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The House Hunt

Now that you’ve made the decision to live off-campus rather than living in residence on-campus, you may be wondering where to begin your search. Wherever you decide to live, remember that it will be your home for the next eight to twelve months, or longer. Shop around. Be selective. You don’t have to settle for cramped or low quality housing. Take the time to look around and find something that makes you feel comfortable.

The Toronto Housing Market

While the housing market in Toronto is very large, it is also very competitive. In 2016 vacancy rates were at a very low level of 1-2%. While this number might be discouraging, there are thousands of units available for rent in the city. But it will be important to have a plan, stay organized, and act quickly after you have found housing that you are comfortable with.

Getting Started

While there is always housing being advertised, it might take you some time to find a place that fits your criteria. It's a good idea to start your search at approximately four weeks before your target move-in date so that you won't be pressured to accept housing that you are unsatisfied with. You will want to make a list of the criteria that you are looking for. This will help cut down the number of postings you will have to sort through and will help you avoid unnecessary site visits. Criteria to consider include:

Your Budget

Rent costs vary according to a number of factors, including size, location, and type (basement apartment vs. high rise condo for example). Below are average costs based on housing advertised with the University of Toronto.

Type Monthly Rent
SHARED   $530
PRIVATE Bachelor $775
1 Bedroom $800
2 Bedroom $1,050
3 Bedroom $1,580

Location

Will you want to live within a walking distance to UofT Scarborough, downtown, or somewhere in between? While housing in Scarborough is typically less expensive, some students prefer living in the downtown area and commuting further. What’s more important to you? Would you rather have a short commute and be right next to campus, or live closer to downtown and have a longer commute?

Transit

How will you be getting to school? If planning on taking the TTC, you might want to find housing close to a subway or RT station, or near a bus or street car stop. If you are planning on driving to school, you would want to look for housing that includes parking.

Roommates

Do you want to live with other people, or would you prefer living alone? If you are new to the city, having roommates can be beneficial to help you get oriented and learn more about the area.

Type of Accommodation

The two most common types of accommodation are living in an apartment, and living in a house. Often, if living in a house you will be renting one room and will be sharing the common areas (kitchen, bathrooms, living room). Sometimes accommodations in a house are limited to just the basement area, which may have less natural light. Apartments are usually in high or low-rise buildings with many other tenants. They are usually professionally managed where as houses are typically managed by their owners.

Furnishings

Will you be looking to buy your own furniture, or would you rather live in housing that is already furnished? Living in a furnished house can provide some convenience and savings, but you will likely be limited to the provided furniture.

Laundry

Some housing will have a washer and dryer available in the unit, while others will not. For those without, you will have to find a public Laundromat in the area.

Where to Look for Housing

University of Toronto Housing Services

Please Note: The information provided on this listing site has been submitted by private landlords not associated with the University of Toronto.

The University does not investigate, endorse, or guarantee the accuracy of the information provided by any listing, or the condition of the accommodation. Although the University reviews all information posted, the University assumes no responsibility in regard to any lease made with a landlord or any arrangements made by students sharing accommodation.

The University shall not be responsible for any loss or damage suffered or incurred by any individual or entity arising out of or relating to a listing found in our service. The accommodations listed here have not been inspected by the University and we advise students to meet with the owner and inspect the premises before signing a lease.

How to Search

Now that you know where to look for housing advertisements and have created a list of criteria for what you want, it’s time to begin the search! The first step is to view the above listing service and narrow down your search results by using the filter according to your search criteria. Have a close look at the search results, and be sure to read the listing thoroughly. Once you’ve identified the units that you are interested in, it’s time to begin contacting landlords to plan a site visit.

Contacting the landlord

Depending on the contact information available on the posting, you will either have to call or email a landlord. It’s a good idea to sound cheerful and confident, be polite, and introduce yourself. Explain that you’re interested in renting from them and set up a time to meet and view the unit. If communicating via phone, be sure to have a paper and pen handy to take down the address and viewing time. The landlord may also have some questions, and these often include:

  • Who and how many people are interested in living there
  • When are you available to move in?
  • What is your source of income?
  • Where have you lived before?

If you try calling and the phone goes to voicemail, here is a sample script that you can use to leave a message: "Hello, my name is _______, and I saw your apartment listing on the University of Toronto Off-Campus Housing Listings Website. I would like to speak with you to get more information, and hopefully set up an appointment to meet with you and view the place. I can be reached at _______. Thanks, and I hope to hear from you soon!"

