What you need to know before you rent an apartment

By Sheryl Smolkin

We’ve written several articles about the ins and outs of home ownership, but in fact Statistics Canada reports that 31% of Canadians rent. And although 82.4% of couple-family households own their dwelling, only 55.6% of lone-parent households have purchased a residence and less than half (48.5%) of non-family households own their own homes.

While at first blush, finding and renting an apartment may not seem particularly complicated, if you’ve ever had a terrible rental experience you probably asked a lot more questions the next time around.  So in order to give renters some food for thought, this week we present the first of a two-part series on “what you always wanted to know about renting an apartment but you were afraid to ask.”

  1. Location, Location, Location:
    A perfect apartment is not perfect if it is miles from work and family and not on a regular transportation route. Also, check to see if there are easily accessible grocery stores, a drugstore, schools and places of worship.
  2. Paying the rent:
    Make sure you can afford the rent. The landlord may have you fill out an application, do a credit check and ask you for references. One rule of thumb is that you should budget 25%-30% of your income for rent. Typically you will have to give a first and last month’s rent when you move in. If you are a student, a parent may have to co-sign the lease.
  3. What the rent covers:
    Ask about any additional charges for utilities or cable TV. Find out if you are entitled to a locker and or/parking or if there is an additional charge. Do you get a guaranteed parking spot? Is it indoors or out? Do the window coverings and the microwave stay with the apartment or go with the current tenant? How much does it cost to use the laundry machines?
  4. Fuzzy and Fido:
    Do you have devoted pets who are members of your family? Don’t take for granted that dogs or cats are allowed. Even if you have a very small, quiet, dog you will have to take him out several times a day and there is always a nosey neighbor who will notify management that you are breaching the lease.
  5. Property inspection:
    Make sure you get to inspect your unit before you sign on the bottom line. Check for leakage, insects and that all the appliances work. Test the faucets, hot water, the shower and the toilets. If you see any damage, take pictures and inform the landlord before you sign the lease. If possible, get it in writing when necessary repairs will be completed.
  6. Building maintenance:
    Is the building clean and in good repair? What condition is your unit in? Is there a superintendent in the building you can easily contact if you suddenly have no hot water or your refrigerator stops working? Ask other tenants about their experience.
  7. Decorating your apartment:
    Can you paint or wallpaper your apartment? Will you have to repaint it “boring beige” before you leave? What if there are holes in the wall from picture hangers? Will your last month’s rent act as a security deposit? In what circumstances can the landlord refuse to return all or part of your security deposit? Can you change the locks or put additional security locks on the door of your unit?
  8. Renter’s insurance:
    These days everybody has computers, tablets, TVs and other very portable electronics. Regardless of how good you think the apartment security is there is always the risk that your apartment will be broken into or your possessions destroyed by fire. Invest in a comprehensive tenant’s insurance package.
  9. Roomies:
    You may need to rent out a room in your apartment to help pay the rent. Does your landlord have to approve the roommate? Does the roommate have to co-sign on the lease? Are you responsible for the full amount of the rent if your roommate packs up and leaves in the middle of the night? Can you list the apartment on Airbnb?
  10. Other misc. questions:
    Can you barbecue on your balcony? Can you store your bike on the balcony? Can you control the heat? How do you let somebody into the building? Are there overhead lights or enough convenient outlets to plug in lamps and other appliances? Is there Wifi in the building? How is the cell phone reception? Where do you dispose of garbage? Is the building noisy? Is there a history of vandalism in the building or the area?

Next week we will talk about the legal rights of landlords and tenants in Saskatchewan.

 

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