Moving into Rented Premises

The topics in the Dial-A-Law series provide general information on legal issues within the Province of Alberta. The purpose of this topic is to inform you of your legal rights and responsibilities. This is not legal advice. If you require legal advice, you should contact a lawyer.

This topic reviews the rights and responsibilities of both the landlord and the tenant when the tenant moves into rented premises.  Rented premises include among others, apartments, houses, duplexes and condominium units.  The person who rents the premises is called the tenant and the person you rent from is called the landlord.  The Alberta law that applies to the landlord-tenant relationship is the Residential Tenancies Act. Throughout this article this statute will be referred to as the “Act”.

Sometimes the landlord will ask for a deposit from you to hold the premises you wish to rent. Such a deposit is to be distinguished from a “security deposit”, which is described later. Unlike a security deposit, a deposit to hold the premises you wish to rent is not dealt with in the Act. Depending on the terms you negotiate with the landlord, the landlord may be able to retain the deposit if you do not move in.  If the landlord agrees to refund the deposit, then ensure the landlord’s agreement to refund the deposit in writing.

The premises you rent should be clean and in good repair at the beginning of the tenancy.  An inspection of the premises must be made by both the landlord and the tenant within one week before or after the tenant takes possession of the rented premises.  A detailed checklist to note the condition of ceilings, walls, windows, stairs, porches, landings, floors, plumbing, heating, carpets, drapes, stoves/ovens, fridges, etc. should be used during the inspection.” If the landlord and tenant cannot reach agreement regarding when the inspection is to take place, the landlord may complete the inspection without the tenant if the landlord proposes two inspections to take place on different days, on days that are not holidays, and between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., and no adult tenant agrees to take part. After the inspection, the landlord must provide the tenant with a report of the inspection describing the “condition of the premises”. The landlord must retain a copy of the inspection report for at least three years after the termination of the tenancy.

After the tenancy starts, the landlord may not enter the rented premises without your consent except when expressly permitted under the Act. The Act permits the landlord to enter the premises without your consent and without prior notice if the landlord has reasonable grounds to believe you have abandoned the premises or an emergency exists that requires the landlord to enter the premises. The landlord may also enter the premises without your consent but after providing you with advance written notice to inspect or make repairs to the premises, for necessary pest control, to show the premises to prospective purchasers or mortgage lenders, and to show the premises to prospective tenants during the last month of a fixed term tenancy or after you or the landlord has given the other a written notice to terminate a periodic tenancy. The Act describes what information must be contained in the landlord’s notice of intended entry and how and when it must be provided to you.

If you believe that the premises require repairs and you still wish to rent, write down the required repairs on your residential tenancy agreement so that you will not be responsible for these repairs when you move out.  A residential tenancy agreement is often called a lease. Once you move into the rented premises, you will be held responsible for any damage to the premises caused by accidents or vandalism.  You should consider purchasing an insurance policy for your personal belongings and to provide coverage for injury to third parties and accidental damage to other premises and property caused by you or your visitors.

The landlord must provide you with the name of the landlord and the landlord’s street address and postal address in Canada by either posting this information in a common area of the building or by personally serving a “Notice of Landlord” to you within seven days of when you take possession of the rented premises.

It is strongly recommended that you enter into a detailed written residential tenancy agreement (an “Agreement”) with the landlord once you agree to rent the premises and before you move in. A residential tenancy agreement is a legal contract between you, as a tenant, and the landlord. The Agreement must be consistent with the Act in describing the rights and responsibilities of the tenant and the landlord and the protections extended to the tenant under the Act. If there is a conflict or inconsistency between the Agreement and the Act, the Act will prevail.

Your obligations as tenant include the following:

  • paying the rent on time even if you have a disagreement with the landlord;
  • not commiting a substantial breach of the residential tenancy agreement;
  • not doing anything illegal in the rented premises;
  • not interfering with the rights of the landlord and other tenants;
  • not causing or permitting damage to the rented premises;
  • keeping the rented premises in good condition;
  • if you change the locks during your tenancy, you must provide a key to the landlord;
  • you must move out when the residential tenancy agreement ends or is terminated; and
  • if you want to sublease the premises or assign your tenancy agreement to someone else, you must first obtain the landlord’s written permission to do so.

The landlord’s obligations include the following:

  • giving proper notice when the landlord wishes to enter the rented premises;
  • ensuring the premises are in good repair and ready for you to move into;
  • returning your security deposit or whatever portion is not used for repairs or cleaning;
  • not disturbing or interfering with your possession or peaceful enjoyment of the premises; and
  • making sure the residential premises meet the minimum requirements set out under the
  1. Alberta’s Public Health Act;
  2. Housing Regulation; and
  3. Minimum Housing and Health Standards.

If the landlord does not have the rented premises available for you on the date you are to move in, you may sue the landlord for the costs of storing your furniture and staying in a hotel while the premises are not available to you.

Once you sign the Agreement, you must be provided a copy of the Agreement within 21 days of you signing. If the landlord does not provide you with a copy, you can withhold payment of rent until you receive the Agreement. You cannot withhold payment of rent for any other reason even if there is a disagreement about repairs, heating, maintenance, etc.

