Renting an apartment or a room in Canada is usually fairly straightforward and it doesn’t involve as much red tape as in many countries—no need to provide ten years’ worth of pay stubs, a cosigner who makes millions or your complete family history.
However, there are several key points you should know before starting to look for your home sweet home and signing a lease in Canada.
For more information about rental prices, don’t miss How expensive is life in Canada? A 2019-2020 cost of living review by province and territory.
Deciphering rental ads
Apartment sizes in Quebec—what on earth is a “2 ½,”, a “3 ½,” or a “4 ½,”?
You took French-as-a-second-language classes, memorized conjugations and endless vocabulary lists. Classifieds will be a piece of cake!
… Wait, what? “2 ½,” “3 ½”… Huh?
In Quebec, this cryptic way of describing apartments 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 always ask the landlord for the info.
To translate “1 + 1” or “2 + 1,” 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 self-descriptive “one-bedroom apartment,” “two-bedroom apartment,” etc. terms are used. A “bachelor apartment” is a single large room serving as bedroom and living room, with a separate bathroom (… it’s okay if you’re not single!).
Semi-furnished and fully-furnished apartments
The expression “semi-furnished” can be used to describe apartments from nearly bare to almost fully furnished—and if nothing is mentioned, the place will be completely empty. Generally speaking, a semi-furnished apartment comes with basic big pieces of furniture, e.g. sofa, bed, dresser, table and chairs.
A fully furnished apartment is 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”)
If heat and hot water are included in the rent (“utilities included” or “all inclusive”), you probably got a good deal. It’s expensive to stay warm in winter, especially if the place is poorly insulated.
Note that “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. On the other hand, water rates and fees are pretty reasonable in Canada and the landlord often pays the bill.
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 apartment 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. Consider this option if you’re just renting a room.
Basement and semi-basement apartments (“demi-sous-sol” in Quebec)
Basement apartments are very common in Canada, and they tend to be cheaper. Don’t picture a horror movie basement—they are “finished,” which means they are painted and come with floor coverings, moulding, doors and windows, heat, etc.
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—consider investing in a dehumidifier.
Consider this option as a temporary solution, if you know you won’t spend too much time at home… or if you’ve always dreamed of living in your own “man cave”!
Common housing terms in Canadian English
- 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 required: references from the tenant’s previous landlords 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