If you’re coming from a small town, renting in Toronto is probably going to seem really unpleasant. If you’re coming from another big city, it’ll seem pretty standard.
If you’ve never rented before, you may find the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s guide to Canadian housing for newcomers helpful.
In Toronto, apartment listings typically appear one or two months before they’re actually available to move into. That’s because landlords and tenants are required to give 60 days notice. Of course, if you need to move tomorrow, you’ll be able to find places available immediately, but there won’t be a lot to choose from.
- Bunz home zone is a great place to find apartment listings.
- Nice Place has a curated selection of apartments.
- Craigslist and Kijiji are full of rental listings. Not all of them are scams.
- Padmapper has a better interface and pulls in listings from other sites.
- Viewit.ca tends to have slightly fewer scams.
- Rentseeker.ca has videos, 3D floor plans, and a mobile app that actually works.
- Realtor.ca has listings from the MLS.
- Facebook groups and personal connections are the best place to find good listings.
- Keep your eyes open for ‘for rent’ signs or call buildings you like to ask about vacancies.
Toronto has a low vacancy rate, so if you find your dream apartment, you’ll probably face some competition. If you take days to make a decision on a place, it’ll probably be taken by someone else. However, never give give a deposit before you see an apartment. If it seems like a really amazing deal, it’s probably a scam.
In addition to scams, remember to watch out for bad landlords.
Do you need broker?
Working with a broker dramatically reduces the risk of getting scammed. A good real estate agent can also help you pick out a great apartment, negotiate the price, and manage the paperwork. They can also save you the hassle of scheduling viewings. As a new resident to Canada, a real estate agent may be able to help you find a home without the standard tenant requirements.
Since the landlord pays the agent’s commission, it costs you nothing. However, brokers typically don’t bother with inexpensive properties, so if you’re looking for a budget studio, you may be on your own.
Some landlords prefer tenants who come in through a broker, assuming they’re a higher quality tenant. Others would rather not pay the broker fee.
Being an attractive tenant
- Have your deposit ready. Moving money around accounts takes time, so make sure you can get a bank draft or certified cheque for first and last month’s rent.
- Have proof of employment. Typically, this can be a letter from your employer, pay stubs, or tax forms.
- Be ready for reference checks. Many landlords will check your references, which can be tough if you had a giant anonymous landlord or are coming from a non-English speaking country.
- Know your credit score. Your credit card may allow you to check your credit score for free, but if you’re new to Canada I can tell you what it is — zero. If you can, have a copy of your US credit report on hand. It might not help, but it can’t hurt.
If you’re not an attractive tenant, you can settle for an apartment that isn’t in demand, rent from a landlord you know (like a friend with a secondary unit), or live with roommates.
Another option is to pre-pay several months of rent or pay a larger deposit, but you’ll want to be very careful to get everything in writing and be sure it’s not a scam. A landlord can’t ask you to pre-pay rent. You can also get a guarantor to co-sign the lease.
Many small landlords won’t require a credit check as long as you have proof of employment. Some landlords will accept foreign credit scores or foreign bank statements. This hurdle to renting is one of the reasons new immigrants tend to end up in the same neighborhoods or living together.
Apartment costs in Ontario
Prices for apartments in Toronto hover around:
- Bachelor (aka studio) apartment: $1,450/month
- 1 bedroom: $1,750/month
- 2 bedroom: $2,550/month
If you want more specifics, check out this subway rental costs map from SkyView Suites:
You can find studios in great locations for $1,000/month. You can find yourself paying $2,000/month for a 1-bedroom. It all depends on what you’re looking for. Do you need a private patio? A view of the city skyline? A soaker tub? Coming from New York, the apartments here seem much nicer and much more affordable.
If you’re looking for an affordable apartment, the Danforth, St James Town, and the Garden District are all less expensive than other similar areas. In fact, the whole east side of Toronto tends to be more affordable than the west.
Settlement.org provides average rents for different cities in Ontario. Remember that rents can vary significantly from the average, based on the quality of housing and the location.
Most apartments don’t include utilities, so you’ll probably be responsible for hydro (electric), water, and internet/cable/phone.
Apartment prices around Canada
Apartments (that are in houses)
Many houses in Toronto have been converted to muti-unit buildings, duplexes, or added secondary units. These are often in quiet, residential neighborhoods, have the charm of an older home, and often include parking and private outdoor spaces. These are typically the most affordable rentals.
Apartments (that are rental buildings)
True apartment buildings are a rarity in Toronto. It’s nice to have an on-site super, a single owner and management company for the whole building, and no owner/renter rivalries. There are mid-sized buildings from the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, as well as larger, newer dedicated rental buildings.
Apartments (in co-ops)
Co-op apartments may be market rate or tied to your income. The building is managed by the tenants, much like a condo is managed by its owners. Many co-ops have waiting lists.
Condos (that are apartments)
Many of Toronto’s condos are owned by investors who rent them out. Condos typically are in new buildings with nice amenities like a concierge, in-suite laundry, gym, pool, party room, roof deck, and private balconies.
If you’re interested in buying a condo, renting in a building is a great way to test it out before you commit.
Houses and townhouses (that are rentals)
Renting doesn’t mean living in an apartment. There are plenty of houses available for rent.
Plenty of people have roommates in Canada to save on expenses. One of the potential downfalls is that co-tenancy means you’re jointly responsible for the lease — if they don’t pay, you’ll be stuck paying. Technically, all tenants share the whole apartment.
Some landlords will allow each roommate to sign a separate lease. In this case, each tenant has a bedroom and access to the kitchen and bathroom are shared. This, however, may mean your apartment is technically a boarding house, falling under different laws.
Choosing the right home
People get excited about nice (or awful) paint colors, granite countertops, and fancy amenities. However, there are some things you should think about before you sign anything.