In addition to the contractual terms in the residential tenancy agreement, the landlord may impose rules and regulations for all the tenants but these may not be inconsistent or in conflict with the contractual provisions of the Agreement or any provisions of the Act. The tenant should have a copy of the rules and regulations, which are often contained in a schedule to the residential tenancy agreement. Some reasonable rules would be prohibiting real Christmas trees, pets, barbecues, satellite dishes, smoking or waterbeds. Unless expressly authorized under the terms of the Agreement, the landlord may not change or add rules and regulations during the tenancy without the consent of the tenant.

There are generally two types of residential tenancy agreements you may enter into.  First, there is a tenancy for a fixed term, or a fixed period, between specified dates. This is called a “fixed term tenancy”.  For example, the specified term may be from January 1 to December 31.  Second, you may rent the premises on a periodic basis, usually weekly, monthly or yearly. This is called a “periodic tenancy”. Except when terminated early due to a default by either the landlord or the tenant, periodic tenancies continue until either the landlord or the tenant gives the other written notice to end the tenancy.  There are special rules that apply to the termination of a periodic tenancy. If the tenant is not in default, the landlord may only terminate a periodic tenancy for one of a few reasons that are prescribed in the regulations under the Act.

If after entering into a residential tenancy agreement you want to move from the rented premises before the tenancy ends, can you? The answer to this question depends on various factors including whether your tenancy is a fixed term tenancy or a periodic tenancy. Generally speaking, if your landlord is not in default under your residential tenancy agreement or under the Act, you may not terminate your tenancy without the landlord’s written consent. If your landlord permits you to terminate your tenancy other than in accordance with the strict provisions of the Act, ensure that your agreement with the landlord to do so is clear and in writing. If the landlord is unwilling to terminate the tenancy early, you will incur liability to the landlord if you stop paying rent or do anything else that is in contravention of your residential tenancy agreement or the Act.

You may be able to obtain a contribution to the rent you are required to pay the landlord by taking a roommate, by assigning your interest under your residential tenancy agreement to another person or persons, or by subleasing your rented premises to another person or persons. You may not proceed with any of these possibilities except in strict accordance with the Act and the terms of your residential tenancy agreement. Usually a written residential tenancy agreement will describe the only people that may reside in the rented premises with the named tenants. If you permit any other people to reside there without the landlord’s consent, you will be in default under both the residential tenancy agreement and the Act. When a tenant assigns his or her interest under a residential tenancy agreement to another person, the person to whom the tenant’s interest is assigned will be entitled to all of the original tenant’s rights and benefits under the residential tenancy agreement and be bound by the original tenant’s obligations under the agreement. After an assignment takes place, the original tenant loses his or her rights under the residential tenancy agreement but remains liable thereunder if the assignee fails to comply with the provisions of the agreement or the Act. A sublease occurs when the original tenant maintains control under the residential tenancy agreement but permits another person to occupy the premises in the place of the tenant. The sublease term must end at least one day before the term of the residential tenancy agreement ends otherwise the sublease will be, despite its name, an assignment of the residential tenancy agreement. If there is a sublease, the original tenant rather than the subtenant remains liable to the landlord under the residential tenancy agreement. With an assignment, the assignee pays the rent to the landlord but both the original tenant and the assignee are liable to the landlord under the residential tenancy agreement. Under a sublease, the original tenant continues to pay rent to the landlord and the subtenant pays the original tenant all or a portion of the rent payable by the original tenant to the landlord.

A landlord may not refuse to consent to an assignment or sublease unless the landlord has reasonable grounds for doing so. The landlord must give the tenant written notice of the reason for the landlord’s refusal to consent within 14 days after receiving the request for consent. If the landlord does not respond to the tenant’s request for consent within 14 days, the tenant is entitled to assume that the landlord consents to the assignment or sublease. Further, the Act prohibits a landlord from charging a fee for giving consent to an assignment or sublease of a residential tenancy agreement.

Before or upon entering into a residential tenancy agreement, the landlord will ask you for a security deposit, which is often called a damage deposit.  This deposit is paid only once to the landlord and is held by the landlord as security in case you damage the rented premises.  The maximum amount of the security deposit paid is one month’s rent.  The landlord must deposit the money into an interest bearing trust account at a bank until you move out.  The return of the security deposit must include interest paid by the bank.

When you move out of the rented premises, the landlord must return the entire security deposit to you if you did not damage the rented premises or any appliances owned by the landlord in the premises and you cleaned the premises before moving out.  If you damaged the rented premises in any way or did not clean the premises, or if you owe the landlord money for other repairs or maintenance, the landlord may deduct the money owed accordingly.  The landlord cannot make any deductions from the security deposit for “normal wear and tear” on the premises. Also, the landlord cannot deduct anything from the security deposit if the landlord did not comply with the provisions of the Act that require landlords to complete move-in and move-out inspections.

If you have a periodic tenancy, you must provide the landlord with a proper written notice to terminate the tenancy.  The contents of the notice and the notice period will depend on whether you have a weekly, monthly or yearly periodic tenancy. If you have a fixed term tenancy, you are not required to provide the landlord with any notice of termination since your tenancy will end on the last day of the fixed term. Consult your local Landlord Tenant Advisory Board for further information.

Dial-A-Law is a Calgary Legal Guidance public service project funded in part by the Alberta Law Foundation.