Renter's Guide

How to find a good rental property

These 5 tips can help you find a great deal on a rental unit — and help protect you, as the tenant, along the way
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As the population grows and living costs increase, finding a good property to purchase within reach of your budget is becoming trickier. With fewer properties available than ever before, prices are higher today than they’ve ever been. In fact, according to PadMapper, the going rate for Toronto rental units jumped 30% in 2017, and even though rental increases have slowed in the last few years, finding a good rental property that fits the budget is still a big challenge for more.

Even so, renting is still the most feasible (and affordable) arrangement for many, especially for young people relocating to a new city. You might not plan to be there forever, but you do deserve to feel comfortable — both with the apartment and your landlord. So, it’s not just the property itself you should consider, but also the neighbourhood, the area amenities and other factors that will influence your everyday life.

To start you off on the right foot, we’ve put together some helpful guidelines to keep in mind as you search for the perfect rental home.

Renter's Guide - Additional Reading

What are the responsibilities of landlord and tenant?

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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. Thankfully, virtually every part of the country has its own laws governing rentals and the responsibilities of tenants and landlords. The Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) can provide details for each province and territory, along with process guidance for filing a claim or complaint. However, the responsibilities of landlords and tenants are generally very similar from place to place.

Landlords Must:

  • Collect rent in accordance with the agreed-upon schedule.
  • Keep the property in good condition and safe for the tenants.
  • Provide appliances, home systems, and other amenities included in the rent.

Landlords Cannot:

  • Engage in discriminatory behaviour, i.e. deny to rent to anyone based on gender, age, ethnicity, disability or social assistance.
  • Demand payment of an application fee.

Tenants Must:

  • Pay rent in accordance with the agreed-upon schedule.
  • Maintain the property and keep it clean.
  • Call the landlord when anything needs to be fixed.
  • Allow the landlord and repair people access to the property according to the terms of the lease.
  • On termination of and according to terms of the lease, show the apartment to other potential tenants.

Tenants Cannot:

  • Withhold rent as a way to force the landlord to comply with a request/demand.
  • Destroy the property as a way to show dissatisfaction.
  • Refuse the landlord or designate (example: repair personnel) access to your unit if they have provided proper notice.
  • Conduct illegal activity from the rental unit or property.
  • Breach the signed lease, unless they have written permission from the landlord to do so.
  • Make alterations to the rental unit, unless they have written permission from the landlord to do so.

How to find a good rental apartment?

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#1: Decide on the type of apartment you want.

Being aware of the many different kinds of apartments out there is an important factor in apartment hunting:

  • Studio apartments: Apartments with only one room that contains everything.
  • Apartment complexes: Apartment communities managed by the same rental company.
  • Apartment condo: Part of an apartment complex, but more similar in layout to a house.
  • House apartment: A house that’s been modified into an apartment, such as a basement that’s been divided to form a separate living area.
  • Student apartment: Also known as college dorms, these units are most commonly offered by universities as student housing

#2: Have a list of must-haves.

Everyone has certain perks that they cannot imagine living without, whether multiple bedrooms/bathrooms, gas appliances or proximity to certain amenities. Make a note of any features or conveniences that you consider indispensable, preferably as a ranked list. Keep your mini-checklist close at hand while you search, and cross off any property that doesn’t offer the benefits you know you want. At minimum, this should help you narrow down your choices for an easier decision.

#3: Do your research.

There are many Canadian websites, blogs, and Facebook groups where you can search for a competitively-priced rental apartment. Although many of these sites have good information, those that charge landlords a nominal fee to list their units tend to discourage fraudulent listings.  Among the multitude of Canadian rental sites out there, these ones are generally regarded as providing helpful, quality services:

#4: Show up prepared to viewings.

You may be surprised by the stiff competition for rental apartments in some cities, especially in highly desirable neighbourhoods. With jam-packed viewings, it’s a good idea to give yourself every possible advantage over other potential tenants. Make sure to show up prepared with everything a landlord might ask for: your credit report, proof of employment, income statements, etc.

#5: Be ready to make a decision.

Attending a viewing or walk-through of the potential rental before making a decision is highly recommended. In addition to proving that the property actually exists, a walkthrough can also reveal deficits like faulty appliances, pest infestations and other maintenance issues. Once you’ve toured the property, be ready to make a quick (even on-the-spot) decision. With so many people vying for desirable properties, be prepared to seize the opportunity while you can. Tomorrow may be too late!