Visiting the rental unit

Actually visiting the unit before signing a lease is very important. Besides seeing if you like the place, you can also get a good feel for how comfortable you will be in the neighborhood.

We recommend going to visit the rental unit with a friend for your safety.

Before you go, make sure that you think of an extensive list of questions to ask. Some ideas include:

  • When is the apartment available?
  • What kind of lease are you looking for?
  • When is rent due? How do you like it being paid? (cheque, online, other)
  • Are utilities included in rent? Do I need to set up my own electrical or gas services?
  • Are utilities charged to individual apartments, or averaged between residents?
  • How big is the hot water heater and is the hot water shared with any other apartments?
  • Is there a washer and dryer (laundry) in the unit? Is it coin operated or included in rent price? If not, where is the closest place to do my laundry?
  • How long have you been renting this property? Do you manage other properties?
  • How do I submit a maintenance request, if I have one?
  • What modifications do you make to units between tenants? (e.g. will the apartment be painted/cleaned before you move in?)
  • What are your most common maintenance requests?
  • Have you had any pest issues? How do/would you handle pest control?
  • Is there any additional storage space?
  • Are the other tenants students? Are they generally quiet? Are there children in the building/units? Pets?
  • How safe is the apartment/area? Have you had any break-ins in the past?
  • Does the door have a deadbolt? Can I have one installed?
  • Will you be changing locks between tenants?

For a more thorough list of questions and inspection items, please see the inspection checklist found at the end of this document.

Although some of the questions in the previous section touched on safety issues, safety gets its own section in this document as it should be an important factor in your decision. It's strongly recommended that you visit the neighbourhood, meet the landlord, and thoroughly inspect the unit before signing a lease. You may want to consider re-visiting potential housing at night to check for adequate lighting, and the feel of the neighbourhood. You want to gauge your landlord's sense of responsibility and importance in regards to safety concerns by asking safety related questions. If the landlord attempts to brush off your questions or shows little concerns, you might assume that safety issues won't be high on their priority list.

When inspecting the unit, be sure to ask yourself the following questions:

Access to the Unit

  • Does the room/apartment/house have an adequate locking system? Check the physical shape of the door jam, as well as the lock itself. Half inch deadbolts are good; door chains are less effective.
  • If you are sharing some of the space, can you lock your own room? Can the bathroom be locked?
  • How many people will have keys to the front door? To your room?
  • When was the last time the locks were changed? Try to find out how many copies of the main access key are around. In units such as rooming houses, where there is high turnover, excessive key-copying may be a problem.
  • What is the landlord's policy on access to your building or to your room? How comfortable do you feel with her or his answer? How familiar is your landlord with your legal rights as a tenant?
  • Are there functioning locks on the windows? This is particularly important if the windows are close to the ground, or accessible by a fire escape, or a tree.
  • Is there an access security system? Is it in good working order? This includes a buzzer system, intercom or keying system. You should be able to check who is at your door without having to open it. Is there a viewing device, or a lockable outside door with a window?
  • Does each floor have a functioning smoke detector?
  • If there are outside fire escapes, do they reach the ground? They should not be low enough to allow access from the ground.
  • If there is a garage or storage area, is it properly secured?
  • Is the mail slot or mail box located in a way which prevents access to the rental unit? Can the mail box be secured?

Visibility and Lighting

  • What is the lighting on the street like? Does foliage on nearby trees obstruct the street lamps, or do they seem adequate to light the streetscape?
  • Is there adequate lighting at all entrances to the building? Does it allow you to distinguish the faces of people in the area? Is the lighting evenly distributed around the entrance area, lighting shrubbery, stairs, porches, walkways? Are there any lights that are burned out, or fixtures without bulbs in them?
  • Can you see clearly what is ahead as you approach the building? Are there sharp corners or pillars that obstruct your view of the building? Are there bushes or fences where someone could hide? If there are waste bins or bicycles stored outside the building, is the area where they are stored well lit and easily accessible?
  • Is there adequate lighting inside the building, particularly in hallways, or in stairwells?
  • Is the garage or parking area properly lit? How many cars park there, and how easy is it to see your way when the area is full? Are there places where someone could hide, or not be seen?
  • Is the storage area or laundry room well lit? Can you see who is in the area before you enter? Is it easy to see who is coming in, once you are inside the room or area?
  • Is there an alarm button or telephone in case of emergency?

