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Article on Apartment and real estate in Canada

GaramChai.com >> Realtors >>  Apartment and House Hunting in Toronto 

 

New to canada and Looking for an apartment. Here's some suggestion

If you're new to Toronto, there are a few things you should keep in mind when looking for an apartment.

The most important thing is to do your research: how much can you afford (not just rent but other costs, including travel time), what kind of neighbourhood suits your lifestyle, and what the market is like. You will find a place to live, but the more effort you put in, the better your chances of landing a great place!

 

1. A word about timing

You should be warned that it can take a number of days, even weeks, of searching to get a place. Therefore, it might be best to try to come for a couple of days, perhaps 4-6 weeks in advance of your move, and try to secure a place prior to moving. If you don't find something, you will at least be more familiar with the areas. If you come here with a truck full of your belongings and hope to find something within a day or two, you are taking a much greater risk (if for no other reason than the cost of late fees on the moving truck) and you may be pressured into settling for something you don't want.

If you can't come to Toronto, you can start right away, especially with high-rises, because the office might know of April/May openings but hasn't advertised them yet (a big advantage). High-rises are frequently the first home of those new to Toronto, because they are easier to find (one phone potentially call gives you a crack at many units, rather than just one in a house) and if you've seen one, you've seen them all.

NOTE: Landlords tend to begin advertising apartments about 4-6 weeks in advance of the available date, but there are exceptions, both early and late. If they say "avail. imm.", then it is empty right now and they want you in as soon as possible - this may or may not be what you want.

2. $$$ and The Market

Toronto can be an expensive and competitive rental market. The vacancy rate in 2000 was 0.06%, meaning only 6 out of 1000 apartments are available at any given time.

This means you must act quickly when you see an apartment you like. Apartments rent in just a few days. Also, when you go to see a place, you will probably be in competition with at least 20-50 other prospective tenants. If the place looks good to you, you have to pounce on it immediately.

There are benefits to this frenetic rental climate: (1) because apartments are in such high demand, it is generally easy to break a lease and move out if you want to; and (2) many landlords are spending money on their apartments again (new appliances, carpets).

According to the CMHC, average monthly rents in 2000 for the Toronto area were:
1-bedroom $830
2-bedroom $979

However, these figures are deceivingly low. Anything along the subway line tends to be more expensive: a 1-bedroom apartment is usually at least $1000 and even bachelor apartments can be over $800. Where are all the cheap apartments then? Away from the subway line, of course! Generally, you are paying for convenience - e.g. being able to walk out to parks, shops and subway.

Rent Control

In 1997, the Ontario government repealed the Landlord and Tenant Act and brought in the Tenant Protection Act. The main impact of this was to change the way rent control works. Previously, the government set a yearly maximum rent increase (usually around 3%) and this applied to all apartments (except for renovations, etc.). The current legislation applies to occupied units only. This means that a landlord can ask whatever price they want for vacant apartments, but once you are a tenant you are protected by the government's maximum rent increase for as long as you rent the unit.

3. Where to live

Fundamentally, this comes down to how you want to live. Big building? Quaint flat in a house? Walk to work? Family life? Entertainment? The Infosys office is located in an area that is relatively easy to get to, with satisfactory amenities in the immediate vicinity. If amenities are important to you, Toronto has many more interesting neighbourhoods, each with their own personality. There are people working at Infosys who live in almost every part of the Greater Toronto Area.

A. The Suburbs

Suburbs are areas with lower-density housing and the major mode of transport is driving (vs. walking and transit). If you have a car and you don't mind Toronto's rush-hour traffic, you can drive or bus to work and may be able to save money on your rent (note, you will always have to pay $50-100 per month for parking at work). You can live 4-8km north, east or west of Yonge and Finch and probably find something for a few hundred dollars less than something along the subway line. Look for clusters of high-rise buildings around Bathurst/Finch, Bathurst/Steeles, Don Mills/Finch, Don Mills/Sheppard, 401/DVP. Beyond that, most of these areas are suburban homes and as such, single-person rental stock is quite limited. If you have 2 or 3 roommates you can look into renting an entire house as a cost-effective way of living.

