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Key Housing Terms

Term Definition Tips
Apartment building A large building containing residential suites owned by the developer and rented to residents.

Apartments and condominiums (condos) are indistinguishable in appearance. The main difference between condominiums and apartments is the form of ownership.

Apartments are buildings where the developers retain ownership of the apartment building and rent out individual units – if you rent in an apartment, you are paying rent to the company.

In downtown Toronto, condominiums are much more widely available than apartments.


Apartment unit A self-contained unit with a bedroom, kitchen, and washroom. Apartment units can be found in buildings or houses, and can have a number of bedrooms.  
Lease assignment / takeover Assigning a unit means that you move out of the unit permanently and transfer your tenancy to another person who fulfils the rest of your lease and pays rent directly to the landlord. All the terms of the original lease remain the same, including the rent amount and included services/utilities until the end of the lease, at which point the new tenant can re-negotiate the terms with the landlord.

You must provide your landlord with a written request before you may assign your tenancy. Always keep a copy for your own records.

If you wish to move out of the unit for a period of time but return before the end of the lease, consider subletting your apartment. See subletting for more information.


Arrears Unpaid rent that a tenant owes to the landlord.  
Bachelor / Studio Apartment An apartment consisting of a single large room serving as bedroom and living room, with a separate bathroom. Aside from the bathroom, there are no dividing walls.  
Billeting A short-term stay, often with a host. Ryerson has partnered with StayBillety to support Ryerson community members with short-term billets using the referral code “RAMS”.
Condominium (Condo) A building or complex of buildings containing a number of individually owned apartments that the owner may choose to live in or rent out.

Apartments and condominiums (condos) are indistinguishable in appearance. The main difference between condominiums and apartments is the form of ownership.

Condominiums are buildings where the units are sold to independent owners and may be rented out individually – if you rent in a condo, you are paying rent to an individual owner.

Credit Check Many landlords make an application to a credit bureau to check a potential tenant's record of paying bills. A good credit score (around 650 or higher) is a positive indication that a tenant will pay the rent on time.  
Den A small room, in addition to the bedroom and living room. Often used as a home office or TV room. In Toronto, these rooms typically do not have a door.  
Detached House A single house that is owned by 1 or more persons. Owners may rent out one or more rooms, or the whole house.  
Evict To force a tenant to move out of a rental home.  
First and Last Month’s Rent

To secure a place, your landlord may ask for “first and last month’s rent”.

Legally, your landlord:

  • Can ask that you pay your first month’s rent upfront.

  • Is only able to ask for a deposit in an amount equivalent to one rental payment (one month if you have a monthly lease, one week if you have a weekly lease, etc.). This can be applied to cover your final period of rent (usually your last month).

  • This amount cannot be used as a security or damage deposit.

  • May ask for a key deposit, which should not exceed the value of replacing the key.

We recommend that you pay your deposit or rental payments by personal cheque or online transfer, not by cash. Always request a receipt that includes your landlord’s name, phone and signature, and the address of both your landlord and the unit you are renting.
Guarantor / Co-Signer Someone who signs a lease along with the tenant and agrees to be responsible for paying rent if the tenant does not pay it. A guarantor must have an account or credit history with a Canadian bank, as s/he will be financially liable to cover your rent if you miss rent payments.  
Hydro Energy-usage in the form of electricity. Using devices that require large amounts of electricity (such as running an air-conditioning unit) will increase your Hydro bill.  
Key Housing Terms A person or company who owns apartments or houses and rents them to people to live in. A landlord can also be called a lessor.  
Lease A legal contract between a landlord and tenant. A rental contract is also known as a tenancy agreement or a rental agreement. It can be a spoken (verbal) agreement or a written agreement. Landlords generally request an initial 12-month lease agreement. However, landlords may choose to offer 8-month, 4-month, month-to-month, or even week-to-week leases.

At the end of a set term lease (e.g., 12 months), it automatically converts to a month-to-month lease. A month-to-month lease means that you can leave after giving your landlord 60 days’ notice (unlike an annual lease which means you can only leave after the end date of the lease agreement, in addition to giving 60 days’ notice,  otherwise you will be “breaking the lease” and could face financial penalty).

It is extremely important that you get a copy of your lease in writing. Never sign anything without reading it thoroughly. Understand what you are signing and what your responsibilities will be.