Communicating for Assistance

  • If there are isolated areas in the building, such as a laundry room or storage facility, can you call for assistance from those areas? Would someone hear you if you cried out for help? Where is the nearest telephone located?
  • How easy would it be to contact other people in the building to let them know you need help?

Neighbourhood Issues

  • What does the neighbourhood feel like during the day? At night? Are there any small businesses in the area that will be open at night? How easily can you reach a milk store, or a video rental place, or a laundromat? What other places might you sometimes use at night? How safely can you get there?
  • Are there parks or other public recreational facilities in the area? If you think you might use them, visit them and try to get a sense of how comfortable you feel while there.
  • How easily can you reach your building by transit, and how comfortable do you feel walking that route? How late does public transportation run? Do you pass any darkened areas, laneways or construction sites?
  • Do you see police patrolling the area?
  • How many people are out on the street during the day? At night? Does the area feel well travelled, busy or isolated? Is it easy to predict when people will be around?
  • Are there businesses in the area that will attract a lot of out-of-neighbourhood patrons (clubs, bars, restaurants)? Are you comfortable moving around the streets near these locations?
  • Do you feel comfortable around the other tenants in the building or apartment? Do the other tenants agree on keeping doors and windows locked?

Maintenance

  • Is the building in good repair? Is there litter lying around, or does it appear to be well kept?
  • How quickly will the landlord respond to requests for repairs? You can ask her or him how often they visit the building, or how quickly they are able to come to fix something.
  • Does the building feel cared for?
  • Are there signs of graffiti or vandalism?

Bed Bugs

Living with bed bugs can cause much mental, physical and financial anguish. Bed bugs were nearly extinct thirty years ago, but have dramatically increased in numbers since to become a serious problem in many major cities. The best approach is to be proactive in ensuring that there is no infestation in any rental unit that you are considering. Ask your landlord if there is any history of bed bugs in the building (even if they've been reported on another floor, they can spread very quickly), and check the Bed Bug Registry (www.bedbugregistry.com).

Bed bugs can be present in even the cleanest apartments, as they do not feed on garbage or food (they feed on blood, like mosquitoes). They are difficult to spot, multiply easily, are hard to eliminate, and can go over eight months without feeding. Thus, if you suspect that your apartment has bed bugs, it's important to act fast and notify your land lord as soon as possible. It is your land lord's responsibility to pay for extermination services.

For information on how to prevent and treat bed bug infestations, see http://www.toronto.ca/health/bedbugs/index.htm.

What if a landlord fails to take action?

If a landlord refuses to help when a tenant notifies them of a bed bug problem, tenants may obtain assistance or advice from a legal clinic, the Landlord and Tenant Board or from Toronto Public Health.

If it becomes necessary, Toronto Public Health can issue a Health Protection Order (Section 13) to a landlord and/or tenant or both under the Health Protection and Promotion Act, to ensure clean-up and treatment is completed.

Let Us Know if you Encounter a Bad Landlord

If you inspect or rent accommodation that you have found through our service, and your evaluation of the premises or the landlord's attitude towards personal safety is negative, make sure you discuss your views with us. You can also lodge a formal complaint that could result in the landlord being banned from advertising with us.

Please click here to access the off-campus housing service feedback form.

Major Costs of Living Off Campus

There are a number of important costs to consider when living off campus.

Rent $505 - $750/month
Utilities $50 - $100/month
Phone & Internet $50 - $150/month
Tenants Insurance (see below) $300/year
Public Transportation (TTC Pass) $128.75/month*

*(A limited amount of discounted passes are available at the SCSU office each month for $116.75)

Costs associated with owning or renting a vehicle (parking, fuel, maintenance, insurance)

The above are the basic costs associated with living off-campus, but for budgeting purposes you should also think about tuition and school expenses, food, entertainment, shopping, gifts, toiletries, and other miscellaneous items.

Tenants Insurance

When moving into your new home, we strongly recommend that you purchase tenants insurance. Tenants Insurance:

  • covers your personal property such as computer, furniture, clothing, etc.
  • provides you with protection against fire and theft, but also against water damage from plumbing problems.
  • can also cover you in the event that you are found liable for loss of property because of personal negligence, or for accidental loss or damage of jewelry or other property outside your home.

Insurance tips:

  • Take photographs of valuable items and store these images outside of the apartment in case you need to make an insurance claim. Keep receipts and a list of serial numbers where possible.
  • Be aware of items that may be insured to a set maximum. You may want to consider insuring items individually.
  • It costs approximately $30 per year to individually insure about $1000 worth of goods (not including the cost of appraisal).
  • Make sure you have the contents of your apartment covered for their replacement cost and not a depreciated value.
  • Many plans do not cover flooding, or reimburse little for damages due to flooding, so shop around.

