Apartment Hunters: Beware of Illegal Lease Clauses!

In the News

If you’re looking for a new apartment or will be soon, beware: some clauses are illegal. This means they cannot be part of a lease, whether the landlord puts them in writing or communicates them to you verbally.

Security Deposits

Contrary to what many people believe, a landlord cannot require a security deposit when a tenant signs a lease. You can agree voluntarily to make such a deposit, but it is illegal for a landlord to require it. Nothing changes if the deposit is called a “key deposit” or a “guarantee against damages” – it’s still illegal. The only sum the landlord can require you to pay upon signing the lease is the first month’s rent.

Your landlord cannot ask for a security deposit during the lease either. The landlord is only entitled to the rent mentioned in the lease on the due date (usually the first of the month). Your landlord therefore cannot require you to pay your rent in advance by providing post-dated cheques, for example.

Responsibility for damages

A clause in a lease declaring that the landlord is not responsible for any damages may or may not be legal. It depends on the circumstances.  

This is known as a clause limiting or releasing someone from responsibility. It never applies if a tenant suffers physical or psychological harm due to the landlord’s fault. This means you could sue your landlord in this situation, even if there is a clause in the lease stating the landlord is not responsible.

However, things are less clear if you suffer damage to your belongings. A court would look at your landlord’s actions. If the court decides that the damage was caused intentionally or due to recklessness, carelessness or extreme negligence, the court would hold the landlord held responsible and order them to pay you compensation. A clause in the lease stating the landlord is not responsible would not apply in this case.  

However, if your landlord acted reasonably at all times, such a clause would protect them from having to pay compensation or might limit the amount they have to pay.

Lease cancellation

Your landlord cannot include a clause stating they can cancel your lease and force you to leave whenever they wish. In Quebec, tenants have the right to remain in their apartments as long as they respect all the lease conditions. This is an important protection that tenants enjoy here. To force a tenant to leave, a landlord must find a legal exception to this rule. Two such exceptions are eviction to carry out certain major projects and repossession by the landlord to move in or to house a family member. Both are subject to strict legal rules.

In both cases, the landlord must send you an advance notice with all the details of their request, and you can contest the request if you believe it is illegal or disagree with it.

For more information on these two exceptions to the tenant’s right to remain in their apartment, see the website of the Tribunal administratif du logement (TAL, formerly Régie du logement or rental board).