Fun with rental applications
April 4, 2012 8:05 PM   Subscribe

I'm apartment hunting in British Columbia. When a landlord asks me to fill out a rental application, but doesn't ask for a deposit right away, how binding should I consider the application?

The standard rental application has a clause to the effect of "if the landlord offers the apartment to the applicant within 5 days, the applicant agrees to sign a lease and pay $X deposit".

Sometimes, the landlord asks for a cheque which is to be returned if they don't end up offering me the apartment. In these cases, I understand that the money is gone if I choose to live somewhere else.

But if they don't ask for a cheque right away, am I asking for trouble if I sign multiple applications at the same time? If I'm offered two places, will the one I turn down try to come after me for money? (All my financial and personal info is on the application)

My guess is that it's pretty safe to do so since landlords in the neighbourhoods I'm looking in will have no problem finding someone else to rent to and it's probably not worth their time to try to enforce these applications. But I don't want to find myself being harassed over hundreds of dollars in deposit money.

The rental market in Vancouver is tough, and it seems crazy for me to have to sit on my hands for 5 days after applying to a place. But maybe this is just what people have to do? I can't find anything about this online.
posted by no regrets, coyote to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Maybe I was doing it wrong, but when I was apartment hunting Vancouver I would often have to sit on my hands just as you describe, after putting several applications out there. Don't be afraid to follow up after a day or two though. A rental application is different from a lease, I don't imagine anyone's going to come after you for money. They get to vet you and decide whether to rent you the place, and you similarly get to decide whether you truly want to take it.

I've never given a landlord a cheque unless I was definitely taking the place, but maybe they do that for classier places.

Good luck, apartment hunting in Vancouver sucks. I found most of my places through friends and Craigslist. Also, walking around the neighborhood you're looking in and calling the numbers on signs is effective. There are some great places out there, if you can see them FIRST, and make a good impression right away.
posted by stray at 8:23 PM on April 4, 2012

Are you sure that's what the clause says? That sounds completely bizarre to me; I wouldn't sign any such document.

I'm sure you know this, but the application is a way for the landlord to make inquiries as to whether you're a suitable tenant (e.g., do you have a bunch of debt, or were you a bad tenant behavior-wise to your last landlord?). Once they determine they'd like to offer you the opportunity to rent the unit, you can agree and pay a (non-refundable) deposit (which offers them some a good reason to stop entertaining other possible tenants, and recompense if you back out). I suppose it's possible lots of landlord in BC do this rather shady thing, but don't actually go through with pursuing you for the deposit. I don't see why they would do such a thing, though.
posted by axiom at 8:25 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Are you sure that's what the clause says? That sounds completely bizarre to me; I wouldn't sign any such document.

I'm looking at one now:
If the applicant fails to enter, or proceed with, the Residential Tenancy Agreement after the offer is accepted, the applicant maybe be held liable for payment of the equivalent of one month's rent to the landlord
This has been on all of the half-dozen or so applications I've seen in this round of house hunting.

axiom and stray, what you describe is how I've always gone about things -- I'm glad this isn't some standard thing that I've never heard of before. I'm just not sure whether this clause is boilerplate ass-covering that's safe to ignore, or whether it's something to be concerned about.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 8:40 PM on April 4, 2012

You have to accept the offer for that to be the case. An application is not an offer.
posted by spunweb at 8:45 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Maybe the pullquote needed more context. The document refers to the landlord either accepting or not accepting the offer. In the context of the small-print, the application is indeed an offer to rent the apartment.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 8:51 PM on April 4, 2012

Response by poster: Relevant quote: "I/we (the applicant) agree that when this offer is accepted, it becomes a binding document"
posted by no regrets, coyote at 8:56 PM on April 4, 2012

So. I think it's worth pointing out that it doesn't have to be binding for them to go after you.

What are you going to, pay a month's rent or try to wrangle a lawyer?

So… that's that for in theory. In practice, given my experience in Toronto, it doesn't matter. As far as I can tell, you have to be the first person looking at a viewing to get it.

They'll turn it around in less time than it takes for them to bother to chase you.
posted by pmv at 9:15 PM on April 4, 2012

I live in BC. This does not sound kosher at all. The only time you hand over a cheque for a deposit is after you have signed a rental agreement, not when you submit an application.

If you hand over a cheque during the application process (which I have never ever done) you can cancel the cheque and have, in practice, little to no worry that they are going to come after you.

But culturally, here on the West Coast you hand over a deposit after you both tacitly agree to rent the apartment.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:30 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Disclaimer: I am not your lawyer and this is not legal advice. I know little about contracts besides what I learned in law school, which was in Vancouver, but that's not saying much. Also, the clause must be read in context, which none of us have.

Okay. So, what you have here is a contract. Whether it's valid is a question you'd have to look at legislation and case law to discover. My hunch is that it is. I would not sign a bunch of contracts like this at the same time. I don't know whether the application itself constitutes an offer. It might. I wouldn't be surprised. I absolutely would not listen to spunweb, or anyone else, who claimed to know either way.
posted by smorange at 9:37 PM on April 4, 2012

Response by poster: I'll take it as reassuring that everyone seems as confused about this as I am.

The language on this [PDF] application form is similar to what I'm asking about, although I've seen much stronger wording.

I've rented many times before and never noticed anything like this either. I can't find anything in the tenancy act about it, so I think I'm generally just going to ignore it.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 10:07 PM on April 4, 2012

Huh. I'm no lawyer, but I wouldn't have any problem with the application you linked to. Seems like a pretty standard BC Tenancy application.

If the tenancy application is accepted, the Applicant(s) will sign the Landlord’s rental agreement with addendum and pay required damage deposits to the Landlord within one business day or by an alternate date agreed to by both parties. The damage deposit must be paid in full in cash or certified funds before the Landlord will sign the rental agreement and agree to enter into a tenancy agreement with the applicant(s)

It seems to me from this paragraph that not providing them with a deposit means that you will not entire into an agreement with the landlord, and you're both free to carry move on.

But you're right to be careful, there are some sketchy landlords out there, and tenancy laws in BC are not as tenant friendly as they could be.

I strongly recommend renters insurance, btw. I was in Vancouver when there was a fire in my building, and I had to immediately move out, and I was legally required to continue paying rent if I wanted to eventually move back in, even if repairs took months. Luckily I had a boyfriend with an apartment to go to, so I just left and never looked back, but it was kinda messy.
posted by stray at 10:18 PM on April 4, 2012

Response by poster: Yup, I've had my fair share of rental issues in BC and have read the tenancy act backward and forwards. This was just an issue I hadn't come across before.

The paragraph I quoted above seems more strongly worded and suggests a penalty unlike the one I linked to, but I couldn't find anything online that had the same type of wording. Ah well, so be it. I will apply to all the apartments.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 11:41 PM on April 4, 2012

Silly me, I should've thought of this sooner, but you could call TRAC, the Tenant Resource & Advice Line. They helped clarify some things for me regarding the aforementioned fire, and frankly seemed to know the Tenancy Act better than the government tenancy branch.
posted by stray at 8:50 AM on April 5, 2012

Have you considered taking a pen and simply crossing out the "if the landlord offers the apartment to the applicant within 5 days, the applicant agrees to sign a lease and pay $X deposit" part when filling out the applications? Ideally that would work out to: work fine for landlords who really don't intend to enforce that, give you some protection from ones who do, be a flag-raiser for identifying landlords whose methods are not optimal/whose listings are not in high demand.
posted by kmennie at 6:50 PM on April 5, 2012

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