I know that many people will have a stressful time just reading the title: looking for a place to live in Toronto. It’s really an ordeal and I’m glad I’ve been able to do without it for years. But the time has come for me to look for a new apartment since after 4 and a half years of living alone I’m moving in with my boyfriend! Youhouuu! This is great news but it comes with its own set of stresses because housing is really complicated in Toronto.
Today we’re going to talk about how to find a place to live in Toronto and I’m going to share my tips with you. Other articles will follow, follow me on Instagram to know when they will be online.
To learn more you can also watch these videos on my Youtube channel (English subtitles available):
Different types of housing
Before going into the details of each apartment I also wanted to share with you an important information: the household appliances are included in the apartment you rent. This saves you money when you move in and also time when you move out. The fridge, the stove, the microwave are already there and you will leave them when you leave. The washing machine is also included in some accommodations, in others you have a room with a dozen washing machines and dryers, your landlord will give you a card to reload to use it. You will pay for each use. This is the least practical option because you leave your clothes in another room outside your home, and you have to get them back at the end of your cycle or else your clothes will be taken out by a neighbor and put on a table next door.
Condominiums (or condos) – these are the big buildings that you see mostly in the city center (in Toronto they grow everywhere, small information by the way, it is the city that has the most cranes in activity in North America). These towers contain hundreds of dwellings, they usually have at least 20 floors and at most … (I had to do a search to confirm this information because I had no idea …) 78 floors! This is the Aura – College Park building. It makes your head spin just thinking about it. I’ll let you the reference link if you want to have a look at other very high buildings in Toronto. And look out for the next tallest to exceed this record by almost 20 floors with 95 floors !!!
The condos also offer a lot of services in the building. These services are called “amenities” in the offers and they are available to all residents, sometimes some are paid or require a deposit, others are free. Some offer an outdoor pool (while doing our research we noticed that a lot of new buildings had them!), indoor pool, jacuzzi, gym, basketball court, library, meeting rooms, party room that you can rent, yoga room and so on. These are pretty nice extras that are included in the rent but honestly it was not a criteria for us during our search. We preferred a better apartment and less amenities, because we live in the apartment not in the pool.
One of the advantages also, in my opinion, is the security service in the entrance that monitors the entrances and exits of the building but also collects your packages.
Pros: lots of service, new, good condition, well insulated | Cons: more expensive, less charm, everything looks the same
Appartements – the apartments are often in buildings that are older and less high than the condos (but still quite recent, remember the city is not old) but do not always offer the same advantages as the condos (it depends on the buildings). It looks more like the apartments we know in France for example.
Pros: cheaper | Cons: N/A
Houses – you can choose to rent a whole house, if you come with your family for example or if you already have roommates and are looking for a place with several rooms, or a room in a house. The advantage of a house: you will often have a garden and you will be in a quieter area. The disadvantage is the insulation and soundproofing, you can hear everything from one room to another.
Pros: less expensive, quieter neighbourhood | Cons: less well insulated
Basements – Here it is very common to have a basement in a house, it is called a basement. Often the owners of the house rent out the basement and offer a separate entrance. Some of them are completely renovated and are very beautiful. The disadvantage: the lack of light, the windows are sometimes covered by snow in winter.
Pros: cheaper | Cons: noisy/poorly insulated/poorly lit
Why use a real estate agent to find a home in Toronto?
We chose to use a real estate agent for our search because it’s honestly a full time job, the research takes a lot of time and the paperwork when you’re not used to it is a bit intimidating.
How much does a real estate agent in Toronto cost?
As a tenant you will not pay anything. Landlords who want to rent their property pay the fees. For your information, their commission is usually the equivalent of half the first month’s rent.
Even if the services of a real estate agent do not cost you anything, it is important to respect their time and not to work with several real estate agents without telling them (maybe they will be ok with the idea). It’s not right to play around.
What are the advantages of using a real estate agent in Toronto?
- You will have the expertise of someone who knows the Toronto real estate market well
- You will have the support of a professional for the paperwork and to prepare your file
- Your agent will book your visits and take you from point A to point B if you have several visits on the same day
- During the visits the agent can answer your questions (they don’t know all the buildings but are more or less familiar with some of them), the agent also manages the arrival in the building to get the keys.
- You will be guided in the steps to take before moving in
- More security (I was afraid of being ripped off by going direct)
How does the relationship with the real estate agent work?
- You contact the real estate agent and explain that you are looking for a home for such and such a date. The information the agent will need to help you:
- Desired move-in date
- Type of housing and size
- Desired neighbourhood (we explained as: this street max in the north, this street max in the south etc)
- If you want this type of housing, if you want this type of amenities
- If you have pets and need parking
- Your agent will give you access to an apartment search site, where you can save typical searches (she had done this for us) but also upload all your documents to share with them. Each time an apartment that matched our criteria was posted online we received an email and a notification on the application.
- Your agent sends you a list of apartments that match your criteria, when you receive the alerts if you see something you are interested in you send it to him with some provisions and your agent organizes the visit.
- If you decide to apply for an apartment, the real estate agent will accompany you to set up the file and make sure that all the points are ready and that your file is optimized.
- Once the file is complete you will sign a contract that says you want to rent this apartment. The agent and the owner have 24 hours to give you an answer, positive or negative.
- If it’s a no to keep looking
- If it’s a yes, your real estate agent will gather all your pieces, the real estate agent across the street may call you with questions (we did), warn your references that they may be called (we were not).
- I will do a complete article on the steps after having an accepted file, but to know that the real estate agent also accompanies you after your file has been accepted and until the handing over of the keys.