If you have questions or concerns, seek advice from the Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations. Visit their website for resources or call 416-921-9494.


Legal Aid Clinic / Community Legal Clinic An agency that provides free legal advice to people with low income. Most cities have at least one legal aid clinic.  
Lessee See Tenant.  
Lessor See Landlord.  
Month-to-Month A tenancy where the tenant rents one month at a time. If you are on a month-to-month lease, you are still required to give proper notice of at least 60 days to terminate your lease without financial penalty.
Neighbourhood: A small, somewhat distinct area that is part of a larger city or town.
Post-dated Cheque A cheque written with an advance date. This way, the cheque may only be cashed as of the date written on it. For example, if you have a 1-year lease starting September 1, 2016, you may choose to provide your landlord with
12 post-dated cheques in the amount of your monthly rent, written as “September 1, 2017”, “October 1, 2017”, “November 1, 201”7 and so forth. The landlord may only cash each cheque on their respective date.
Landlords are not legally permitted to require you to provide post-dated cheques as a term of your lease, however, you may choose to use this method of payment as it is often easiest.
Reference Someone who can tell a landlord that you will be a reliable tenant based on your employment, character or ability to pay rent (similar to how a job interview reference can tell a potential employer you will be a reliable employee). Potential references can include past landlords, employers, and academic officials such as Deans, Registrars, Faculty, etc.

It may be helpful to get a letter from your department or college confirming the duration of your study, including any funding you might be receiving.

If you are unable to obtain references or guarantors, you may want to open a bank account and obtain a letter from your bank detailing the date the account was opened and the available funds.


Rent The payment a tenant makes to the landlord, usually each month, for the right to live in that apartment or house.  
Rent Deposit Money paid to a landlord before the start of a tenancy as a deposit to cover any future arrears. The amount of the deposit cannot be greater than one month's rent (or one week's rent, if you are renting weekly). See First and Last for more information.  
Rental Agreement See Lease.  
Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) The RTA sets the rules for rent increases, evictions, repairs, and many other issues that affect tenants. The RTA covers most renters, but if you share a kitchen, bathroom or living space with your landlord, you may not be. CLEO’s online tool at can help you find out if you are covered.
Semi-Detached House A single house that is joined to another house with a common wall.  
Social Housing Government-subsidized, non-profit housing that is managed either by municipalities or community/religious groups. This is also known as subsidized housing. Some non-profit housing organizations are also co-operatives, which are managed by their residents.  
Subletting If you want to move out of your unit temporarily and return before the lease ends, you can sublet your place. This involves finding a subtenant to move in and pay the rent for that period. During a sublet, your name remains on the lease, and you remain legally responsible for the rent. In most cases, the subtenant would pay you the rent and you would then pay the landlord. You are allowed to sublet your unit at any time during the duration of your lease, but you must get your landlord’s permission in writing. Landlords cannot outright refuse to allow you to sublet the unit, but can refuse a
specific subtenant if there is a valid reason (such as a failed credit or background check).
Tenancy Agreement See Lease.  
Tenancy Period The period of renting a house or apartment. It is usually specified in a rental contract, lease or tenancy
agreement. Most tenancies last for one year at first, although month-to-month tenancies are also common.
Tenant A person who lives in a rental apartment or house. A tenant is also known as a lessee.  
Tenants’ Insurance The cost of tenants’ insurance is approximately $300 per year to insure about $20,000 worth of goods and can provide the following protection: for fire, theft, water damage from plumbing problems, replacement of personal property such as computers, furniture, clothing, etc., coverage in the event that you are found liable for loss of property because of personal negligence, accidental loss/damage of jewelry or other property outside your home, and/or a temporary stay in a hotel while your unit is being repaired after fire, flood, etc.

Be sure to take photos of valuable items and save them online in a safe place (such as your email or Google Drive) in case of damage or loss. Keep receipts and a list of serial numbers in case you need to make an insurance claim.


Consider insuring items individually if they aren’t covered for their total value under basic plans. Make sure you have the contents of your apartment covered for their replacement cost and not a depreciated value.

Townhouse / Row House A small house joined to a row of other small houses.  
Vacancy Rate The percentage of rental apartments that are available in a community.  
Utilities / Vital Services Essential services administered by the municipality or province. These include heat, hot and cold water, electricity (hydro) and fuel (such as natural gas). As a tenant, you will likely be required to set up accounts and pay for some (if not all) utility connections.