How to Rent Your First Home in Canada – A Guide for Newcomers
Everything you need to know before making the big leap.
One of the most pressing and important issues on any newcomer’s mind is where they will live when they arrive. You might be staying with friends or family when you land, with a host agency, or even in a hotel while you look for accommodation. Eventually, though, you will need to find your own home to rent.
Finding a home to rent in Canada from abroad can be a real challenge, as this is not commonly done in your new country. Renters typically go to see homes in person, although these days Skype or Facetime “viewings” are becoming increasingly common. Your family or friends (or even a paid agent) can also go and view properties on your behalf.
While Canadian landlords are usually honest and up front, there are also many scam artists out there, so always be careful. If something seems too cheap or “too good to be true,” as the saying goes, then it almost certainly is. Remember to keep your wits about you, and if you’re in doubt, ask for second (and third) opinions from trusted friends or people living in Canada.
Where Do Canadians Look for Rental Units?
Unlike some other countries around the world, Canada has strict and enforced laws about tenants’ rights.
In many cases, this has prevented predatory estate agencies and agents from charging expensive mandatory fees for things as simple as signing documents and credit checks. As a result, very few real estate agents deal with rental units, and most units are rented out by private landlords and management companies. It is not uncommon to deal directly with the property owner.
So, where do you find these units? Canadians used to turn to the classified ads sections in local newspapers, but this is very uncommon today. Instead, Canadians look to a variety of different websites to find apartments and houses listed for rent. These sites include PadMapper, Craigslist, Kijiji, and local newspaper websites.
Many landlords still display “For Rent” signs in the windows or front yards of the properties they’re listing. If you have a particular neighbourhood in mind, take a stroll (or a drive) around and call the phone numbers listed. Sometimes they’re happy to show you the unit on the spot!
What Documents Do Landlords Require to Rent You a Unit?
Most landlords want to see the following documents when you fill out a rental application:
- Pay stubs from your current (or recent) employer that show your annual income
- A series of bank statements that prove you have enough money to pay the rent for 3-6 months
- References from previous landlords, employers, or other trusted professionals
- A credit check that shows you don’t have bad credit (of course, as a newcomer you may not have a Canadian credit history)
While some landlords will explicitly state that they need to see Canadian documents, there are many out there who are more than happy to rent to newcomers. When you attend the viewing, make sure to be on time, and dress in a neat and tidy way.
Usually, you won’t be given an apartment on the spot. Landlords tend to interview a few different applicants before choosing the person who they feel is best suited to move into their property. Don’t be discouraged if it takes multiple viewings to find your new home!
Prepare for the upfront costs of moving
Moving to a new home always incurs some upfront costs. You’ll likely have to pay for a security deposit, first month’s rent, and occasionally even the last month’s rent as well.
Paying a Damage Deposit
Landlords in Canada are governed by strict rules and bylaws, and they tend to be quite honest about the Security and Damage deposit, which is usually the cost of one month’s rent. This will be used to pay for any damage that occurs while you live in the rental unit. This doesn’t include damage beyond your control, including external water damage and normal wear and tear. As long as you leave your unit in the same condition as when you moved in, you will usually get your entire deposit returned to you, with interest.
Paying for utilities and internet/telephone
You may also need to pay fees to set up a new account with local utility companies. This can include heating, electricity, cable television, Internet, or a landline. Remember, you might also need to pay a security deposit for these utilities.
Other Moving Expenses
There might be a host of other expenses that you need to factor into your calculations. Some of these costs can include:
- Hiring a moving van/truck
- Hiring professional movers
- Buying packing materials, boxes, and tape
- Food and drink for friends and family who help you move
- Taking the day off work
Is Renter’s Insurance a Good Idea?
Many Canadian renters choose to take out a renter’s insurance policy, which covers damage, theft, accidents, and loss of property in your new home. This is a good idea, as it can reimburse you in an emergency. Make sure you shop around and compare rates from different insurance providers.
When Can You Move Into A Canadian Rental Unit?
Unlike some other countries in the world, Canadian rental contracts tend to start on the 1st of each month. There are a select few that are available of the 15th of the month. It is important that you have accommodation that can align with these dates. Many Canadians start looking for their new homes on the 1st of the previous month, on the same day that they give their standard 30-day notice to their current landlord.
On your move-in date, remember that there will likely be someone moving out. Tenancy agreements usually state that the previous tenant must vacate with all of their belongings by noon on the moving day. They must also leave the unit sparkling clean.
Sound like a lot to do on one day? It sure is! That’s why Canadians typically enlist the help of friends and family on the moving day. It is customary to supply breakfast (Tim Horton’s donuts and coffee) first thing in the morning, and then pizza and beer after the job is done.
Most Rental Units in Canada Are Not Furnished
When you rent your new home in Canada, it will usually not come with any furnishings or textiles. You will need to supply your own towels, bedding, pots, pans, and silverware, not to mention all furniture and decorations.
Of course, these costs can really add up. Spend some time at local thrift stores, garage sales (often advertised on Facebook or on posters in the neighbourhood), and on the “free” and “for sale” sections on Craigslist. You can get deals on good quality items when you buy them secondhand.
What are your rights as a tenant in Canada?
Canada is a large and diverse country divided into ten provinces and three territories. Each province and territory has their own rules and laws about tenants’ rights. You can find all of these different links here:
Some rights that are standard across the country include:
- You have the right to at least 24 hours notice before your landlord can enter your residency
- Your landlord cannot make additional rules or requests that are outside of the law, even if you initially agree to them
- Your landlord does not have the right to leave any possessions in your residency
- Your landlord cannot discriminate against you for your race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or age (provided you’re over the age of 18)
- You have the right to have children living in your home
- You have the right to a safe home in good repair, with functioning water, plumbing, electricity, and heating
- You have the right to a copy of all documents relating to your tenancy
Most importantly, your landlord is not permitted to raise your rent more than a certain percentage each year. Unless certain undue conditions occur, it is up to you to decide when you want to end the tenancy, not the landlord.
Rental increase rules vary from province to province, but usually hover around a maximum of 2–3% per year. The highest is in British Columbia, with a maximum allowable rent increase of 4%.
You can find all the information you need at Tenants.ca, which is a fantastic resource.
While the logistical side can feel like a burden, if you follow these tips you will soon have your own home in Canada. In the meantime, happy hunting!