A

Abatement

An abatement is a lease clause stating that if your apartment is damaged or under repair (not by you or someone in your care's fault or from a disaster, also known as force majeure), your landlord will allow you to suspend your lease and not charge you rent while the apartment is uninhabitable and you're living elsewhere.

Accessible

An accessible apartment is an apartment that's able to be reached and occupied by a person with a physical disability. For a wheelchair user or person with mobility difficulty, this often includes lease — or government-specified items — like ramps, larger doors, adapted bathrooms, lowered light switches, wide hallways and elevator access.

As a tenant, your lease may specify that you're accountable for keeping areas where wheelchairs may go free of items, such as bicycles and trash cans, that can block the path or doorway.

Application

A document a potential tenant fills out so a landlord can decide if they're qualified to rent the apartment. In addition to basic information, such as your workplace, SSNIT Number and previous addresses, you may have to provide items, such as pay slips, bank statements, references and recommendations.

Arrears

When you're behind in your payments — whether you're late with rent or have a past-due utility bill — your finances are in arrears.

As-is condition

The tenant agrees to rent the apartment in exactly the condition that it's currently in. This includes accepting any defects, flaws and repairs needed and agreeing that you'll rent the space as-is.

B

Broker

A broker is a professional agent who works on commission and helps negotiate lease agreements between the landlord and the renter.

Building code

A set of rules and standards set by the local government that dictates things like safety standards, design requirements and improvements on how buildings are constructed and maintained.

C

Certificate of occupancy

A certificate that verifies the spaces available for rent have been inspected, approved for occupancy and deemed as a quality place to live.

Co-signer

A secondary (or more) signer of your lease who won't be residing in the apartment, a co-signer is usually needed when the tenant has a short or poor rental or credit history and requires someone (usually a parent or employer) to vouch for them.

Co-tenant

When two or more people sign the tenancy agreement they are known as co-tenants. Each co-tenant has the same legal rights and responsibilities regarding the share house. This means that you are all legally responsible for paying the rent and looking after the place.

Common area

Areas of the apartment complex — such as the gym, laundry rooms, clubhouse and outdoor spaces — that are for common use. Every renter in the complex is allowed to use the common area.

Credit history

A public record of how you've managed your credit and debt in your past, including credit cards, loans and other leases. A potential landlord can request this from the credit bureaus to ensure you'll be able to pay your lease and have a history of paying your debts before deciding to rent to you.

E

Eviction

This is when tenants are forced to leave their house by order of a court or statutory body, following an appropriate notice of termination from the landlord/agent. Squatters have far less protection and can be evicted without having to go through this process.

F

First refusal right

The right of an existing tenant to have the first option to re-lease a unit at the same rent price or under the same conditions before the space is publicly available for other people to rent or lease.

Fixed term agreement

You have a fixed term agreement with the landlord if you have entered into a lease for a set period (usually 6 or 12 months) and the term of the lease has not yet expired. During this period, the landlord cannot ask you to leave unless you have breached the agreement.

G

Guarantor

Similar to a co-signer, a guarantor is a third party who “guarantees" you'll pay your rent and fulfill your financial obligations as a renter. However, a guarantor can't live in the apartment, even if they're on the lease itself.

Guest

A temporary visitor to your apartment who does not reside there, including your or your roommate's significant other who sleeps over often. While someone visits you, they're required to abide by the terms of your lease, as well, such as quiet hours, behavior or parking restrictions.

H

Head-tenant

This is a person who signs a tenancy agreement and then sub-lets rooms in the house to one or more other people. The head-tenant’s name is the only name on the lease and they have the rights and responsibilities of a landlord in relation to their sub-tenants. This means, for example, they are responsible for collecting the rent and getting the landlord to do any necessary repairs.

Holding fee / Reservation fee

If you decide you want to rent a house, you often have to pay a reservation fee to the landlord / agent after the landlord has approved your application. The fee should be no more than one week’s rent and should be credited toward the first week of renting when you sign your residential tenancy agreement.

L

Landlord

A person who leases their property to tenants. Landlords are responsible for keeping the share house in reasonable repair. Landlords may appoint a real estate agent to collect rent, provide repairs and give appropriate notices on behalf of them.

Lease

The old name for what is now called a residential tenancy agreement. In this guide we use both terms to refer to the tenancy agreement between a landlord / agent and tenant(s).

Lease commencement date

The date that the lease officially starts and the renter has access to move into the facility. This does not mean the renter has to move in on this date.

Lessee / Lessor

The lessee is the tenant, or lease-holder, and the lessor is the landlord or owner who provides the lease to you.

Lien

The right of a landlord to keep possession of a renters property until a debt has been paid.

M

Mixed-use zoning

An apartment complex that's mixed-use zoning will include residential and/or retail and office space. Parts of the building will be rental and living spaces while the other parts of the building will have commercial spaces. Usually, the ground level is retail/office while the higher levels are residential.

Month-to-month

A rental agreement that's automatically renewed at the end of each month (as opposed to the end of the year or some other length) until ended by either party under the terms of the lease within a certain window of time.

N

No ground termination

When there has been no breach of the lease, but either you or the landlord wishes to terminate the agreement, this is known as a no ground termination. Generally, no ground termination is not possible during the fixed term of an agreement.

Notice to quit

A formal notice given to a tenant by the landlord stating they intend to end the lease and begin eviction. It will often state some cause that can be corrected, such as paying back owed rent or removing an illegal squatter, by a certain date to resolve the violation.

Notice to vacate

A formal notice given to the landlord by a tenant stating they intend to end occupancy of the premises and not renew the lease. Your lease will usually state a window during which you can do this without penalty.

