Step 3: Signing a lease

Two student talking, while sitting at a table.

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.
  • Standard leases are typically 1-year in length.
  • 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.
  • Make sure when negotiating you understand if you need to move-out at the end of your lease or have the option/are required to renew. 
  • Once you have signed the lease, be sure to get a copy for yourself.

The Region of Waterloo provides a comprehensive sheet to navigating missed rent payments and negotiating with your landlord.

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.

For a printable resource download the "terminating your lease partway through your lease term" information tip sheet. 

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).

Check out this "What You Need to Know About Notice Periods" tip sheet from the Region of Waterloo to understand the information that you need to know about notice periods and moving out of your rental housing. 

For a printable resource download the "terminating your lease towards the end of your tenancy" information tip sheet. 

Questions to ask before signing a lease

To ensure you make an informed decision about your rental housing, it’s essential to ask landlords important questions. Here’s a comprehensive list to guide your discussion: 

Questions to ask your landlord

Lease terms

  • What is the duration of the lease?
  • How does the lease renewal process work?

Security deposit

  • What is the amount of the security deposit?

  • How and when will it be returned? 

Emergency contact

  • What are the emergency contacts?
  • How are maintenance and repair requests handled?


  • What is your preferred method of communication?
  • How can tenants reach the landlords for non-emergency matters?


  • Is subleasing allowed?
  • What are the procedures?


  • What furnishings are included in the rental?
  • Are there shared amenities, like laundry or parking?

Rent and utilities

  • What is the monthly rent?
  • What amenities are included in the rent? (e.g. electricity, water, internet, etc.) 

Guest policies

  • What are the rules to have guests over?
  • Are there any restrictions on overnight guests?

Neighbourhood safety

  • What measures are taken to ensure the safety of residents in the neighbourhood?

Lease termination policy

  • What is the notice period to terminate the lease?
  • What are the penalties for breaking the lease?

TIP: Refer to this guide about talking to landlords effectively (in-person or on telephone) 

Note: A landlord may ask you to sign a lease for a longer duration, but you don’t have to. In Ontario, the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA), 2006 sets out rules and responsibilities about what a landlord can and cannot require of a renter in private market rental housing. 

TIP: The Region of Waterloo Worksheet makes reviewing and summarizing your lease easier. 

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

  • Rental scams 

    • Verify the property on google and consider asking your landlord for proof of ownership 

      • Don’t provide any payment before signing your lease  

      • TIP: In Ontario landlords may only ask for an advance deposit of one month's rent to be applied as last month's rent and a refundable key deposit (this is the amount it would cost to replace the key). It is not legal to ask for cleaning fees, application fees, security deposits, damage deposits, holding fees. This is for all agreements covered under RTA. 

    • Do your research on neighborhoods and what the average cost in the area is. Keep your guard up and use common sense.  

    • Check the place out even if it’s a virtual live viewing 

    • See this infographic from Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario outlining scams to learn how to spot the most common scams 

    • If you are concerned that a listing may be a scam, this "how to spot a rental scam" resource has tips to help you identify if it is safe. 

The difference between Subtenancy and a Lease Assignment


Subtenancy flow chart

Lease Assignment

Lease Assignment flow chart


Lease Assignment


Lease between the original tenant (referred to as the “head tenant”) and the subtenant (referred to as the “new tenant”)

The original tenant transfers their lease to the assignee (referred to as “new tenant”). The terms of the original tenancy agreement apply.

Conditions for a valid contract

Four conditions must be fulfilled: 1) The original tenant must vacate the rental unit; • If the original tenant does not vacate the rental unit but allows another person to live in the rental unit, the other person is considered a roommate and/or an occupant of the rental unit. 2) The term of the Subtenancy Agreement must end on a specified date before the end of the original tenant’s lease; • It is possible to create a subtenancy for one month less one day in the case of a month-to-month tenancy. 3) The original tenant retains the right to resume occupancy of the rental unit at the end of the subtenancy; and 4) The original tenant must obtain the landlord’s consent. • The landlord shall not arbitrarily or unreasonably withhold consent. If this happens, the original tenant may apply to the LTB. • If no consent is obtained, the landlord may apply to the LTB for an order terminating the subtenancy and evicting the “subtenant” who is in fact an “unauthorized occupant.”

One condition must be fulfilled: 1) The original tenant must seek the landlord’s consent to the assignment, either general (i.e. “Okay, you can assign your lease to someone”) or specific (i.e. “Okay, you can assign your lease to Jane Doe”). • Where a landlord refuses to consent to a general assignment, or does not respond within seven days, the tenant may give the landlord a notice of termination within thirty days after the date the tenant requested consent to an assignment or apply to the LTB. • Where a landlord has consented to an assignment in principle (i.e. no paperwork signed), the original tenant must still obtain the landlord’s further consent to an assignment to a specific assignee. In that case, the landlord may determine if the potential assignee is an appropriate tenant.

Period of time

Fixed period; less than the term of the head tenant’s lease

For the remainder of the original lease, as per the terms and conditions agreed upon by the original tenant. When the term expires, it becomes a month-to-month lease.

Original tenant’s rights and obligations

The original tenant is still liable to the landlord as if still living there; the contractual relationship remains. The original tenant also has a contractual relationship with the subtenant. Certain provisions of the RTA apply, such as arrears of rent, damage to rental unit, interference with enjoyment, etc.

The original tenant will only be liable for breaches and obligations related to the period prior to the assignment. There are no ongoing obligations on the part of the original tenant once the lease has been transferred.

New tenant’s rights and obligations

The subtenant is not liable towards the landlord, as there is NO contractual relationship between them. They are only liable toward the original tenant. The subtenant’s rights are limited to section 135 of the RTA (i.e. money collected illegally). For any other matters, the subtenant must turn to the original tenant for relief, who in turn may enforce obligations against the landlord.

The assignee is liable toward the landlord, not toward the original tenant, as there is no contractual relationship between the assignee and the original tenant. The assignee steps into the shoes of the original tenant in all respects, and thus is covered by all the protections provided by the RTA

Fees and costs

The landlord may only charge reasonable out-of-pocket expenses incurred in giving consent to subtenancy.

The landlord may only charge reasonable out-of-pocket expenses incurred in giving consent to assignment (e.g. credit check), and may not be compensated for internal administrative steps.