Beyond the 8 km range, the suburbs are almost entirely homes and rentals become hard to come by. Closest to furthest, approximately: Thornhill, Downsview, Rexdale, Agincourt, Scarborough, Richmond Hill, Etobicoke, Markham, Mississauga, Vaughn.

B. Urban Neighbourhoods

If you can't or don't wish to drive, you have to account for walking/biking or taking public transit (the TTC). I recommend staying within 2km of the Yonge subway line, since it runs through North York Centre, right inside our office building. Taking the subway to work is fast and convenient, as well as cost-effective: tokens cost $1.70; a monthly pass is $88.50 and gives you unlimited use of the entire system - handy for weekend shopping and entertainment.

Since the change in rent control, rents along the Yonge line have risen 10-20%. However, units slightly removed from Yonge have not increased so severely and some good deals can be had.

Caveat: The neighbourhood descriptions below are based on personal observations. They are the more common places for young professionals to live. These neighbourhoods are generally safe and each has a unique character. Further descriptions can be found on the Toronto Life Real Estate Guide and other sites (see 6.Resources, below).

Yonge and Eglinton (a.k.a. North Toronto or Sherwood Park)
Also known as "young and eligible", this is the home to many recent graduates who have moved to Toronto. It is a vibrant, bustling area built up around the Eglinton subway station. Taking the subway from Eglinton to Finch (5 stops) will take about 15 minutes. The area features cinemas, bookstores, fine dining, pubs, shopping, cafes, fast food. The housing stock tends to be high-rise, low-rise and some houses. There are also a number of condos recently/being built in the area. It is generally quite safe and clean, and has more parks and quiet streets than downtown.

Due to the popularity of the area, rents can be higher than average. As of November 2000, one-bedroom apartments at Canterbury/Berkshire House (high-rise attached to the subway - go to work without putting on a coat!) go for $1000-1200 plus parking. The largest building in the area (88 Erskine) is advertising 1-bdrms for $1395, and another large building (500 Duplex) had some 1-bdrms for $1095. Bachelors can be found in this area as well, usually for $800 or more. There are dozens of high-rises and low-rises - you can find them on the web and in the papers, and by driving past and calling the phone number on the sign. Street names with lots of high-rises: Eglinton, Roehampton, Holly, Broadway, Montgomery, Orchard View, Erskine, Keewatin, Redpath.

To find something cheaper in this general area you have to go somewhat further (2km+) east - Bayview and Eglinton, Leaside. Note there is very frequent bus service along Eglinton, that will take you right into the subway, and Mount Pleasant and Bayview avenues have a lot of shops and restaurants as well.

Yonge and Davisville
This is the next stop south of Eglinton. Similar neighbourhood, although a little quieter. Lots of high-rises, same prices. You can probably just walk or drive around and look for "vacancy" signs - but look on the RentCanada site as well and make an appointment or two. Street names with lots of buildings: Lacelles, Balliol, Davisville, Merton.

The Downtown Core: Bay & Bloor/Yonge & Bloor/Yonge & College/Bay & College/Church Street
Most people consider Yonge street, south of Bloor, to be the "core" of downtown, with lots of offices, shopping (Eaton Centre), subway and entertainment nearby. There is also a lot of quality cheap fast food along Young between Bloor and College. Though Yonge street may appear seedy in places, it is generally quite safe because of the volume of pedestrian traffic at all times of the day. Grocery shopping can be found at a new 24-hour Dominion store at Church and Dundas. This urban area is home to people of many backgrounds and careers; professionals, students; rich and poor. Church street is also home to Toronto's gay and lesbian community, and is more relaxed than Yonge. Further east, one finds some run-down areas along Jarvis, Sherbourne and Parliament streets which are probably best avoided.

