How to find a home to rent
Reviewed by Nina Knudsen
Updated August 31, 2022
Questions to ask yourself before looking
Before you even start looking, you should ask yourself a few questions:
- What can you afford? Are you a student living off your student loans, or do you have a good paying job? What other expenditures do you have, such as car payments?
- How much space do you need? Are you looking for a bachelor suite, or a 3-bedroom house?
- Where do you want to live? Is it important to you to be close to work, or close to family, friends, or recreation? If you don’t have a car, maybe proximity to public transportation is important to you.
- Will you live alone, or with a roommate?
Once you’ve answered these questions, you will be able to start narrowing down your search. If you know how much you can afford to pay, the type of property you want, and the area you want to live in, you can weed out all the unsuitable properties.
When you’re searching for a home to rent in Canada, it’s also important to consider which province you’re looking in. If you’re searching for a place in your home province, maybe you already know the ins-and-outs of the local rental market.
Landlords and tenants are mostly regulated at the provincial level in Canada. So, there are differences in rules and customs between provinces. Most of those differences are more relevant to what happens after you find a place to rent, but it’s good to be aware so you can ask questions of your potential landlords.
Here are official government resources to learn more about each province’s customs and laws:
- British Columbia
- New Brunswick
- Nova Scotia
- Prince Edward Island
- Newfoundland and Labrador
Fortunately, the differences from province to province aren’t enormous… unless that province is Quebec.
Renting in Quebec
Quebec has its own renting customs (including French and English), and you’ll need to be aware of them if you’re looking to rent in the province and you’re not familiar with it.
Moving day. July 1st is Canada Day, but in Quebec it’s also moving day, a tradition that dates back to the 1970s. In Quebec, and especially in Montreal, many leases expire on June 30th. Accordingly, it’s not unusual to see the streets filled with moving vans and furniture on the sidewalks as the calendar turns to July.
With that in mind, you should start your search in April, May, or June in order to get a head start. You can find rental properties throughout the year, but July 1st offers the most options. If you’re moving into your new place on July 1st , make sure you hire a moving company well in advance—they’re in high demand on moving day.
French documentation. You may need to brush up on your French, because the lease agreement will almost certainly be drawn up in that language. You may find a landlord that’s willing to offer an English-language contract, but don’t count on it.
In accordance with provincial French language laws, rental signage is posted in French, so you will need to distinguish between “À louer” (for rent) and “À vendre” (for sale).
Quebec-specific terminology. During your search, you will see terms like 11/2, 21/2, 31/2, etc. These fractions represent the bathroom, which is considered a half room. So, a 31/2 would be a three-room apartment with a bathroom. The kitchen is considered a full room.
Condo and condominium are commonly used terms in English and French, but you may also see the French terms copropriété (condo) and copropriétaire (condo owner).
The term “semi-meublé” (partially furnished) means that basic appliances, like the stove, the fridge and sometimes the washer and dryer are provided and included in the rent.
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Searching for options
There are many ways to start looking for a home to rent. It’s often best to try a few options, rather than relying on just one. Here are some different options as you search for your next home:
Rental listing websites
The first (and maybe only) places you should check are online rental listings. They’re easy to search, and the ads should give you a very good idea of what the property is like.
To some degree, the best rental search sites vary a little depending on which province you’re in.
Facebook Marketplace has become one of the most important sites for rental listings across the country. Craigslist or Kijiji are useful in some cities as well. Or, depending on the city, you might have luck with dedicated rental sites like Rentals.ca, Apartment Love, or RentFaster.ca.
Post a message to Facebook or Twitter stating you’re looking for a place to rent, and asking for recommendations. You might get lucky and know someone who can recommend a place.
Fewer and fewer landlords bother advertising their properties in the newspaper classifieds, but you might still find a few. On the plus side, you may end up with less competition for these units if you’re searching in a hot rental market—most renters are focused on digital listings.
If you know the neighbourhood you want to live in, try going for a walk there. You might spot a “For rent” sign on an interesting-looking property, or you might just spot an apartment building you really like. Check with the building manager; if there’s nothing available, maybe they’ll take your name to let you know if something opens up.
Word of mouth
Let your friends and family know you’re looking for a place to rent. They may know somebody who’s looking for a new tenant.
Local bulletin boards
Check the bulletin boards at your neighbourhood community centre, grocery store, or library.
Calling the landlord
If you find a property you think may be suitable, call the landlord and find out any information that wasn’t provided in the ad. Don’t worry about finer details at this point; focus on finding out whether the property is suitable, and if the landlord seems like a good match for you.
If everything sounds good, arrange a time to see the property.
Viewing the home
When you are viewing the home, be sure to take a close look at everything to make sure the unit is clean and everything is in good repair.
Ask questions, like “How long has the home been vacant?” “Do any of the other tenants have pets?” “What is the noise level usually like?” “Has this home been smoked in?” If it is close to a highway or rail tracks be sure to ask when the train passes, and always view the home during rush hour or when excessive highway noise will be relevant to your quiet enjoyment. Try to view basement suites on weekends when the family above is home to hear how the noise transfers.
Check out the neighbourhood. How safe is it? What amenities are nearby? Make sure it’s the kind of place you’d like to live in.
Get details regarding any damage deposit, lease terms, amount of rent and payment due dates, pet policy, and so forth.
When you’re meeting the landlord at the property, be on time. If you’re late, he/she may think you’re also the type to be late paying your rent. You want to make a good impression. You can also help make the landlord’s job easier by bringing a CV or a credit snapshot as well.
After all, you may not be the only prospective tenant the landlord has to choose from. Once you find a place you want to rent, the next step in the process is completing a rental application and getting tenant insurance.
Home insurance considerations
Often when you’re looking to rent a place, the landlord will insist that you have a tenant insurance policy in place. Landlords purchase insurance for the structure, but not for your personal belongings or your personal liability. The landlord’s policy typically covers the building (including any garages or sheds), appliances, window coverings, or other items left in the home for your use. Plus, liability coverage in case someone is injured on the premises and sues.
However, as a renter you will have no protection under your landlord’s policy and will need to purchase your own coverage.
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About the expert: Nina Knudsen
Nina Knudsen has 12 years of property management experience under her belt. Nina is part of the team at Royal LePage Sussex, bringing her experience to the company’s Property Management division as the Managing director of the Hello Rent team.