Safe Housing Considerations

Safety is an important factor in your off-campus housing 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 concern, 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?
  • 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. 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.

What if a landlord fails to take action?

If a landlord refuses to help when a tenant notifies them of a matter concerning health and safety, 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.

Let Us Know if you Encounter a Landlord who Demonstrates Concerning or Suspicious Behaviour

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. Access the off-campus housing service feedback form.

Housing Scams and How to Spot Them

Unfortunately, rental housing scams are real and can happen to an unsuspecting renter. Here are our best tips to help you avoid getting scammed!