Sign on the Dotted Line: Understanding Tenancy Forms

By: 

Victor Ryan, Public Interest Law Student, TAPS

A signature is a powerful thing. It can signal your approval, provide proof of your identity, or commit you to certain obligations. Your signature plays a large role in your life, and because it is so important, being careful about what you sign and don’t sign is absolutely necessary.

When you rent a room, an apartment, or a house, you may be asked to sign many things. Sometimes, your signature will be necessary, and helpful to your tenancy. Sometimes, your signature will not be necessary, but could still help you clarify your rights and responsibilities as a renter. Sometimes, it may be in your best interest to not sign a document.
The most important thing to remember before signing anything is to read what you are signing. Adding your signature to a document without completely understanding what it says can put you in a sticky situation. Below are descriptions of four different forms you may be asked to sign as a renter, and information about what signing those forms will do for you.
 
Tenancy Agreements
Since January 1, 2004, landlords have been required by law to prepare written tenancy agreements when tenants agree to rent a place. A written tenancy agreement allows both you and the landlord to have a clear record of what your agreement includes: your rent amount, what utilities you must pay, what pets are allowed, etc. Signing this agreement solidifies your rights as a tenant and makes it easier to assert your rights if they’ve been breached. However, if you don’t sign a tenancy agreement, you may still have an oral tenancy agreement. Make sure you agree with all of the terms in the tenancy agreement before you sign!
 
Condition Inspection Report
Before you officially move in to your new apartment, you and your landlord have to inspect the condition of your rental unit. This is a very important aspect of renting an apartment. Your landlord is responsible for providing a written document that outlines the condition of your new apartment, which you must sign if you’ve done the condition inspection. Without this report, you have no way of proving the condition of your apartment before you moved in, which can interfere with the return of your security deposit when you move out. Make sure that you indicate on the report any damage you see in the apartment!
 
Return of Security Deposit
You have a responsibility, along with your landlord, to perform a condition inspection when you move out of your apartment as well. The landlord must provide another inspection report, and you are expected to read it over and sign it. Make sure you only sign the form if you agree with what it says! However, you do not have to sign anything to receive your security deposit, or any other amounts you may be owed. Simply giving a forwarding address in writing is enough to trigger the landlord’s obligation to give you back your money.
 
Mutual Agreement to End Tenancy Form
You may be asked to sign a standard form called a Mutual Agreement to End Tenancy. This is a contract between you and your landlord that ends your tenancy on a specific date. Your landlord may bring you this form towards the end of your tenancy. It is critically important that you do not sign this form unless you agree to leave your apartment at the date and time on the form. Once you sign a Mutual Agreement, it is very difficult to dispute the end of your tenancy.

If you’ve been asked by your landlord to sign a form, and you are unsure what your signature would mean, you can call the TAPS office at 250-361-3521 to make an appointment with a tenant advocate who can help you better understand the form. The tenancy project at TAPS can help you gain the information you need to make positive, informed decisions about renting. We’re here to help!