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How renters can get the most of their rental search

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The global pandemic upended our lives in ways we never could have imagined. Unemployment soared, the economy shrank, immigration and travel came to a standstill—all factors that have significantly affected the housing and rental market. 

Over the past year, we’ve seen major shifts in some of Canada’s largest and least affordable cities with Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver experiencing record-high population loss. People moved to smaller, more affordable towns, the suburbs and even cottage country in search of more living space. 

It’s too early to tell whether these trends are here to stay. However, with learning and working from home becoming the norm, the rental supply in some cities is going up. These market shifts are prompting many renters to seek a new rental that better suits their changing needs.

Whether it’s your first time renting or you’ve been a lifelong renter, there are many useful tips and online tools that can help you find a home that meets your needs during this time and for the future. 

Determine your rental budget

Figuring out your budget can help focus your rental search. The old rule of thumb is that your rent and household-related expenses should not be higher than 35 percent of your gross household income (before taxes and deductions). 

But because rent and food costs can vary widely across the country, it might be more useful to think in terms of your overall budget. 

Will the amount you pay for rent and bills still allow you to save for your future, handle emergency expenses, pay off debts and maintain your lifestyle? The government’s budget plannercan get you started.

Keep in mind that housing costs include more than just rent. Will you have to budget for utilities, parking, maintenance, cable or internet? What about renter’s insuranceand security deposits? (The laws around security deposits differ from province to province so make sure to look it up, especially if you are moving to a new province/territory.) Calculating your costs and income beforehand will ensure that you don’t blow your budget or be hit with unforeseen expenses.

Prioritize needs and wants

Looking for a place to live can be overwhelming 

Starting with non-negotiables can focus your search. As will mapping out your must-haves (including neighbourhood)

  • Do you need a two-bedroom, or will a den suffice? 
  • What about ensuite laundry or outdoor space? 
  • Do you need to be near a subway line or bus stop, or will you require a place with parking? 
  • Do you have to be downtown or near school? 
  • Or do you want a neighbourhood away from the bustle?

Make two columns, one with needs (the non-negotiables) and wants (nice to have but not necessary) to plan out what you’re looking for. It can help you decide what you’ll hold out for and what you can be flexible about. 

Get your documents in order

After finding an interesting place, make an appointment. Get your documents (e.g. credit score, letter of employment) ready to present to the landlord to speed up the process. It shows them that you are serious, and in cities that have a competitive rental market, having your paperwork on hand can work to your advantage. 

This can include last month’s rent (in Ontario, last month’s rent is considered the security deposit—be sure to check what your province’s security deposit is), offering first month’s rent upfront, an employment letter, pay stubs, a credit check report and references. Some people even include a short profile so that landlords will get a sense of who they are and what they do. This is not necessary but it might help you stand out from the rest of the crowd. 

Beware of landlords that ask for additional months’ rent upfront or for additional personal information like bank statements or your SIN number. You are not required to provide these by law. 

Present your best self

You don’t have to dress like you’re going to a job interview, but avoid wearing anything ripped, tattered or overly messy. Think business casual. Be the kind of person that you would want to rent out to if you were a landlord. You can’t control the outcome, but you can come prepared, be on time and put your best foot forward.

Know your rights and responsibilities

Know your rights and responsibilities as a tenant before you sign a lease. Housing laws fall under provincial jurisdiction and municipal bylaws. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation have a handy Provincial and Territorial Fact Sheet with more information.

Before you move in, do a condition inspection with the landlord. This ensures that the premise is clean with working appliances and that all damages that exist are not your fault. Inspection Report forms like this one from B.C. can act as a checklist to make sure you don’t miss anything. Always get a signed copy of the lease. This is very important in case disputes arise; you can refer back to the lease and contact local rental authorities.

Digital tools for renters

If you’re not into walking around looking for “For Rent” signs or using a real estate agent, there are plenty of digital options to help with your search. Popular listing sites like Viewit.ca, Kijiji, Padmapper and Facebook Marketplace allow you to connect with prospective landlords. If you’re lucky, the dream listing that you’ve discovered on those popular listing sites is a Rhenti listing. Rhenti streamlines the rental process, connecting verified property owners with renters by helping you chat, book a viewing, apply, and sign the lease agreement digitally. 

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