Toronto real estate agent recommendations
- Dawn Ng – Anglophone
- Nicolas Brenot – Francophone/Anglophone
- Christian Martel – Francophone/Anglophone
- Thomas Delespierre – Francophone / Anglophone
The different ways to rent an apartment in Toronto
Going through a real estate agency – the apartment belongs to a person who is represented by a real estate agent (the listing agent), another agent represents you. These real estate people have access to a system called MLS (I found this article that helps decipher MLS listings) that references all the homes listed for rent by agent. Your respective real estate agents exchange and share the information with you.
Going through property management – the apartment is managed by a company, often they own the entire building and you can even get on waiting lists. Your landlord is a company. The advantage is that you don’t risk being kicked out because the landlord wants his apartment back. In 2018 when I took this apartment, it was with a property management, I didn’t even know the differences but I had the opportunity to have this apartment and it made me feel better because at the time a lot of buddies were getting kicked out so the landlord could raise the rent. It’s illegal by the way.
By going through a private person – this is the most direct way: a landlord puts an apartment for rent, you are interested, you visit, you can apply. The advantage of going direct: you can negotiate and create a link, defend your file, if you are a newcomer it leaves you a little more room.
Where to look for accommodation in Toronto?
Ads on buildings while walking around: everything is said in the intro, while walking around you will notice ads in front of some buildings, some have offices inside where you can go and get information directly, if not, take the number, the email or the website and get information.
Property management: many apartments will not be listed on sites like condos.ca or rentals.ca and real estate agents will not have access to them because they are only listed by property management. Unfortunately there are no property management listings available online (or we couldn’t find it) but you can search for “property management Toronto” and go to the “properties” tab to see their buildings and availability.
One last piece of information: if you see a building you like you can search to see how it is managed and if they have anything available. You can check at the front desk or ask someone who is coming out. I was surprised to see that some buildings never had any availability on the sites we were looking at, and in fact sometimes they are just managed differently.
Documents needed to rent an apartment in Toronto
The list of documents below may vary depending on how you rent the property (direct or through an agent), depending on the situation. Do not be afraid.
- Proof of employment – ask your employer to provide this, it includes your role in the company, your date of hire and your salary
- Credit score – this is a score given to anyone with a social security number in Canada. It is supposed to reflect your ability to pay back your debts, it is like your financial profile that allows you to know if you are a good student and pay back your debts properly or not. The higher the better. You can get a free credit score report on borrowell.com.
- References from previous owners – ask your previous owners for recommendations, your real estate agent can send you a template, otherwise you can find some on the internet.
- 2 personal references – ask 2 friends who have known you for a while if they can be called by potential landlords to confirm that you are good people (I had put a friend of mine and a friend of his, both know us well).
- First and last month’s rent – to be given when you have found a place to live, but good to know in advance. In Ontario (each province has different rules) you don’t have the equivalent of a deposit to give. You are asked for the first and last month’s rent. When you decide to leave your last month’s rent will be applied to your last month in the apartment. Example: in May 2018 when I moved in here I gave my last month which was applied to September 2022 since I am leaving my apartment on September 30.
- Your current address
- An identity document
- Your last 3 pay slips
- Proof of funds (for students or unemployed people)
Tips for your accommodation search in Toronto
- If you are looking from a distance, don’t give any money until you have visited the accommodation (or someone you trust on site)
- No need to look too far in advance, the market moves very fast
- Beware of ads that look good to be true: this is often the case. Unfortunately some people abuse the lack of experience of newcomers to rip them off
- Apartment visits are quick, take a few pictures or videos to remember them when you debrief afterwards. You have very little time on site and very little time to make up your mind.
- It is illegal for a landlord to ask you to pay more rent
- Prepare a list of questions to ask the agent or current tenants if they are there
- Plan time for your visits, I talked about it in le vlog recherche appartements, it takes longer than you think, especially because of the traffic in Toronto!
- Take the measurements of your big furniture or sofa for example and come with a tape measure in your pocket to measure if needed (I had everything planned but I didn’t use it, but who can do more can do less)
- In Ontario, you have to give 60 days notice to leave your apartment (it changes depending on the province).
- You have to leave the apartment at the end of the month (September 30th for us) and your next lease often starts on the 1st of the following month (in our case October 1st). Often the owners let you access the apartment a few days before if it is empty or if the tenants have left before. In our case we always wait and the plan B will be to keep all my things in a truck in the night of the 30 to the 1st. Yes I know, it’s super fun haha.
What is rent control?
Finally I wanted to talk about something very important to know in Ontario. If an apartment has not been rented before November 2018 in Ontario it is not under rent control. Rent control is the obligation to respect the rent increase index imposed by the province. I explain: each year the province gives a maximum percentage that landlords can choose to apply to the rent. For example, in 2021, the rent of the apartments under rent control could not be increased by more than 1.2%. Without rent control (after November 2018, the case for all new apartments) the increase is not regulated. You can very well see your rent increase by 200 or 300$ from one year to the next. The landlord will have to tell you 90 days before and if you decide that it is too expensive and you want to leave you will have to tell him 60 days before your desired departure. In practice, not all landlords are dishonest and stay close to rent control even if they are not obliged to (let’s not forget that it costs them money to find a new tenant and the risk of not finding a good one). More info about rent control.
I hope that this article will help you to see more clearly in the real estate jungle that is Toronto.
I will prepare other articles as our new adventure progresses. As I write this article we have 15 days left before the move and we are in the middle of the process of ending our contract, transferring our contract and opening our line. So the next real estate article in Toronto will talk about this aspect!