Step 3: Signing a lease

Student on a laptop

What is a lease? 

A lease is a binding contract granting use or occupation of property during a specified period in exchange for a specified rent. Typically, a lease is one year in length.

Starting April 30, 2018, landlords of most private residential rental units – from individual landlords to property management companies – must use the standard lease template for all new leases. 

Landlord and tenant rights and responsibilities remain the same under the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006 (RTA). 

Download a copy of the standardized lease agreement.

For more information, visit the Government of Ontario, Ministry of Municipal affairs and housing. The Region of Waterloo Tip Sheet also explains what to look for in a lease or rental agreement. 

Purpose of the standard lease

The standard lease uses easy-to-understand language to help: 

  • landlords and renters understand their rights and responsibilities
  • reduce illegal terms in leases and misunderstandings caused by verbal tenancy agreements
  • reduce the need for Landlord and Tenant Board hearings to resolve disputes

Who signs the lease? 

  • Carefully consider other tenants included in the lease.
  • Any tenant who signs the lease may be jointly or solely responsible for the entire rent of the unit. Most landlords will allow you to sign separate leases for a single room within a unit, thus if other tenants miss their rental payments, you are not responsible for covering their missed payments.
  • When you sign a lease, you are making yourself liable for rent each month until the lease ends, regardless of whether you live in the unit for the full lease period. If you plan to leave your housing unit for a period of time, you should sublet or negotiate with the landlord for a shorter term.
  • When leaving, you must give 60 days written notice to your landlord. Subletting entails having someone else live in your unit for part of your lease term. You must ask permission from your landlord to sublet. Your landlord cannot reasonably refuse your sublet request; otherwise you can have your lease terminated.

Negotiating the lease

A contract is an agreement between two or more people to do something and a statement of their respective responsibilities and rights in doing it. 

Most landlords use lengthy written leases containing clauses designed to protect and benefit themselves, but if you are careful, respectful, assertive, and prepared, you can sometimes get a better deal for yourself. 


  • Take time to read the lease carefully before you sign it.
  • Ask about any clauses you do not understand. Be sure you understand the explanation completely. You will not be excused from honouring the lease simply because you did not understand what the terms meant.
  • If you and the landlord agree to change or add to the lease, make sure both of you initial each change on the lease, or that your new agreement is written down and signed by both of you. Not only will the validity of any changes to the lease be in question if they are not put into writing and signed by both parties, but it may be very difficult to prove that those changes were ever made.
  • Once you have signed the lease, be sure to get a copy for yourself.

Terminating your lease

Terminating partway through the lease term 

Terminating a lease is not a simple process. Once you and your landlord sign a lease, it is a legally binding contract and both parties have to agree to terminate the lease for that to take effect. It is usually only in exceptional circumstances that it becomes easier to break a lease, and even then it is usually after much deliberation and communication with your landlord that you both mutually choose to terminate a lease prior to the end of the tenancy. 

If you would like to terminate your agreement early, the best course of action is to notify your landlord and see if they are willing to let you do so. They don’t have to agree to break the lease.  

Please note that you have signed a legally binding document, in which you have agreed to live there for a specified period. As such, you will be responsible for any penalties that come with early termination. The last month’s rent should be applied toward your last month living in the unit, but it is up to the landlord’s discretion whether you will be responsible for paying for the remaining months (even if you don’t live there). 

If you are not going to live in your leased space for the full duration of the lease, you have the option is to sublet your unit.  

If you want to legally terminate the lease without the risk of any repercussions (ie. court), and your landlord is not willing to do so, the Landlord and Tenant Board has a few different forms that you could submit that result in a hearing that could end with the tenancy terminated.

Terminating a lease at the end of your tenancy 

If you wish to terminate your tenancy, the first step is to be informed and have a read through your lease agreement. Any information on termination is usually written in the lease. 

Unless otherwise stated, the tenant must give the landlord a minimum of 60 days’ notice prior to the end of the tenancy period to terminate their lease. The end of your tenancy period must be on the last day of the lease. Although not required, it is becoming more common that landlords will request more than 60 days' notice to terminate a tenancy (sometimes even 7 or 8 months!).  

Be mindful of leases that are one year may automatically renew for a second year if you don’t give the proper notice of termination. If you missed the early termination date, talk with your landlord in how you may be able to end your lease or find a sublet for your place. 

A fixed term tenancy is one where both landlord and tenant agree that the tenancy will last for a specific period of time. Most student leases in Waterloo are for fixed term tenancies. 

Lastly, when terminating, it is important to complete the necessary paperwork. Your landlord should provide you with a termination form. It is best that both parties sign something formal. If your landlord does not provide you with a Notice to Terminate Tenancy form, you can find one on the Landlord and Tenant Board website (Form N9).

Here are some additional resources that outline your tenant rights and responsibilities: 

  • Residential Tenancies Act 

    • Subletting: Due to the co-op work terms outside of the region, subletting is common for Waterloo students. You should be aware of the legal issues with subletting that are part of the Residential Tenancies Act. Students should be aware that as the tenant, you are able to sublet your accommodation with the consent of the landlord.  The landlord should be reasonable when offering consent. If you choose to sublet your space, you remain responsible for the lease. This can put students in difficult situations if the subtenant does not follow the obligations of the lease. When signing a lease, consider your plans for your work term whenever possible.

    • Note: If you are living with your landlord or their immediate family member, you are in a boarding agreement. You are not protected under the Residential Tenancies Act. 

  • Landlord and Tenant Board