South of Bloor, and east of Yonge, there are a lot of high-rise apartments in this area, between Yonge and Church streets (look for addresses on Charles, Alexander, Wellesley, Dundonald, Maitland, Wood and Carleton streets). Generally you will find apartments in this area to be on par with Yonge and Eglinton with respect to size, price, and features. There are also a lot of high-rise condos between Yonge and Bay streets, west of Yonge street. They can be very expensive, but if one has roommates you might be able to swing it (you might try Horizon on Bay, 633 Bay at the corner of Bay and Edward). The condo offices often act as property manager for owners who wish to rent their suites.

From the subway at Yonge and Bloor, you are 20 minutes from North York Centre. Wellesley, College and Dundas stations add just a minute or two each.

The Danforth
Arranged along the Bloor-Danforth (east-west) Subway line, the Danforth (between Broadview and Donlands) is a popular area because of its lively atmosphere: pubs, restaurants, shops, festivals. It's also easy to get to work - just get on the subway at Donlands, Pape, Chester or Broadview, go west to Yonge/Bloor, transfer northbound and ride to North York Centre. This would take about 30 minutes. The Danforth is also known as Greektown and there are many Greek restaurants and cultural events in the neighbourhood.

The best part about the Danforth is that it's a great neighbourhood and it tends to be less expensive. The housing stock consists of units in older houses, and a few high-rises near Broadview. Bachelors can be had for $725, and 1-bdrms from $850.

The Annex
The Annex is along Bloor Street between the Bathurst, Spadina and St. George subway stops. It is home to many UofT professors, students, journalists, writers and a lot of professionals. There is a good "cafe scene" and you can walk to downtown, Chinatown, Kensington Market, the UofT and Little Italy. Bookstores, sushi joints, student pubs, Honest Ed's.

Houses are old but have a lot of character and the tree-lined streets are pleasant in the summer. Unfortunately, it seems everyone wants to live in the Annex and rents have skyrocketed. It may be possible to find a 1 bedroom under $1000 but they tend to be basements for $750 or whole floors for $1300+. Parking can be hard to find. Time to work on the subway: 30 minutes.

Harbourfront (Queen's Quay - on the water)
Pros: living on the waterfront, recreation, party atmosphere in summer.
Cons: extremely expensive, cold in winter, oddly isolated from downtown, tourists.

Little Italy (College St. between Ossington and Bathurst)
Pros: cafe culture, bars, shops, entertainment.
Cons: not on the subway line and ~50 minutes to Yonge and Finch

Corso Italia (St. Clair between Dufferin and Bathurst)
Pros: Duplexes can be less expensive (~$1100 for 2 ppl). Cafe culture, bars, shops.
Cons: not on the subway line and ~40 minutes to Yonge and Finch

Queen St. West (Bathurst to University)
Pros: Entertainment district, bars, shops.
Cons: Noisy, not on the subway line and ~60 minutes to work. Getting expensive due to lots of condos going up in the area.

C. Living close to Yonge and Finch

There are many new condos along the north Yonge Street corridor (a.k.a. "downtown North York"), but they tend to be quite expensive ($1300+ for a one bedroom). The houses around here will likely rent only a basement suite or the entire house. But there are always a few high-rises and other units around. Key areas to try searching: Yonge/Finch, Yonge/Steeles, Bathurst/Finch, Bayview/Finch, Yonge/Sheppard, North York Centre. If you are near any of these intersections, you will be no more than a couple of kilometres from our office at North York Centre, and all are served by bus lines (Sheppard and NYC are on the subway too).

Yonge and Finch is becoming more "urban" and has most of the basic amenities (grocery, pharmacy, video, fast food) but lacks good food and entertainment. It is also 14km from downtown (Queen Street). Both Yonge and Sheppard and North York Centre feature clusters of multi-use complexes - apartments, shopping, dining, cinema, office. The neighbourhoods don't have a lot of character but are generally very safe and close to the subway and the 401 expressway.

4. Toronto apartment vocabulary

Every city's housing market has its own 'vocabulary', especially when it comes to heavily-abbreviated classified ads.

