Eighteen tips for apartment hunting
The City of Toronto has approximately 500,000 rental apartments. Given that the average tenancy in Toronto is 3 years we can surmise that in any given month there are about 14,000 apartments turning over... and about 14,000 prospective tenants trying to find the perfect apartment. In many cases landlords will ask for the highest rent that the market will sustain, and these apartments are easy to find. On the other hand many landlords choose to price their apartments at rent levels which are lower than prevailing rents.Why would a landlord be so generous? Perhaps to encourage long-term tenancies, or perhaps because they enjoy landlord-tenant relationships which are characterized by goodwill and mutual respect (which ultimately results in lower costs associated with vandalism, or repairs resulting from tenant indifference, or defaulted rents and costly evictions).
Finding the right apartment
- Be realistic in your expectations. Whatever your budget you will find that all apartments require a degree of compromise. Of course, most Grace's Places apartments rent for $750 or less so you should expect to compromise. In general you will pay a premium to live in a sought-after neighbourhood such as the Annex (and anywhere downtown or near a subway line), and in the case of Grace's Places' Annex property the apartments renting for $650 to $750 are basement bachelor units with shared bathrooms down the hall. Most tenants prefer to have an apartment which is on a main or upper floor, and prefer a private bath, and for the same $650 to $750 you could get a bright upstairs bachelor with a full bathroom at Grace's Places' Cabbagetown property, but it is likely to have limited cooking facilities... typically a bar fridge, microwave over and a hot-plate. Of course, at Grace's Places' Upper Beach property you can get a larger second-floor bachelor with a full kitchen, full bathroom and ensuite laundry for $650 to $750, but you will face a 25-minute streetcar ride if you commute to Yonge Street.
- Before requesting a showing you should familiarize yourself with the apartment which is being offered. Hopefully you will find Grace’s Places listings to be quite detailed and the website informative.
- The quality of the landlord can be as important as the quality of the apartment. Corporate landlords have an obligation to maximize shareholder value and may have less incentive to retain long-term tenants than might be the case for a small part-time landlord. On the other hand, not all small landlords are familiar with their obligations under the Residential Tenancies Act. One approach if you are seriously interested in a property is to visit in the late afternoon and speak to tenants as they arrive home from work. Recognize that tenants may be in a hurry, but if they have a great landlord.... or a really bad one... they will likely take a moment to let you know. Using Google to search the landlord's name (or the corporation's name) may reveal useful information, or you could simply search Google for "Toronto's best landlord". (I'll save you trouble.... such a Google search will bring you back here).
- Explore the neighbourhood before you go to see the apartment. Good apartments rent very quickly and you may not have a lot of time for exploration if the apartment is attracting multiple applicants. Of course, the more affordable an apartment is the more likely it is that it is in a less-desirable neighbourhood.
- A fixed-term lease is a binding contract. If a lease is required ask the landlord what would happen if your circumstances changed and it became necessary to terminate the lease early. I've heard from many tenants who have found themselves in conflict with their landlords when there plans changed. At Grace's Places tenants may terminate their leases at any time with 60 days notice subject to a payment of 5% of the rent which would have been due had the lease been fulfilled. This fee partially covers the landlord's additional costs to re-rent the apartment. In many cases (such as when a new tenant can be found without extensive advertising, and when an apartment is left in move-in condition) this fee is waived. Of course, it helps that Grace's Places apartments rent very quickly.
- As noted, good apartments are rented very quickly, and most apartments are re-rented long before the apartment has been vacated. If an apartment is sitting vacant it may mean that several prospective tenants have considered it and felt that it did not afford good value. Of course, there may be legitimate reasons for an apartment to be vacant (if, for example, the apartment has been taken out of service for renovations). Of course, if the building has several vacant units then you can assume that the landlord is intending to get the highest possible rent. (If a landlord is advertising apartments "from $****.00" then it is likely that several units are available, which is not a good sign).
- Given the number of university students in downtown Toronto it is often possible to find a summer sublet, and these can afford good value. (Of course, if a student is offering a sublet it is because they are happy with their apartment and wish to return at the end of the summer, so you can be reasonably confident that you will enjoy the apartment as well). But sublets may not be in your best interest if your needs are longer term, given that typically you will need to find a new apartment in September... along with thousands of other would-be tenants who are returning to Toronto. September is unquestionably the worst time to be apartment hunting in Toronto.
And when you think that you have found the right apartment...
- When requesting a showing you should provide the landlord with a bit of information about yourself and why you think that this particular apartment would suit your needs. The landlord may have more requests for showings than he or she can accommodate, and will be more likely to reply to your request if he or she recognizes that the apartment is going to be right for you. If you are already living in an apartment you should tell your prospective landlord why you wish to move.
- Arrive on time for your appointment. If you’re late for your appointment the landlord may assume that you’ll be late with the rent, and in any case if the landlord has booked several showings you may not have a chance to see the apartment if you arrive late.
- Some landlords will be open to negotiating a lower rent, but you should only attempt to negotiate the rent if the apartment meets your needs and you are confident that the apartment will not be rented for its asking price. Of course, there is absolutely no point in attempting to negotiate rents in the case of Grace's Places' apartments.
- Be aware that the landlord is going to be looking for someone who will take care of the apartment and its appearance, so you should take care of your own appearance. If you are driving to the appointment you might want to wash the car first.
- Ask your current landlord for a letter of recommendation before you go apartment hunting, and bring a copy of the letter with you to the showing.
- The prospective landlord may wish to verify your references, although this can be a time-consuming task. If you are employed consider asking your employer for a “letter of employment”. Typically such a letter will inform the reader of your position in the company, how long you have been employed, and your salary. If your employer permits you to use company email for personal communications consider doing so, as your email address is confirmation of employment.
- Consider ordering a copy of your credit report. Companies such as Equifax provide these online at modest cost, and aside from saving the landlord time this will also save prospective landlords the expense of doing their own credit checks. You can purchase a copy of your Equifax credit report for $23.95 here: Equifax
- The rental application is likely to provide a space for your S.I.N. (Social Insurance Number). You are not obliged to provide this information (and Grace's Places' application form makes it clear that the provision of your S.I.N. number is optional). Nonetheless, if you choose to provide this information you will be making it easier for your prospective landlord to verify your credit history, and your reluctance to provide this information may indicate to your prospective landlord that you have something that you wish to hide. By providing this information you improve your chances of making the "short list" if you are in competition with other applicants. (The risk involved in providing your S.I.N. number is that the prospective landlord might use the information to steal your identity).
- After submitting your application give the landlord a few days to consider it. But after a few days have passed don’t hesitate to contact the landlord to confirm that you are still interested. In some cases the landlord may have narrowed the choice down to two or three candidates, and your enthusiasm may be all that is needed to sway his or her opinion in your favour.
- You should not be required to make a cash deposit with your application. If you are asked to make a cash deposit there is a chance that the person that you are dealing with is not the landlord.