O

Order of termination and possession

The Rent Control Tribunal can make an order that a tenancy agreement has ended and that the landlord or head-tenant can take back possession of the rented premises or room. This order might be made if the tenant had breached the lease and failed to move out after the landlord had given appropriate notice.

P

Periodic agreement / Continuing agreement

You’re on a periodic agreement if there is no set period for the tenancy agreement, or if the fixed term of a lease (e.g. six months or one year) expires and you continue on the lease. All the conditions of the original agreement stay the same except that: the agreement can now be terminated for no reason (90 days written notice for a no ground termination from the landlord and 21 days notice from the tenant, or 30 days notice if the place has been sold); and the rent can be increased (with 60 days written notice).

Profiling

An illegal discriminatory practice and pattern of refusing to rent to or rejecting a potential tenant based on their race or ethnicity or another protected status, such as disability or religion, often through deceptive or surreptitious means.

Prorated

The amount of rent charged to a tenant when the first or last month of a lease is less than a full month. If you move in the middle of the month, the landlord will often only charge you for the percentage of the month you actually occupied the unit.

Q

Quiet enjoyment

The right to live in your rented premises without interference from others, particularly your landlord/ agent. This is one of the conditions of your tenancy agreement. When the landlord keeps popping in on Sunday mornings without warning, your right to ‘quiet enjoyment’ may have been breached.

R

Real estate agent

The real estate agent acts for the landlord and, like the landlord, is subject to the Residential Tenancies Act. If your landlord has a real estate agent and any problems arise in relation to your house, for example leaky taps or rent arrears, you should first deal with the real estate agent to address the problem.

Renewal

The option the tenant has to continue living in the apartment after the initial term of the lease is over. There's often a choice of renewing for the original term or converting to month-to-month.

Rent

This is the fee that a tenant pays to a landlord / agent to live in a house. If you have signed a lease, the agreed rent must be written on the agreement and can only be increased after the end of the fixed term period, unless the agreement specifies an increase during the fixed-term period.

Rent arrears

The rent owed for the days you have lived in a place but haven’t paid rent for. When you are behind in paying the rent by 14 days, the landlord / agent can issue you with a notice of termination.

Rent increase

Any rent increase requires 60 days written notice. For squatters, only ‘reasonable notice’ is required. You should contact your local rent control’ advice service if you feel inadequate notice has been given.

Residential tenancy agreement

This is the contract which is made by the tenant and the landlord / agent at the start of the tenancy. Tenancy agreements are usually in writing, but a tenancy agreement can be spoken or part-spoken and part-written. The Residential Tenancies Act sets out the terms which must be part of all tenancy agreements. Usually, an agreement will be signed with an initial fixed term of 6 or 12 months, during which time the rent generally cannot be increased and the agreement cannot be terminated, unless it is breached.

Roommate

It's simply someone who shares a room or apartment with you. There's no legal definition of roommate, and it could describe co-tenants, you and a squatter, you and a sub-letter or you and your significant other.

S

Screening

This is when a potential landlord runs a background check on your criminal, credit or rental history in order to discern if you have the right financial and legal background to pass muster as a qualified tenant.

Security deposit

A security deposit is the extra sum of money you provide to your landlord upon signing the lease or moving in that proactively covers any damage you might do to your apartment or rent you don't pay during the term of your lease. Your landlord holds this money in escrow until you vacate the apartment.

Upon move-out, your landlord will assess the condition of your apartment and refund your deposit less any money he or she decides to charge for damage or repair beyond normal wear and tear.

Step-up lease

A lease agreement where rent prices will increase or “step-up" at specified periods of time throughout the course of the lease.

Sub-letting

This is where the person whose name is on the lease, that is, the head-tenant, rents a room or even the whole house or flat to another person. Legally, a tenant cannot sub-let without the landlord’s prior consent.

Sub-tenant

A tenant whose name is not on the tenancy agreement who pays rent to a head-tenant rather than the landlord/agent. As a sub-tenant with a written agreement, you have the same rights and responsibilities as other tenants under the Residential Tenancies Act, and the head-tenant has the rights and responsibilities of a landlord.

Sublease

When a renter rents out part or all of an apartment to another person. You can rent out a single extra bedroom in your apartment or the entire place (either for a profit or because you'll be away for an extended period).

But you can't sublet your apartment without your landlord's permission and you, as the primary lease-holder, are ultimately responsible for the rent getting to your landlord and for any actions or damage caused by your sub-letter.

T

Term

The amount of time specified on your lease during which you'll occupy the apartment and pay rent. This is usually a year but can be nearly any timeframe or even open-ended.

Termination

This is when either party decides to end the tenancy agreement, for example, if you give notice to move out or the landlord gives you notice to leave. The agreement does not actually end until the tenant moves out or the Rent Control Tribunal makes an order of termination.

Transfer of tenancy

This is when a person whose name is on the residential tenancy agreement signs over their legal rights as a tenant in the house to another person.

U

Utilities

The other expenses in your apartment for which you're responsible that are billed on a consistent and recurring basis, sometimes depending on usage. Utilities can include cable, heat, water, electricity, internet, garbage removal, storage, parking, natural gas, rental insurance, grill propane and sewer.

Some of these costs may be included in your rent. For those that are not, these are bills that are usually split equally between roommates, should you have them.

V

Vacancy rate

The number of vacant apartment units compared to the total number of units available for rent.

W

Wear and tear

A term found in most leases that describes the acceptable amount of damage that does not trigger a monetary penalty deducted from your security deposit upon vacating the apartment. This takes the burden of responsibility away from the tenant for normal, unavoidable usage deterioration.

Repainting and carpet cleaning, as well as damage such as chips, scuffs and small scratches on cabinets usually fall under acceptable or normal wear and tear.