House : A detached or semi-detached house, although sometimes it is just an apartment in a house that has been divided.
Duplex : Semi-detached house or house with multiple units, sometimes as small as 1 bedroom.
Townhome : A rowhouse, similar to a duplex. Often upscale.
Condo : Usually a unit within a large building. The unit is owned and being rented by the unit-owner, not the building. Works like an apartment.
Apartment : Self-contained unit in any sized building, from house to high-rise.
High-rise : A multi-unit building 7 stories or higher.
Low-rise : A multi-unit building with fewer than 7 stories.
Junior 1-bdrm : A small apartment with an enclosed bedroom.
Bach/bachelor : A self-contained apartment that consists of a principal room with kitchen, and a bathroom. May have a partially-enclosed bedroom.
Bachette/bachelorette : Usually a very small apartment but typically self-contained.
Flat : Rarely-used term - may indicate a shared bathroom or kitchen.
Room : Just a room. Shared bathroom and kitchen.
To Share :People looking for a roommate.
Furnished : Typically includes bed, chest, table, chairs.
Balc : Balcony. The attitude towards barbecuing on balconies varies by building. Technically it is illegal, but it is more an issue of the smoke bothering other tenants, or a landlord who has been in trouble with the city over other regulations.
Bsmt/bsmt ste/basement suite : A basement apartment. Can be large or small and may have windows. Unfortunately, typically dark, cold and damp.
dw
Dishwasher : wd,Washer and dryer in unit.
2 appl : Fridge and stove.
3 appl : Fridge, stove and (microwave/dishwasher).
4 appl : Typically: fridge, stove, washer, dryer.
5 appl : Typically: Fridge, stove, washer, dryer, dishwasher.
6 appl : Fridge, stove, washer, dryer, microwave, dishwasher.
no pets : By default, assume you cannot have pets in most apartments. If you have pets your search will be somewhat restricted and you should always check that your pets are welcome before even making an appointment to view.
lndry : The building has laundry facilities but they are usually not free.
brdlm : Broadloom; carpeting.
hw/hrdwd : Hardwood floors. Common, although modern buildings tend to consider "parquet tiles" as hardwood. Beware of squeaky floors in older buildings - unless you are on the top floor, the apartment above you will probably squeak as well.
phone/cable : Most Toronto landlords do not supply cable or phone, unless rented as a "room." If the ad says phone or cable, it may mean you have to share with another tenant (not good for high-speed internet).
$1000+ : The "+" means that the rent does not include utilities.
pool/rec room : Many high-rises try to entice you by advertising recreational facilities. In my experience, most of these are not pleasant to use. You're better off with a membership to an athletic club, such as the Northridge club in our office building.
solarium : Usually a small glassed-in room. A lot of downtown condos feature solariums which many people use as an extra bedroom. This is feasible but remember that the walls are made of glass and privacy is limited!
a/c : Air Conditioning. Unless you are living in a basement suite (and even then), you will need A/C in Toronto's muggy summers. Also, some landlords will not allow you to install your own window air conditioner, so you should ask before signing if this is your intention.
hydro : Utilities. This varies from place to place; in some buildings, you pay for the electricity for lights and appliances; in others, you pay all costs including heating. Check how much this is going to be before signing, or you may be in for an unpleasant surprise!
pkg/parking :Parking is expensive in Toronto. High rises usually charge an extra $60-100 per month for a parking space. Smaller buildings may not have any parking at all, and you will have to try to rent your own spot or get a permit from the City of Toronto for on-street parking. Note that permits are not available in all areas, sometimes there are waiting lists, and there are strict rules about eligibility for a permit. See the website in the resources below.

5. Technique

Checklist
It is often wise to make a checklist of what you need and what you want. Then arrange the two groups in descending order of importance. If you're really keen, make up a form to use for each place you contact. At the top, put the phone number and description, and put this list on it. Print out 10 or 20 copies. Suggested items to put on checklists: rent, hydro, parking, A/C, laundry, light, room size, water pressure, close to TTC. Also, put things to avoid on your checklists: aggressive landlord, evidence of pests, mildew, bad smells, noisy.

