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Leases - What you need to know

Have your lease reviewed for free by contacting Off-Campus Housing before signing!

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.

The lease is your agreement with the landlord to rent the housing unit; it can be written or oral. An oral lease is just as binding as a written lease but its terms are more difficult to prove. If possible, get your lease in writing. 

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 convince the landlord to agree to a shorter lease 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. If possible, take it home with you overnight and study it before agreeing.

  • Ask about any clauses you do not understand. Be sure you understand the explanation completely. If you wish, you can bring a copy of the lease to the Off-Campus Housing Office and ask for help in analysing the lease before you agree to it. Do not sign the lease until you are sure you understand it. 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.

  • Remember that the key to successful negotiation is to make each person satisfied with the deal. Point out any advantages to the landlord in what you want. Be creative. Look for ways to arrive at mutually beneficial solutions while establishing a friendly, cooperative relationship.

  • 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 always 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 towards 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).

One option is to sublet your unit. You can do this by advertising on our classifieds service, which can be found here. As a student at the University of Waterloo you are able to post in our “Classified” section at no cost. Access to the classifieds is restricted to those with a Quest ID (UW students) and this is where you would enter in the details of your post. Please allow 1-2 business days for us to approve your classified.

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. Form N4 is for the Landlord to evict a tenant for not paying their rent. If the tenant has already moved out, their option is to apply to small claims court to get you to pay them the money.

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. If termination information cannot be found in your lease agreement, I encourage you to contact your landlord for clarification on these rules, if you have not yet done so. Once you and your landlord sign a lease, it is a legally binding contract that is expected to be upheld by both parties. 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. It is becoming more common that landlords will request more than 60 days notice to terminate a tenancy (sometimes even 7 or 8 months!). Watch out for leases that are one year but 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.

Under section 44(4) of the RTA “to terminate a tenancy for a fixed term shall be given at least 60 days before the expiration date specified in the tenancy agreement, to be effective on that expiration date.” 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.

Under section 44(2) of the RTA “to terminate a monthly tenancy {notice} shall be given at least 60 days before the date the termination is specified to be effective and that date shall be on the last day of a rental period.” A monthly tenancy is one where rent is paid monthly and there is no defined end date on the lease.

Lastly, when terminating, there is an importance to filling in 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 here at the Landlord and Tenant Board website (Form N9).

VIDEO: Leases and sublets

VIDEO: frequently asked questions

Want more information?

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

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.