Overwhelmed by the GTA Rental Market? How to Rent an Apartment in the Greater Toronto Area

It’s no secret that renting in the Greater Toronto Area is a challenge. Prices have made large leaps year after year, vacancy rates are low, and the competition for great places to live is fierce.

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Jan 21, 2021

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It can feel overwhelming when you’re lining up to view an apartment or finding out that the place you love has already been rented out by the time you get your application in. You deserve to find a great place to live. All you need are a few tips to find it and some know-how to make sure you beat the competition to secure it.

With that in mind, this guide will help in your search for apartments for rent in Toronto and across the GTA.

#1 Stay on top of new listings

The first challenge is staying on top of new listings. With so many people chasing down listings, especially affordable ones, they can disappear quickly. Use every resource you have, including online marketplaces, walking around your neighbourhood, and even using a real estate agent if it’s within your budget.

One of the first challenges is to check back frequently on the listing sites and apps you use, especially as you get closer to your move-in date. Low vacancies mean that many units go straight from one tenant to another with very little or no time left empty.

#2 Old vs. new: modern amenities vs. rent control

There are plenty of reasons to prefer living in an older building to a modern one. Toronto has a number of old apartment buildings and duplexes that feature original mouldings, real hardwood floors, bay windows, and even backyard access.

On the other hand, newer units can come with modern appliances, fewer maintenance issues, and potentially even building amenities like a gym in the building or a rooftop deck.

However, there are other reasons to decide on an older unit. In Ontario, rent control only applies to units that existed before November 15, 2018. There are limits placed on how much your rent can increase year-over-year in a rent-controlled building.

In newer units, it’s entirely up to the landlord how much they want to increase your rent. It’s a situation that can be much more precarious, and if your unit is only just within your budget when you sign the lease, you can find yourself having to move after just 12 months.

#3 How to inspect an apartment at the viewing

In the current GTA market, the apartment viewing may be the only chance you have to inspect an apartment before you apply for it, especially if there is already a tenant there.

When you’re viewing an apartment these are some of the things you can do to inspect an apartment during the viewing:

  • Test all of the light switches. Flickering lights in a particular area of the unit may suggest an issue with a circuit or an issue with the wiring.
  • Test out the water pressure by turning on the taps to their fullest extent. You should get a fairly strong stream of water.
  • Check under the sink for foul or unusual odours that can indicate a water leak or pest infestation. Traps may simply indicate a proactive landlord but may also indicate a problem, and it is worth asking.
  • Check all of the locks to make sure they work properly.
Credit: Patrick Perkins via Unsplash

#4 Budget for utilities and transportation

When you’re preparing a budget to see how much you can afford, don’t forget to factor in the cost of utilities and transportation for where you live. For utilities, the average electrical bill in Ontario is $109 for 1,000 kWh/month. If you have to pay for natural gas, you can expect another $50 on average. This can fluctuate based on whether you have gas or electric heating and whether or not your unit has air conditioning.

Transportation can be tougher to calculate. If you live close enough to your job, you may be able to get by walking or biking alone. You can save unless you need a car for other parts of your life.

If you rely on public transportation, how much you can expect to pay mostly has to do with how many systems you have to use. A monthly pass for the TTC is one of the most expensive in North America, but you can wind up paying even more to commute if you use GO or transfer between two systems, such as going from MiWay or VIVA onto the TTC.

#5 Come to viewings ready to apply

One of the more frustrating elements of finding an apartment in the GTA is just how quickly they get snapped up by other prospective renters. One way you can beat the competition and get your name in the ring earlier is to come to viewings with all of the documents you’re likely to need to apply. Typically, these include:

  • References from past landlords
  • An employment letter
  • Proof of income, such as a paystub or bank statement
  • A credit check

You can get a credit check done on yourself for free if you can wait to receive it by mail or quickly online for a small fee (about $20). Landlords today typically don’t want to pay the fee themselves, and they have enough applicants that they don’t need to.

#6 Read your lease carefully

Before you sign a lease, make sure you comb through it carefully. It can feel like a rush to get your application in and find a place, but if there was ever a time to slow down the process and make sure you get all the details right, it’s when you sign the lease.

There is one piece of good news. If a clause in your lease goes against your rights as a tenant, it is not enforceable. However, there are a number of restrictions or responsibilities a landlord might include in a lease that you will have to meet, and you should know what these are before you sign.

#7 Save up an appropriate deposit

Renting in Ontario can be a bit tricky. While the rules often say one thing, the reality of the tight rental market means that it’s common practice for landlords to expect another thing. That leaves many tenants stuck with a choice: accept it and pay extra or give up the apartment they wanted.

Technically, landlords can only ask for a rent deposit consisting of last month’s rent. In practice, they will usually ask you for first and last month’s rent. A landlord can also charge a key deposit, but it must be refundable upon returning the keys.

With these tips in hand, your attempt to find a great apartment in the GTA should go as smoothly as it can. Stay active on listing websites and apps, ask about the age of a unit, inspect the unit when you have a chance, make sure your budget includes transportation and utilities, get your application ready in advance, read your lease, and save up a deposit.

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July 25, 2023
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