Also, bring your:
cell phone, if you have one, so you can call - and be reached - while out searching
driver's license (you'll often need to write down the number on your application)
bank account info, including home branch address and telephone
contact info for previous landlords and personal references
offer letter from Infosys - this is important to prove that you have a job and are earning enough to afford the apartment

Places to Look
If you are looking for a high-rise building, it's probably easiest to find them in the Toronto Star's Renter's Guide booklet and other free booklets found in streetside boxes, or on the Web. You should call the office directly; they don't always advertise. If you are looking for a smaller building, the Toronto Star's website is a great primary source of ads (see resources below). You must check it as often as possible - every day if you can - because it only takes a few days to rent an apartment. If you see something in the area you want for the price you want, call immediately.

Another strategy is to look for short-term rentals. If you don't have a lot of belongings and want to establish a base in the city, you can probably find something for 4-6 months and then move on once you have a better idea of where you want to live. You may find sublet arrangements, but there are also apartment-hotels which provide temporary accommodation.

If you have time, check out one or two of the neighbourhoods on foot. Because it's so easy to rent an apartment, many landlords (especially in The Annex and many high-rises) don't bother placing a classified ad - they just put a sign in the front window/lawn.

You may also consider an apartment-finder service or work with a real estate agent, though I have no experience with these. You can probably find something on the web. One company under "apartment finding" in the yellow pages was Rent For You - they offer to find you listings but you still have to call the landlord, etc. (This service might not be worth the $120 they want to charge you.)

Calling the number
When calling, you will frequently get an answering machine. This is because an ad can generate hundreds of calls per day. You may want to say something like "Hello, my name is ________ and I'm calling about the ad for the apartment in the [Toronto Star]." You will need to leave a number where they can call you back. But if they don't call you back within a day, call again. You don't want to annoy them but you don't want to let them overlook you either. This is where it's handy to have a cell phone, because if you're out looking at apartments, it's best to be able to get those call-backs.

If you get a live human, ask if it's still available, ask them to tell you about it, and if you like the description, when they are showing it. Sometimes they give you a range of times, other times it's by appointment. If you can, it is recommended to make an appointment because then you won't be viewing the house with 10 other prospective tenants (a bidding war might ensue!).

In either case, make sure the landlord gets your name - you want them to remember you as being professional.

A word about days. New ads come out all the time, but by far the most ads are in the Saturday papers. The worst day to see an apartment is Sunday because you can't get any banking services (e.g. certified cheque). The next-worst day is Saturday because everyone else is out looking for an apartment that day, too. A landlord once said he placed an ad in the Saturday Star and received over 200 calls - before noon!

The inspection
OK, now down to the nitty-gritty. You've found an ad, called the landlord, made an appointment to see a place. You show up: ON TIME - don't make them wait, and remember, it takes longer than you think to get anywhere in this city, especially if you're driving between neighbourhoods. You should look presentable; not fancy, but neat and conscientious. You look the place over, and think you want to put in an offer. STOP. Think again - have you seen everything? Check your checklist again. It's easy to get sidetracked during the tour and forget to ask about hydro, pets, pests, or parking. Also, what about the lease - what are its terms? (Almost all apartments have a one-year lease. This is more for your protection than the landlord's.) Did you check the water pressure, the proper functioning of the toilet, the condition of the floors, windows, locks on all doors and windows?!

The deal
If you're really sure you want to take it, the typical procedure is to fill out an application form which the landlord will provide you. The purpose of this form is to determine if you are a worthy tenant. References and credit checks are in fact the only legal methods that the landlord can use to discriminate amongst applicants. Typically the application will ask for references (usually past landlords but perhaps a character reference) and credit information. As a recent graduate you may not have a lot of credit history - don't worry - the landlord is looking for bad credit ratings but it is difficult to tell a good one from someone without a credit history.

