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Lease Start Date vs. Move-in Date: Things to Know

Kate Smalley

Nov 18, 2022 8 min read

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It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement, stress, and overwhelm of apartment hunting. It’s also important to do your due diligence and understand what you’re agreeing to when you sign a lease.

A common thing people overlook is that your lease start date and move in date are two different things. While they often end up being the same day, don’t assume that they will be.

Your lease start date is when you become legally responsible for the unit. Your move-in date is when you actually take possession. You’ll have to agree on both dates with your new landlord. 

In this article we’ll review the key differences between lease start date and move-in date so that you can be well prepared ahead of your next move.

What is the Difference Between Lease Start Date and Move-in Date?

The lease start date is the day your lease officially begins and you become legally responsible for the apartment. Your move-in date is the day you take possession of the apartment. 

The lease start date will always be specified in your lease agreement or rental contract. Your move-in day typically won’t be. You’ll agree on that separately with your landlord or leasing company, usually during or after signing the lease. 

For many people, the lease start date and move-in date will be the same. For example, your lease starts on the 1st of the month and you move in on the 1st of the month.

For some people these dates won’t line up. For example, out of choice or personal scheduling, you might not move in until a few days or a week after your lease start date. This might happen when you’re moving from another city or country.

Your first rent payment is due the day of your lease start date, regardless of when you move in. One possible exception to this is if you’ve agreed to pay prorated rent because you’re moving in before or after the lease start date. This is something you will have to negotiate, in writing, with your landlord. Be sure to check the rental laws in your province or city to see if this is legal and what your rights are in this situation. 

Make sure you’ve clarified both your lease start date and your move-in date with your landlord.

Lease contract

Step 1: Signing a Lease

You will sign the lease before the lease start date and before moving in. This is often a few weeks or up to a few months beforehand. 

Before signing the lease, make sure to review the terms, conditions, and duration of the lease. A lease is a legally binding agreement. Know exactly what you’re agreeing to so that you don’t get surprised down the road. 

When you sign a lease, you and your landlord will also agree on how the rent will be paid (by cheque, e-transfer, etc.). 

If anything your landlord is asking for doesn’t seem right to you, review the laws and regulations in your area. You do not have to sign a lease on the spot. Take time to review or become familiar with standard rental agreements in your area. 

Step 2: Getting the Keys

You can expect to get your keys the day your lease starts. Clarify this ahead of time with your landlord when you set your move-in date.

You’ll have to arrange with your landlord or leasing agent exactly when and where you will pick them up. 

Step 3: Taking Possession of the Apartment & Moving In

Generally, you’ll be able to take possession and move in on the first day of your lease. 

Ask your landlord what the moving protocol is. If you’re moving into an apartment building or condo, you might have to book a moving elevator in advance. Private landlords or owners of houses will likely be the most flexible.  

Because it’s tricky to coordinate moving between apartments, some people ask to start moving in belongings ahead of time. Be wary of moving in any of your belongings before your lease start date because you are not yet legally responsible for the apartment. You’ll have no contents insurance or protection over your belongings. 

Rental unit

Rent Payment Due Date

Rent payments are due the day specified in your lease. For monthly leases, that’s typically the 1st of the month. It does not matter if the first day of the month falls on a weekend or holiday, your rent is still due on the 1st. Occasionally leases start mid-month on the 15th. 

In most places, if your rent payment is late, landlords are legally allowed to give you an eviction notice for non-payment of rent. Some landlords will be understanding about the occasional late payment, but it is your legal responsibility to pay your rent in full on time. Always do your best to rent within your budget. Signing up for more than you can afford will put you in a precarious situation. If you’re worried about this and facing housing instability, look into resources in your area.

Your method of payment will be agreed upon between you and your landlord prior to signing the lease. Typically that's an e-transfer or post-dated cheque. 

When is the Best Time of Year to Start a Lease?

The best time of year to move will depend on the overall housing market and the trends of the specific city or town you're moving to. 

In general, winter is the best time to look and summer is the most competitive.

In a large city like Toronto with multiple universities, July and August are the most competitive months. That’s because students are starting school and looking for housing. It’s also the most common time families with kids will move because it doesn’t disrupt the school year.

The higher the demand, the more competitive the rental market is. There might be less on the market, those units might move quicker, and they might be priced higher. This tends to be the case in most cities from June through September.

Winter tends to be the best time to look as most people don’t want to move over the winter months or during the holiday season. 

Start looking for apartments one or two months before your desired move date. If you start looking much more than two months in advance, it’s unlikely you’ll find listings that will still be available when you want to move.

Lease term

What if the Landlord Requests a Prorated Rent?

A landlord can request prorated rent if you’re moving in early. For example, if your lease doesn’t start until September 1st but you’d like to move in a week earlier, on August 25th, your landlord might allow that if the unit is empty and ready to be occupied.

You’ll have to negotiate this with your landlord. If you’re moving in early, make sure it’s clear what date you’re taking possession and that you’re being charged prorated rent for the correct number of days.

What if the Landlord Requests a Rent Deposit?

Generally, a landlord can request a rent deposit on or before the start of your lease. The rent deposit can’t be more than one month’s rent or one rental period, whatever’s less. If you’re paying rent monthly, the deposit can’t be more than one month’s rent. If you’re paying rent weekly, the deposit can’t be more than one week’s rent.

In most places, this rent deposit can only be used toward your last rental payment before you move out. It can’t be used for any other reason, like repairing damage. 

This is what’s referred to as last month’s rent. In most cities, you’ll have to pay first and last month’s rent when you sign a new lease.

Check the regulations in your province to know if this is a legal request. In Quebec, landlords cannot request last month’s rent or any other money aside from the first month’s rent. 


What if the Landlord Requests a Security Deposit?

A security or damage deposit is different from a rent deposit. You’ll have to check if it’s legal for a landlord to request a security deposit in your province. In Ontario, it’s not legal. In British Columbia, it is. 

A security deposit will always be returned to you when you move out if there is no property damage.

Should I Consider the Move-Out Date?

In most cases, no, you do not need to know or specify your move out date when you sign a lease. That’s because most leases are non-fixed term tenancies, which means there’s no specified end date up front. You are on a month-to-month agreement, or, what’s common in major Canadian cities, you sign a year-long lease that continues month-to-month after that.

The only instance where you might want to consider the move out date up front is if you’re signing a short-term or fixed-term lease. If you know that you’re going to be moving out in six months and you’re worried about coordinating the logistics of the move, go ahead and mention that to your landlord up front. 

The Bottom Line

Don’t assume that your lease start date and move in date will be the same. While they end up being the same for most people, they are technically different. The lease start date is when you become legally responsible, the move in date is when you take possession. 

There will be different protocols and various levels of flexibility depending on whether you’re dealing with a private landlord or a company, and if you’re moving into a house, condo, or apartment building. 

Communicate clearly with your landlord about when you’ll actually get the keys, take possession, and move in. Plan this out in advance so there are no surprises and your move goes as smoothly as possible!

Kate Smalley
Kate Smalley
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Kate is a Toronto-based writer and marketing communications consultant. Kate is a Qualified Associate Finacial Planner (QAFP) is passionate about having open and honest conversations about money. She's also really into crafting: she has 3 sewing machines.

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