The apartment-hunting process
The prep work—set a budget and define your requirements
Depending on where you’re from, the rent in Canadian dollars can feel very cheap or very expensive once converted into the currency you’re most used to. However, remember that you will get paid in Canadian dollars, so forget about foreign exchange for a minute and research how much you could make in Canada instead. Worst case scenario, can you afford rent making minimum wage? Read
Get mentally ready to make compromises, especially in big cities. Would you live in a basement apartment or are you ready to pay for a “regular” apartment? Would you live with roommates or a place to yourself is non-negotiable? Are you willing to live outside of the downtown core for cheaper options? Can you consider a bachelor apartment rather than a one-bedroom?
Make a list of what’s most important to you, then use these must-haves to get started.
Browse classifieds and walk around to spot “for rent” signs
Welcome to Canada, your future home for several months! It’s time to find your home in your new home.
Browse classifieds but don’t forget to get out and walk around the city to explore different neighbourhoods and check out if there are “for rent” signs posted on windows or balconies.
You can check out:
- “pvtistes in Montreal” Facebook group (in French, but very useful!)
- Various Facebook groups (search by city, there are tons of public and private groups to find rentals or roommates)
Don’t forget about “Moving Day” in Quebec
“Moving Day,” the “jour du déménagement” in French, is a tradition—not a legal requirement!—in Quebec because the province used to mandate fixed terms for leases of rental properties. It falls on July 1, which is also Canada Day. Nowadays, hundreds of thousands of Quebecers are still moving on July 1 while the rest of Canada watches fireworks and the Prime Minister’s speech.
You don’t have to join what may feel like collective psychosis and a yearly marketing campaign for U-Haul. Just be aware that you’re more likely to find places for rent in late June and July. Rest assured, Quebecers move in and out the rest of the year as well, you can find vacancies anytime. This is especially true for shared houses—roommates are wanted year-round!
Don’t underestimate the power of networking
Network—remember this word because in Canada, it makes all the difference, whether you’re looking for a place to live, a job, info or a reference. Canadians believe in networking so much that they are professional networking events where strangers meet to—you guessed it—network.
A network isn’t necessarily made of Canadians citizens you’d have known for years. It’s basically a group of people sharing opportunities, info, partnerships, etc. Hey, you’re already a member of a network—PVTistes.net!
After you arrive your first networking move could be to let people around you know that you’re looking for a place to live. Share this fact casually at the hostel, among other backpackers, with the bakery or bar staff, etc. Don’t explicitly tell them to help you out, just mention what you’re looking for—maybe someone will know someone who knows someone moving out soon or looking for a new roommate!
Understand what “credit check” and “references required” mean
You could see either of these terms (or both) in classifieds, especially in large cities with a landlord’s market (basically Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver).
To understand what a credit check is, you need a quick overview of the North American “credit score” system (sorry!). In Canada, two credit reporting agencies—Equifax and TransUnion—create credit reports and credit scores for Canadian consumers. They know a lot about you. Do you withdraw money often? Are you paying your bills on time? Are you paying your credit card balance every month? Is your rent late? How many credit cards do you have?
Based on this aggregated data, credit reporting agencies give you a credit score. This number ranges from 300 to 900 and represents your overall credit health. It indicates how likely you are to make payments on time or default on a loan. The higher the score, the more “reliable” you are supposed to be—and the more desirable you are as a tenant.
This requirement is hard to meet for newcomers because even if you’re great at budgeting and paying bills on time, you don’t have a credit history (and thus, a credit score) in Canada. There’s no magical solution—explain the situation to your landlord and offer solid references or just skip ads with “credit check required.”
Along with networking, references are another Canadian obsession. You will hear a lot about them when you’re looking for a job. A reference is basically someone who can vouch for you—former landlord for your apartment search, former manager for your job search. You can ask your former landlord to write a letter stating you were a perfect tenant and always paid your rent on time. Explain why you need it (Canada and all…) and that it has no legal binding.
Keep your eyes open during the apartment tour
You’re going to pay attention to the layout, the amenities, the general condition of the place and ask a few questions. What’s included in the rent? I.e. hydro, heat, hot water, Internet, cable, furniture…? Any obvious plumbing or electrical issues? Are the windows insulated? Is there a smoke detector? Does it feel safe and secure?
Watch for bed bugs! These small, brownish insects about the size of an apple seed come out at night to bite and feed on human blood. They typically hide in mattress pads and infestations are a serious issue in North America. The helpful Stop Bedbugs! Start By Checking Your Room fact sheet from Health Canada can also apply to apartment visits. You should also check the Bed Bug Registry beforehand.
Sign a lease
It’s wise to sign a rental agreement, whether you’re a single occupant or live with roommates. In Ontario, a standard lease form is required for all residential rental agreements.
A lease defines rights and responsibilities for both the tenant and the landlord and includes info like names, address of the property, contact info, term of the agreement, total rent, services and utilities, deposit, etc.