Deposits and "first and last" - this is important: The law states that a landlord can collect a deposit, but it must be requested on or before the date of signing the rental agreement, and can be no more than one month's rent. Thus, it is actually illegal to ask for "first and last" with the application (the law would have the "last month's rent" as the deposit, and the first month's rent payable on the first day of the tenancy). However, in my experience, this is common and, due to the tight rental market, it is frequently agreed to. Therefore, be prepared to depart with two month's rent - that day! (e.g. ~$2000). Make sure to get a signed receipt for any monies paid.

Sometimes the landlord will accept the application without money (a sign that you may be lower on the waiting list), but if you're serious about the place, offer to come back with a certified cheque within an hour (if in the evening, then first thing the next day). However, be aware that by entering an application you making a legal offer to lease, and if you give the landlord a cheque you are most likely bound. I don't recommend you put in an application on a place that is a "maybe." There are always more "maybe" places out there - it's the great places that are rare.

As you can see, this puts you in a bit of a dilemma - should you go and see more places after putting in an offer on one, just in case you don't get it? In my experience, you can do this but you tread a fine line. You should let subsequent landlords know that you have an offer in on another place, and ask if would they accept a conditional offer.

If the landlord has accepted your application and money - wait by the phone. If you were the first one to put in an application, and your credit checks out, you should get a call within a day or two letting you know.

Once you have the place
When you get the good news, you should spring into action. Arrange your phone and (if necessary) Hydro hookups so you'll have service on the day you move in. Go through all the people/organizations that have your address and notify them of the new address. I also recommend using Canada Post's mail forwarding service, which costs $36 for 6 months. And be sure to let Infosys know as well!

Author: Anon


Resources and Links

Renting
Canadian Relocation Systems : A good website with general info and ads for moving-related services.

Toronto Star Classifieds: A good source of rental classifieds. Great website that allows searches by rent, area, # of bedrooms, etc.

Globe and Mail Classifieds : Tends to feature upscale apartments but occasionally one finds a good value. Smaller selection than the Toronto Star.

RentCanada : Run by large property managers. Tends to feature only large high-rises. Useful for finding the going rates in various locations.

PM Rentals : Contains good descriptions & prices for a lot of high-rise buildings all over Toronto. Check apartments for "Toronto Central" for downtown and Davisville, "Toronto North" for Yonge and Eglinton (Erskine Ave), Bathurst/Finch (601 Finch W).

Homestead Apartments : Operates 3 buildings on Erskine Ave in the Yonge/Eglinton area. Pictures, descriptions, prices, availability.

Apartment hotels : Short term rentals

Toronto Neighbourhoods: Great guide to the neighbourhoods of Toronto.

Toronto Life Real Estate Guide : Go to --> city guides --> real estate - then check downtown/midtown/uptown for areas described above.

City and Government Websites

The Ontario Rental Housing Tribunal: Government authority that deals with landlord and tenant issues (the Tenant Protection Act). Good site to inform you of your rights and obligations. Also has forms for both landlords (notice of rent increase, notice of eviction) and tenants (notice of intention to vacate).

City of Toronto : Lots of good information on this website, including maps and guides to parks and services.

City of Toronto Parking : How to apply for on-street parking, fines, tickets etc

TTC - Toronto Transit Commission : Maps, fares, hours.

Utilities
Toronto Hydro
Bell Canada 310-BELL
Rogers Cable

MyWestend.ca - dedicated to helping you find apartments for rent in the West End area of Vancouver BC
Apartment Guide .ca - dedicated to helping you with apartment rental in the greater Vancouver BC area. They deal in all kinds of residential accommodation rentals including apartments, condominiums, townhouses, suites, houses, duplexes, lofts, flats, pads, rooms, sublets, vacation rentals, furnished rentals, basement suites, executive suites, appartements and shared accommodation.
RentHome.ca - Provides details on rental properties with maps & photos of apartments, houses, condos & suites currently for rent in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, and Edmonton.


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