- Can you afford it?
- How much will it cost with utilities?
- Is the commute too long?
- Does it have the amenities you’ll actually use?
- Will you be paying for amenities you’ll never use?
- Does it have signs of water damage, questionable wiring, or anything that could be dangerous?
- Are there bugs?
- Is there a fire exit?
- Are there grocery stores, pharmacies, and other shops you need nearby?
- Is there construction nearby? Will there be construction soon?
- Do you like the neighborhood?
- Is your landlord too laid back?
Don’t get distracted by the decor of the tenants who are moving out. It’s your stuff that has to fit in the space, not theirs. Don’t be shy about taking photos and measuring things.
Is your apartment legal?
Second suites (aka in-law suites, mother-in-law suites, or basement apartments) are allowed in all detached or semi-detached houses in Toronto. The second suite has to be smaller than the rest of the house and have its own entrance, kitchen, bathroom. If it’s outside of the downtown core, it might be required to have parking. It also has to conform with zoning laws, get a city building permit, and pass inspections.
Most basement apartments aren’t legal. Does that matter to you? It does if it’s unsafe, if you’re worried about having to move on short notice, or if you want to get renters insurance.
Condos and co-ops can have restrictions on rentals that could make a perfectly legal apartment an illegal rental.
Before you actually sign a lease, a landlord will typically require:
- A rental application with information on who’ll be living with you, any pets you have, previous landlord contact information, and employment information
- A current credit check
- Proof of employment
- First and last month’s rent
The Ontario Human Rights Commission bans discrimination based on sex, gender identity, family status, criminal record, age, disability, race, sexual orientation, and social assistance.
Most leases are for 12 months and automatically become month-to-month afterward. If you’re on a month-to-month lease, tenants are required to give 60 days notice before moving out. If a landlord wants to end the lease early for them or a family member to move in, they can do so if they give 60 days notice. If the landlord sells the apartment, the lease is transferred to the new owner. If you’re month-to-month when it sells, they’re still required to give you 60 days notice before you have to move out.
Leases should contain information on:
- The landlord and tenant(s)
- The location of the property
- The start and end dates of the lease
- How much rent will be each month
- When the rent is due
- How much is to be held for last month’s rent
- Who is responsible for minor repairs
- Whether or not subletting is allowed
- House rules and restrictions
- Emergency contact information for all parties
Your rights as a renter
New tenants are given a copy of the Landlord and Tenant Board’s Info for New Tenants brochure, which outlines landlord and tenant rights and responsibilities. There are a lot of landlord/tenant responsibilities and they vary by province and territory but here are the (Toronto-centric) highlights.
Bans on smoking fall in a gray area in the laws. If your lease bans smoking, it’s up to the individual judge to decide.
Pets or no pets
Lease clauses banning pets aren’t really enforceable in Ontario. While you probably can’t be evicted for having a pet, thanks to the Residential Tenancies Act, it’s not a great idea to go against an agreement and get on the bad side of your landlord. If a condo bans pets, that set of rules takes precedence. It’s also enforceable if someone in the building is allergic to pets.
Outside of Ontario, they can give you notice requiring you to get rid of the pet, move out, or be evicted.
This seems insane to me, but landlords in Ontario aren’t allowed to require a damage deposit and can’t use the last month’s pre-paid rent to cover damage. They have to sue you for the damages. They can require a deposit for the keys.
Rent increases are controlled in Ontario, unless you’re in a building that’s less than 20 years old.
- In a building that’s more than 20 years old, landlords can increase the rent once every 12 months by up to whatever that year’s consumer price index (CPI) is.
- In a building that’s less than 20 years old, landlords can raise the rent by any amount with 90 days notice.
A landlord, or their agent, can access your apartment to repair or maintain it as long as they’ve given 24-hours notice. If there’s an emergency, they aren’t required to give notice. They’re also able to show the apartment to potential tenants or buyers with ‘appropriate notice.’
Landlords can never just lock a tenant out of their apartment. They always have to go through court to evict a tenant.
Never, unless your landlord shares a bathroom or kitchen with you. If you live in a unit with your landlord, they can terminate a lease without giving you 60 days notice. An example of this would be if you lived with a person that also owned the apartment. That would make you a roommate rather than a tenant.
Breaking your lease
Breaking a lease, or any contract, has consequences. A lease, or tenancy agreement, doesn’t have to be a signed piece of paper. It can also be an oral or implied arrangement. Laws differ from one location to another, but generally this is how things work.
- Ask your landlord to terminate the lease early. They may agree, in which case you should get it in writing.
- Find a good tenant to sublet from you. If they don’t pay or cause damage, you’re still on the hook.
- Find a new tenant who meets your landlord’s requirements. If your new tenant has good credit and a steady income, you’re off the hook in 30 days after you notify the landlord, even if they don’t reply.
- If your apartment isn’t legal, you can request an inspection and request that the tenant board release you from the tenancy.
- Just move out and hope you don’t get sued.
Your landlord is obligated to try to find a new tenant. If you get sued, you’ll be held responsible for rent covering a reasonable amount of time. It’s also really difficult for a landlord to get money from you, even if the court awards it. However, before chancing it take a moment to ask yourself: Do you want to go to court? Do you want that to show up on background checks? Probably not.
Check with the laws in your location before taking any action, since this is not something you want to be wrong about.
No matter what your landlord says, your stuff isn’t covered by their insurance policy. If your apartment is robbed — or your neighbor sets the sprinklers off — you could lose everything. The answer to this is making sure you have your own renters insurance policy. As a new resident without a credit history, it can be hard to get an insurance company to take you on. I called around to a bunch of insurance companies in Toronto and Square One was the only company that would insure me as a newcomer.