Essential Tips for Finding a Rental in Toronto or Vancouver

By: Haley Fairclough

So, you’re looking for a rental in Toronto or Vancouver and you feel like everything is working against you. It’s not a renter’s market, and unless you happen to get really lucky, you’re going to need some help finding the light at the end of the tunnel.

Here are 10 tips from someone who has recently been in your shoes.

1: Plan Ahead

Start looking just before the beginning of the month and into the first week. Tenants need to give 60 days’ notice and the majority will move out at the end of the month. This means the Property Manager or Landlord will know their availabilities just before, or on the beginning of the month. Searching at this time means you’ll have access to all available units coming up in 60 days.

2: Work Hard

Be ready and willing to put in a lot of work searching through listings, and don’t limit yourself to only a few. There are hundreds of renters and not a lot of listings out there; the vacancy rate in Toronto is currently only 1.0% and Vancouver 0.9% ,so be prepared to hear “no availability” a lot. Keeping an open mind will provide you with more than just a few options. A lot of places I saw looked much different in person than online, and that goes both ways, so don’t judge a book by its cover.

3: Cover All Your Bases

Take time to sort through rental listings on a site where you will find professionally managed apartment buildings. Additionally, you can also hire a Realtor (at no charge to you) to look into private listings to supplement your own search. The Realtor will do all the searching and appointment booking for you, but keep in mind these are private listings and you will often get into bidding wars with other tenants. Unfortunately, with so little rental supply, the price advertised on private listings isn’t always the price rented. Personally, my partner and I ended up losing out on four condo listings for this reason; know your budget!

4: Pick Up the Phone

When you’re going through options, you can send emails which may result in you getting one email back for every 10 you send. The Property Manager or Landlord is likely inundated with emails and by the time you get a reply, the suite could already be rented. You want to act quickly and calling is your best bet. That’s if you can get someone to answer the phone. If not, keep trying! They’re also being flooded with phone calls, so you just have to catch them at the right time. It’s almost like calling in to win a radio contest; I know this sounds crazy but it’s the reality of the situation.

5: Take Advantage of Waiting Lists

If you’re lucky enough to have flexibility with your move-in date, start putting your name on waiting lists (this is a good idea even if you’re thinking of moving sometime in the future). You may be able to do this directly from the website. If not, you can leave your name and phone number over the phone and you’ll be contacted when a unit becomes available.

6: Keep Track

After calling hundreds of numbers and sending thousands of emails, you’re going to start to go cross-eyed. Every apartment will start to look the same and you don’t want to risk wasting time calling the same unavailable unit. Write down appointments and take note of pertinent information. This will also help you keep track of your favourites and log the key differences. You aren’t likely to land your dream apartment, especially with rental prices being what they are, but the list will help you weigh the pros and cons of each to find a compromise.

7: Be Prepared to Act Quickly

Give your job a heads up that you might have to leave at the drop of a hat to go for a viewing. This will give you a one-up on other renters. Schedule viewings as soon as possible; when I first started looking, I booked a whole day of appointments for the week after. When that day finally rolled around, more than half of them called me to tell me the unit had already been rented. Some of the application processes work on a first come first serve basis; you want to make sure you’re first.

8: Apply On the Spot

Come prepared to your viewing with all documents required for a rental application. You want to aim to be first to apply since available units get rented out in mere days. The requirements will vary from place to place, so make sure to ask what you should bring when you’re scheduling the appointment. You’ll almost always need a job letter, references, pay stubs and your chequebook. If possible, bring everyone who is going to be on the lease to the appointment. You’ll need all parties to be present to apply and sign.

9: First Impression is Key

Get to the appointment early and dress to impress. You’ll want to make a good impression – often the person showing you the suite will have a say in the final decision.

10: Don’t Give Up

It’s bad out there; anyone who has ever looked for a rental in a tight market has felt your same pain. Be strong and don’t get discouraged. You’ll get turned down a lot and it won’t be easy, but if you keep at it you’ll find something. After months of blood, sweat and tears, I finally found my place and you can too!

About Haley Fairclough

Haley Fairclough is a Contributing Editor for 4Rent has been successfully connecting apartment hunters and property managers since 2009. Prospective tenants can explore a variety of rental listings across Canada, including condo-like apartments, single home-dwellings, student housing and more.