Real Estate 101

How to find a good rental property

Use these 5 tips for finding a rental unit that is affordable, suits your needs while protecting yourself from potentially not-so-awesome landlords
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In 2017, rent prices increased across the country, and according to PadMapper, Toronto rental units skyrocketed up 30%. This news is disheartening enough, but talk to anyone trying to find a rental property and they’ll tell you horror stories: Units where the bathroom is actually in the kitchen or the ceilings are so low you have to duck and weave just to get into the bedroom. The key is to learn how to find a good rental property — and to recognize when you’re getting a good deal.

Whether you’re a first-time renter or an experienced tenant, there are always things to learn and understand when looking for a new home or entering into a lease in a new rental unit. Here are five tips and tricks that can help you ensure your ducks are in a row as a tenant and that you’ll get a fair price.

1. Understand your tenant rights and responsibilities

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As a tenant applying for a rental unit, it’s important to know what rights you have that protect you as both a customer and as a human being.

On the basic end of the scale, every landlord must comply with Canadian human rights. As a prospective tenant, this means protection from discriminatory behaviours. For instance, a landlord or property management company cannot deny you the opportunity to rent based on gender, age, ethnicity, disability or social assistance. The Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) can provide details for each province and territory, and can also provide a place for individuals to file a claim.

Also, don’t be conned into thinking that you need to pay an application fee. Some landlords try to charge a fee or “deposit” just for filling out an application form — this is illegal. If a landlord asks for an upfront fee than either walk away (that person will probably be a nightmare landlord, anyway) or try and seek help from a more senior authority, such as your provincial Landlord and Tenant Board. Keep in mind, application fees are illegal, however, deposits or security damage is not, depending on the province you live in.  

2. Search on online rental sites and apartment finders

Rather than head straight to Kijiji or Craigslist, try a rental site where landlords have to pay a nominal fee to list their unit. By paying a fee, these sites tend to weed out unprofessional or inexperienced landlords; paid sites also tend to attract landlords who are serious about finding a renter. An official rental site will also reduce the chance of a scammer or fraudulent listing. Some popular rental sites across Canada include Rentfaster, PadMapper, RentSeeker and 4rent.

If you can’t find what you’re looking for then consider heading over to Kijiji or Craigslist. Just be sure to vet the landlord and the rental unit carefully. The key elements to identifying scams are verification of the landlord or owner by doing research and speaking to past renters, be wary of landlords asking for cash or deposits upfront and to know the market. If it is a hot rental market, chances are high that there will be more scams out there looking to prey on victims who are in a rush to find a home.

3. Visit the unit and do a visual rental inspection 

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Ideally, it’s best if you can go in-person to see the unit. This helps you assess the landlord, the neighbourhood and the apartment to determine if it suits your needs.

For renters moving to a new province or even across the city, ask to schedule a digital walk-through with the landlord if an in-person walk-through isn’t possible. One university student regretted paying a damage deposit on a unit in Manitoba before visiting to confirm it was there. “We showed up at the address we were given only to find an empty lot. It was a month before school started and we had to scramble to find a place,” said David, who preferred to stay anonymous. “The rental property didn’t even exist, and that was when we realized we were scammed.” Walkthroughs can also prevent tenants from living in a unit that has appliances that may not function properly, a unit that’s badly damaged or beside neighbours that are less than desirable. 

4. Know the current and local rental market

To ensure you receive a fair price for a rental unit it’s important to do your research. How many rental units are available in that neighbourhood? What is the average rental rate for the type of unit you are looking at? Should you expect your landlord to pay for utilities or not? You should have an answer to all of these questions before settling on a rental unit.

Currently, the Canadian rental market is at peak prices and in most major cities it is difficult to find a unit due to lack of supply. The Canadian Housing and Mortgage Corporation (CMHC) released numbers that found B.C. rentals increased significantly. In 2017, Kelowna prices shot up by 8.6%; Victoria prices increased by 8.1% and Vancouver also went up 6.2%. As for the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), prices increased in Hamilton by 5.1%; Oshawa rental prices rose by 5.2% and Toronto increase by 4.2%. When a rental vacancy is low, landlords have more tenants applying for the same unit. Knowing this helps keep rental rates and expectations in perspective.

5. Confirm all of the renter and tenant details

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Once you find a rental property it’s time to complete the application process and finalize the details with your landlord.

If you live in a province where security deposits or requests for first and last month’s rent is allowed confirm whether or not your landlord will expect these payments from you. Aside from financial expectations, verify whether you need approval from your landlord to have a pet, exactly who pays utility bills and who covers maintenance costs. Also, confirm how long the lease will last and the terms for breaking the lease, if necessary. 

If you are unsure of any aspect of the lease ask questions before you sign the document.

While there are many resources available for renters, it’s ultimately your responsibility to do your due diligence and understand your rights and responsibilities. Good luck out there!

Alyssa Davies
Alyssa Davies

Alyssa is a personal finance blogger who focuses on mixing finances with laughter. Through her blog, Mixed Up Money, she helps people relate, learn and become inspired. She recently joined Zolo as the content specialist and brings her passion for property and smart money matters to this growing brand.