Resources:

Housemates & Cooperative Cohabitation

Consider Who You Are Going to Live With

While it is often exciting to live with people you know, many housemates-to-be overlook the importance of discussing needs and expectations prior to moving in. You should consider discussing items such as cleaning schedules and responsibilities, sharing items in the unit, study habits, sleep patterns, guests, and noise expectations. Try to have everyone meet each other, and make sure that everyone is comfortable. Communication and flexibility are key for successful housemate relations.

Housemate Agreement Form

Regardless of how well you know your housemates, it’s a good idea for everyone to put down all agreements in writing with signatures at the bottom. You may want to create this housemate agreement form shortly after all parties have moved in, as it may take a few weeks to identify potential areas of conflict. Download the template housemate agreement form so you can adapt to fit your own particular needs and agreements. It is also a good idea to agree upon a timeframe to revisit the agreement and create amendments as need be.

Have Ongoing Communication

One of the most crucial elements of maintaining good housemate relations is regular and open communication. If you are all too busy to regularly touch base on issues, schedule times to sit down and talk. It is also a good idea to discuss differences in communication styles, as people do communicate differently.

While leaving notes or messages on whiteboards might appear to be an easy solution with no confrontation, the absence of tone and body language can easily create misunderstandings and lead to passive aggressiveness.

Mediation

If there are issues that you are unable to resolve with your housemates, you might want to consider mediation. St. Stephen’s Community House provides a free conflict resolution service that will help roommates talk to each other and work out a solution with a team of neutral mediators.

St. Stephen’s Community House
91 Bellevue Ave, Toronto, ON
416-926-8221 ext.224
http://www.ststephenshouse.com/crs_pages/crs_mediation.shtml

International Student Considerations

Searching for housing

Some students prefer to have long-term housing arranged before arriving in Toronto. Although this can provide peace of mind, we do not advise you to enter into a rental agreement without inspecting the unit and meeting the landlord.

If you decide to arrange housing from a distance, you should:

  • request photos and floor plans so you have an idea of what to expect when you arrive at your new home.
  • consider if the unit will be big enough for you.
  • consider if the unit includes the facilities and services you want.
  • make sure you know who the landlord is, how they can be reached, and to whom you will be giving your deposit.
  • ask for recommendations from friends and family who know your housing needs and have experienced living in Toronto.
  • ask a family member or friend to view the house/apartment for you if they live locally.
  • make sure you get what you promised after you arrive.

Receipts

Despite not being Canadian citizens or permanent residents of Canada, all international students are encouraged to file a tax return with Canada Revenue Agency. Many students living off-campus don’t realize that rent payments for off-campus housing are considered to be tax deductable expenses. However, to include rent payments as an expense in your tax claim, you must have proper receipts from your landlord.

A rent receipt must include at least the following information:

  • the address of the rental unit;
  • the name of the tenant(s) to whom the receipt applies;
  • the amount and date for each payment received for any rent, rent deposit, arrears of rent, or any other amount paid to the landlord and shall set out what the payment was for;
  • the name of the landlord; and
  • the signature of the landlord or the landlord's agent.

Payment

Never make any rental payments with cash. Instead, make payment by cheque, money order, or online transfers such as Interac email money transfers provide you with proof of payment other than a receipt issued by your landlord. It's important to have as much evidence of payment as possible in case disputes ever develop. Personal cheque is always the best option as it provides you with a few days grace to contact your bank and stop payment if necessary.

Your potential landlord may ask for a guarantor. A guarantor is a person who can guarantee that your rent will be paid every month. A guarantor must have an account or credit history with a Canadian bank. If you do not have a guarantor, you will need to open a bank account at a Canadian bank to prove that you have enough money to pay your rent.

If you need to open an account with a Canadian bank, you may need:

  • A passport
  • A study permit from Citizenship and Immigration Canada
  • University of Toronto student card

Once the account has been opened, you can ask for a letter from the bank detailing the date your account was opened, the funds available, and your good standing with the bank. It may also be helpful to get a letter from the University of Toronto stating the duration of your study, including any funding you may have.

Legal Status

Your landlord or potential landlord is not allowed to ask for your legal status in the country, including your Social Insurance Number (SIN).



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