#6: Be flexible.

Don’t be too narrow-minded with your requirements. It’s good to have a list of must-haves, but leave some room for compromise with respect to anything that you don’t consider an absolute priority. Who knows? A feature that you’d considered undesirable might just turn out to be your favourite thing about the whole apartment.

Where to look for rental apartments?

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Flickr / great_sea

Unlike a few decades back, when finding a rental apartment meant flipping through countless newspaper ads, looking at retail bulletin boards or dealing with expensive rental agencies, the job of finding a rental apartment today is much easier. There are so many sources of listings that you can basically find one wherever you look. However, the most common sources that tenants turn to when looking for a rental apartment are:

  • Online real estate websites
  • Social media groups where landlords publish their rental properties
  • Newspaper ads
  • A rental agent/rental agency
  • Visual search through the neighbourhood of your liking for “For Rent” signs
  • Friends or acquaintances that may know of available properties
  • Other organizations dealing with specific types of rentals (if warranted)

How to look at rental properties (to find the right one)

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Visit each unit personally and do a visual inspection

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 and if it’s a good rental property for your budget.

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. 

Get familiar with the local 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.

You’ve found the perfect rental apartment, now what?

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

Before the landlord agrees to take you on as their tenant, they will likely want to get to know you better. In Canada, a common practice for landlords is to request references that will prove to them that you are a good tenant. Often a recommendation from a previous landlord, employer, or past neighbours will be enough to assure them that you will be a responsible renter. Additionally, property owners can also ask for such finance or income-related items as proof of employment, confirmation of salary, or a basic credit report.

Once the landlord is satisfied and you’ve settled on the general terms and conditions of the rental apartment, the next step is to sign a lease agreement. The lease agreement should stipulate everything you and the landlord have mutually agreed to, as well as the responsibilities of both parties, pertaining to the rental. Aside from financial expectations, it should clearly set out landlord and tenant responsibilities surrounding pets, utility payments, maintenance costs, arranging for repairs, and expected duration of the tenancy.

If the lease agreement is too complicated, or if there is any part of it that you cannot understand, you can always consult a legal expert or a rental agent to help you clarify things.

The landlord may also ask for a rental deposit upon signing the lease as a guarantee that you won’t be late with payments, or as security for any damage to the unit. If you live in a province where deposits are allowed, confirm whether or not your landlord will request one from you. Provided that you never fall behind with payments and that no damage is caused to the property, the landlord will be obligated to return this deposit at the end of the lease, or perhaps apply it to cover your last month’s rent.

Finally, once you’ve settled in, be sure to look into tenants’ insurance to further protect your personal belongings and peace of mind as a responsible renter.

Should you use a Realtor to find a rental?

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We all know that real estate agents help people buy apartments and houses, but did you know that they can also help you find a rental apartment? There are many reasons why people enlist the help of a realtor to find a rental apartment, but the main ones usually come down to:

  • Not enough time to research properties and go to viewings
  • Location is highly sought-after and warrants expert guidance
  • Relocating to a new city / away from the city
  • Lack of familiarity with the neighbourhood
  • Legal help needed to navigate the paperwork

The specific duties that a realtor can help you with (and how much they might charge to do so) depends to a large extent on the location where you’re moving and, of course, on the reputation and expertise of the agent. If you’re on a budget, you may ask them for an up-front estimate of how much they expect everything might cost to determine whether or not it might be worth your while to hire them, or whether you’d prefer to save a few bucks by handling everything on your own.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re a young adult moving out on your own for the first time or you’re relocating to a new city for better career opportunities, the key to finding a good rental apartment is being well prepared and well informed. That way, you will know what to expect once you dive into the rental market and won’t become overwhelmed by the mountain of tasks and information that you’ll be expected to deal with.

Once you’ve figured out what you want and how much you want to spend, it’s just a matter of time before you find the rental apartment of your dreams. Just make sure to do your homework, and before you know it you’ll be thinking about the fun stuff:  furnishing, decorating, and housewarming parties.

Renter's Guide - Additional Reading

Alyssa Davies
Alyssa Davies

Alyssa is an award-winning personal finance blogger and founder of MixedUpMoney.com. She writes about being a mom, overcoming personal debts, and how to get away with affording your ridiculously expensive latte habit. A new homeowner, Alyssa brings her real-life knowledge of the Canadian real estate market and smart money matters to this growing brand.

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