Finding Accommodation in Canada

Article publié le 23-04-2018.


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Deciphering rental ads

Renting an apartment or a room in Canada is usually fairly straightforward. You won’t be asked to provide ten years’ worth of pay stubs, a cosigner who must be a millionaire or your complete family history. However, there are important factors to consider before signing a lease.

Apartment sizes in Quebec: “2 ½,” “3 ½,” “4 ½,” etc.

In Quebec, this cryptic description refers to the number of rooms. The “½” is the bathroom, which counts as half a room. The kitchen, the living room and the bedroom each count as one room (and a double living room as two rooms). Note that this unique terminology has nothing to do with the total size of the apartment in square feet or metres. For instance, a “2 ½” (i.e. a bedroom and a living room, plus a kitchenette and a bathroom) may be bigger than a “3 ½” (i.e. same as above, plus a distinct living room, bedroom, and kitchen)! As a matter of fact, the size of an apartment in square feet or metres is rarely specified, but you can ask the landlord.

When you see “1 + 1” or “2 + 1,” you have to read the first number as the number of rooms and the “+1” (not always mentioned) as a small office (or “den”) that can double as a guest room.

Terminology is more straightforward in the rest of Canada, where you’ll see the usual “one-bedroom apartment,” “two-bedroom apartment” and so on.

Semi-furnished and fully-furnished apartments

The term “semi-furnished” can be used to describe apartments from nearly bare to almost fully furnished. In general, a semi-furnished apartment has basic big pieces of furniture—sofa, bed, dresser and a table and chairs. A fully-furnished apartment comes equipped with furniture, basic kitchen appliances and tableware, bathroom necessities (e.g. a shower curtain), a washer/dryer set, etc.

Utilities included (or “all inclusive”)

Heat (as well as hot water) can be included in the rent. Home energy costs can be high in Canada because of harsh weather conditions in winter, especially if the apartment has poor insulation, so a “utilities included” apartment can be a good deal. Note that in Canada, “hydro” refers to electricity, so the “hydro bill” is your electricity bill—this is a holdover from when electricity was completely generated by water, and Canada remains a large hydropower producer.

Apartments with utilities included (especially heat included) aren’t that common. Note that water rates and fees are fairly low in Canada, and the landlord often pays the bill.

Floor numbering

In most of Europe and in many former British colonies, the “first storey” or “first floor” is the first level above ground level. However, Canada generally follows the American convention, where the “first” floor is the floor at the ground level and the floor above it is the “second” floor.

Canada still uses the British spelling, though—it’s “storey,” not “story”!

Apartments vs. condos

The market for “condos” (short for “condominiums”) boomed in several cities, including Toronto and Vancouver. In terms of physical attributes, condos look like apartments. However, while apartments complexes are usually owned by a single entity (e.g. a corporation) and then leased out to individual tenants, condo units are owned by individuals and usually then managed by a homeowner association (HOA). So when you rent a condo, the individual condo owner is your landlord. Condo buildings often offer fancy amenities like a gym, a swimming pool or a 24/7 front desk. However, rent tends to be much higher.

Basement and semi-basement  apartments

Basement apartments are very common in Canada, and they tend to be cheaper. Don’t worry—these basements are “finished,” which means they are painted and come with floor covering, moulding, doors and windows, heat and light. However, lack of light can be an issue, especially in winter when there’s snow on windows. Humidity in a basement is also higher than in the upper floors—a dehumidifier can be a good investment.

Common housing terms in Canada:

• 1st (first) & last required: payment of the first month’s rent required as well as the payment of the last month’s rent
• Accessible: wheelchair accessible
• Bachelor apartment: one room serving as bedroom and living room, with a separate bathroom
• Bachelorette: very small bachelor apartment
• Locker: indoor or outdoor storage space (often mentioned in condo ads)
• Hrdwd: hardwood floors
• References needed: references from previous landlords about the tenant must be provided to the potential new landlord

Common housing terms in Canadian French:

  • À louer: for rent
  • Fraîchement/récemment rénové: freshly/recently renovated
  • Lumineux/ensoleillé: bright/sunny
  • Entrée laveuse/sécheuse: washer/dryer outlet
  • Lave-vaisselle/four/frigo/cuisinière: dishwasher/stove/fridge/stove
  • Balcon: balcony
  • (Hauts) plafonds: (High) ceilings
  • Plancher de bois: hardwood floors
  • Chauffé: heated
  • Au dernier étage de l’immeuble: top floor
  • Semi sous-sol: semi-basement
  • Pas d’animaux: no pets
  • Disponible à partir de: Available from
  • Sous-location: sublease

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