Tips for Renting an Apartment for the First Time


No BS Tips for Successful Apartment Hunting

Read time: 8 minutes

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In general, finding a rental space that suits you is no easy feat. Throw a city like Toronto into the mix and you'll definitely have your work cut out for you.

Stats in Toronto say up to 47% of Torontonians are renters, with about 98,000 condos being rented out in 2018. Considering the average cost of living in a 1 bedroom condo in the city is $2000/month, it's no wonder many individuals (myself included) choose to live outside "the 6ix".

My goal is to provide you with actionable, zero BS tips on how to navigate the jungle that is the Toronto rental market.

I plan to make this a three-part series: first I'll go over planning, then tips on how to book/what to prepare for viewings, how to woo your potential landlord and a basic lease agreement. I’ll wrap up with my go-to spots when shopping for new apartment essentials and move in day!

This post is the first of the three-part series.

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When shopping for a rental space in Toronto, you typically have three options, you could either get an Apartment, a Condo or a House.

Most millennials go for either the first or second option. If you don’t have a big family, you could opt for the third option with a group of friends, make a sorority (or frat) house of sorts.

Unless you’re one of those people with the money and mental fortitude to rent out an entire house by yourself.


apartment vs condo

Generally, apartments are cheaper than condominiums as a lot of the amenities found in condos (a gym, swimming pool, 10 a.m. Aquafit classes) are not available in most apartments. Also, condos tend to be newer and in better condition than apartments, as most apartments have substandard maintenance practices.

house vs basement

Renting a house is the most expensive of the three options, first for the obvious reason - you get a lot more square footage than in a condo or apartment. In addition to that, you shoulder more responsibilities as a tenant (water, gas, heat, snow shovelling, lawn maintenance, etc.).

These little costs, both for necessities and maintenance add up very quickly and could potentially bleed out your wallet if you’re not in the right financial situation to handle renting a whole house.

Another option is renting a basement apartment. I’ve found basements to be the cheapest option, and most grads start out renting basements before moving up to apartments and condos as they progress in their careers. Like every option mentioned prior, basements have their pros and cons.

So with all that in mind, here are some of my tips to help you space hunt like a pro.

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asking for help

Personally, I prefer searching for spaces myself just because I’m extremely particular about certain things. I mean, I’m the one who would live there for at least 6 months so it’s gotta suit my tastes right?

However, if you generally don’t have a ton of time to dedicate to searching for spaces, it might be best to work with a realtor. Be warned though, there are some agents who are in it to serve YOU, and some who are in it for the profit they get from the landlord (Yes, the landlord pays their fees and not you - a pro of working with an agent).

All in all, decide if you would want to hunt for spaces Han Solo or tag team with a realtor.

research is key

Doing basic research is pretty important when looking for your first (or next) space. You could start by making a list of what your space “must have” and things that’d be “nice to have”.

For example, a must have for me is a private (or semi-private) laundry area where I won't need to pay each time I do laundry, but that could be a “nice to have” for someone else. Also, a parking spot could be essential for one person but completely unnecessary for another.

Things like storage space, shared/private kitchen, lighting, pet-friendliness, to name a few, could be considered. Also, ask yourself: would you prefer a furnished or unfurnished space? Keeping in mind that furnished spaces generally come with a bump in the overall rental cost. Ultimately, it boils down to your preferences.

I remember once finding a beautiful apartment, fully furnished with very affordable rent. I was sold. Well, that was until I searched the address on Google and discovered the entire building had been recently renovated following a lot of tragic events like suicides and murder. Jeez!

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Once you establish a budget and stick to it, it's so much easier to make responsible financial decisions. Take a look at your budget and figure out how much you can afford to pay monthly for rent.

Be sure to factor in the basic utilities and tenant insurance. I've read some blog posts that recommend allocating 30% of your income to rent and living expenses. I recommend you figure out what works best for you and your personal finances.

That studio apartment with a monthly rent of $1200 may save you more money in the long run, than the 1 bedroom condo downtown with a gorgeous view of the CN Tower you have to pay $2500/month for.

My general rule of thumb is to go with the cheaper option, that way you get to save more money towards buying your own property in the future.

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Location is key! This ties into the budget as well because the closer you live to the city, the more expensive it generally is.

If you’re considering living closer to the suburbs, but work in the city, consider the commute to work. Would it be worth it to you to pay cheap rent but have to commute long hours to your work each day?

Point is, you have to have some sort of balance. Say you’re one for socializing, shopping or the nightlife, you should consider that when looking for a space. The place you eventually choose should also reflect your lifestyle.

If you’re getting a condo or an apartment you may prefer living higher up or closer to the ground. I lived on the 20th floor of a condo once and on the first floor of another. I felt somewhat safer on the higher floor simply because there was less traffic by my apartment than on the first floor. On the flip side, living on the first floor made it super easy lugging groceries around.

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best time to move in

Choosing when to move in is important, as it can save you some money and stress. Rent is typically cheaper in the winter time because there’s less competition and landlords are more open to tenants in the winter for some reason.

On the other hand, moving in the winter might not be the best idea, especially if you live in a place that's really cold and with a lot of snow (Toronto), it can get very messy.


where to look

If you decided to search for an apartment on your own, here are some of my favourite websites:

Be sure to stay on high alert as there are a number of scammers and fake rental units out there. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Do not to give out any personal information like your SIN or credit report until you have met the owner of the unit in person.

I hope these tips were helpful in turning you into a pro apartment hunter! Remember to always keep a flexible mind because one apartment may not have everything on your list, or your next possible apartment may have already been rented out before you even get a chance to look at the place.

If you loved this post, here's the second part: Apartment Hunting in Toronto (Part 2) - The Viewing Appointment


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