in Ontario almost every single part of the landlord – tenant relationship is already covered under the Residential Tenancies Act (which cannot be contracted out of) making the lease an almost superfluous document. It does serve as a useful communication device to fully explain each parties expectations and also serves as a good place to put your address and contact information.

2 Mr. Cheap

Rachelle: Thanks again for all your help and advice! I can believe that adjudicator would be unimpressed if there were a bunch of blatantly illegal clauses in the lease…

3 HLL

Although I really enjoy reading this blog, you should check your facts before putting them up. As Rachelle will surely attest (from reading her stories), it’s not something you want to take lightly.

I’m new at this business myself, and, boy, have my eyes been opened. Ontario has to be one of the riskiest places to be a landlord in Canada. It pays to be well informed and methodical. If you put illegal clauses in your lease you are putting yourself at risk should you have to appear before the Landlord and Tenant Board (which by the way already leans heavily on the tenant’s side).

Whether you own a one bedroom condo or 10,000 rental units, the law is the same for everyone and each one of us landlords are at risk from bad tenants. I can’t stress this point enough.

4 QD

Along with going over the lease, I also do a “Rent Talk” with the prospective tenant before we sign a lease. It is a binder with presentation style pages that explain the difference between emergency and non-emergency repairs, expectation for rent paid on time ( or we issue an N4 – which I also have a copy in the presentation), tenant insurance, and a few other details. And I watch the prospective resident’s reaction as I go through it. For me it acts as I final filter.

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