The first rule of landlording is: Always use proper documentation. Whether you’re renting out a basement suite, a separate apartment, or just a room in your house, remember that it is your property that you are temporarily entrusting to another individual. It is your right as the owner of that property to ensure it is protected, and it is your responsibility to keep documentation of any and all agreements or transactions which occur between you and your tenant. This is true at any stage of the landlord-tenant relationship: pre-tenancy, during tenancy, and as your tenant is leaving.
Why Documentation Is So Important
Suppose that, despite your diligent screening, your tenant ends up not paying his or her rent or possibly share of the utilities. Perhaps your tenant has multiple loud parties that disturb the neighbours.
You have two basic courses of action:
- Let the tenant stay and allow him or her to continue costing you money and causing you headaches, or
- Issue documented warnings and/or an eviction notice, and find someone who will pay the rent and abide by the rules.
Let’s assume that you want to find new tenants, as is your right as a landlord. But when you knock on your tenant’s door and inform them that they have a month to find a new place, they protest.
“But you said I only had to pay rent once every three months,” they say, “and we never came to an agreement about utilities.”
You and the tenant sat down and verbally agreed that they would pay 30 percent of the utilities per month, and you were certain they understood that $850 was due at the beginning of each and every month. But the tenant doesn’t budge on his or her position.
Furious, you begin to pursue eviction through legal means, and find that you have no basis for your claims because none of the agreements you came to were in writing.
These arguments could have all been avoided, if you had properly documented each agreement.
Here are some agreements you may not have considered to be necessary, but can be helpful in situations such as the one described above:
- A pre-occupancy inspection checklist
- Notice of entry
- Letters warning the tenant when they are breeching the lease agreement
- Pet agreement
- An agreement to end tenancy when the tenant is moving voluntarily
Documentation is meant to protect not only the landlord, but also the tenant. Tenants should be kept apprised of any changes made to the lease agreement; any breeches of the lease agreement they may unwittingly be committing; and should be given ample notice and warnings in the event of an eviction. A landlord would also be wise to provide:
- A welcome letter outlining basic rules and listing the landlord’s contact information
- A list of repairs the landlord will do prior to your occupation of the residence
- A notice of entry at least 24 hours prior to the landlord’s entry into the residence
There are countless other agreements that both tenants and landlords may sign during the course of the tenancy. The intention of such record-keeping is to protect all parties in the agreement. If the proper agreements are made and signed, conflict can be avoided, the landlord-tenant relationship often remains amicable, and the outcome is more favourable for all.