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20 Things You Need To Know When Looking For An Apartment In Montreal

March has officially dawned, and for many, the stress of finding an apartment has officially begun. Some of you may be finding your first place, others could be veterans in the Montreal apartment-hunt, but either way, there's some essential information you need to know anytime you're looking for a new place in Montreal.

Before doing anything, you should really read up on the Régie du logement selection of relevant information, all of which is very informative. But there's a lot to read, so we did you a solid and condensed some of the most pertinent info (along with some anecdotal) tips into the list below.

Be fully be prepared for your apartment hunt and read on below.

Montreal Apartment Sizes

Honestly, the scale used to indicate the size of an apartment in Montreal is kind of confusing. I remember asking "what the hell is a 1 1/2?" when first scoping out places. No doubt some of you had the same thought. To remove any apartment-size confusion, here's a basic breakdown:

  • 1 1/2: a single-room studio apartment. One room (with kitchenette) and a separate bathroom, with the latter represented by the "1/2."
  • 2 1/2: Includes a bedroom and a living room, plus a kitchenette and bathroom. Note that the two rooms may not be physically separated by a wall, but will be larger than a 1 1/2.
  • 3 1/2: Includes a distinct living room, bedroom, and kitchen.
  • +4 1/2: Every subsequent increase indicates an added room in the apartment, usually a bedroom. Thus a 5 1/2 will have three bedrooms along with a living room, bedroom, and kitchen.

What A Landlord Can Ask For When You're Signing A Lease

Before a landlord approves of you entirely, and so will let you sign a lease on a place, they'll probably want to make sure you're on the level. In other words, they may ask for certain documents to prove your identity. As such, it's totally legal for a landlord to ask for:

  • A driver’s license, health insurance card or social insurance card - this is done to prove your identity, but a landlord cannot make photocopies of any of the above documentation to keep for her/himself.
  • The contact info of your current (or previous) landlord - they want to make sure you're a good tenant and follow the rules, so they need someone to ask. It's basically like a work reference.
  • A credit report - the landlord will actually have to carry this out on their own if they want to make sure you'll pay the rent on time, after you've given them permission. You can, however, provide them with a previous credit report, a letter of recommendation from your old landlord, or documents showcasing regular payments made to accredited organizations (e.g. Hydro-Québec) if you want to save them the hassle.

What Your Landlord Can't Ask From You

Then there are a few documents that your landlord has no right to ask from you, mainly because there's a serious privacy risk involved. They are as follows:

  • Your social insurance number
  • Your driver's license
  • Your health insurance card
  • Your passport

Paying First And Last Month's Rent Is Technically Illegal

If you're not from Montreal, or happen to be a student, a prospective landlord may ask you to pay for both the first month's rent and the last month's, a practice that technically isn't legal. To a landlord, this is a means to ensure you're able to pay for the rent, and it's kind of a security blanket for them.

You're definitely allowed to refuse, although that could put the apartment in jeopardy. Some landlords are pretty steadfast in this practice, and so you might lose out on the place.

If you're really not okay with this, you can always give the landlord two cheques, making sure to ask for a receipt for both payments. Then, after you've signed the lease, you can call them out on how the practice is illegal and get the last month's payment back. Don't expect your landlord to love you after that, though.

Fortunately, if you're a native Montrealer with good credit, you probably won't have to deal with this as most landlords know the whole thing is illegal.

Figuring Out How Much Heating & Hydro Will Be

One of the first questions you should ask when scoping out a potential pad is "will heating be included in the rent?" If yes, colour yourself lucky, because having heating/hydro included is a major boon. My current apartment is the only one I've ever had where I don't need to pay Hydro Quebec separately, and life couldn't be easier.

But that isn't the case for most apartments, and come wintertime, that hydro bill of yours can get mighty steep. A solid way of finding out just how much you may have to pay is going directly to the source, namely Hydro Quebec. Give them a call at 1-800 ENERGIE (1-800 363-7443) and you can ask what the previous tenant paid at that location. You can also just ask the old tenant, though their information may not be as exact.

You Should Never Be Paying A Finder's Fee

When seeking out apartments in student-heavy neighbourhoods like the Plateau, the McGill Ghetto, or areas of Downtown, you may get struck with a "finder's fee" by the previous tenants. Essentially, they're asking for a sum of money (which can number in the thousands of dollars) to "secure" the apartment, or to pay for the furniture they're planning to leave behind. No matter the reasoning, a finder's fee is straight up illegal.

While some people may pull the whole "well, we payed a finder's fee for the place, and so should you" line, or liken the sum to a security deposit, understand that neither points are valid. Just because the previous tenant paid a bunch of money doesn't mean you should, and a security deposit is something you'll eventually get back, which wouldn't be the case in this scenario. Unless you charge a finder's fee later on yourself.

Honestly, don't get swindled into a finder's fee, because even though the apartment may be nice and in a great location, there are plenty more options throughout the city where old tenants won't enforce such a sum. You may have to live farther from campus if you're a student, but that beats out paying chunks of cash for essentially no reason.

You Can Ask How Much Previous Tenants Paid

When checking out an apartment that seems suspiciously overpriced, you have every right to ask the landlord how much the previous tenant paid. With that information in hand, you can compare the current price to the old one, and determine whether the increase is justified.

You see, every year around February, the Régie determines how much a rent can increase depending on the type of dwelling. A variety of factors go into this figure, but regardless, what the Régie says is how much a landlord can increase the rent.

So, if you find out that the new price is well above what the Régie outlined as the max rent increase, you can then ask the landlord to lower the rent.

Always Keep In Mind The Appliance Situation

Lock down a place with a washer and dryer included, always. You may pay more for your energy bill, but the convenience is more than worth it. Same goes for a dishwasher, and any other major applicant. Sometimes the non-essential appliances will need to be paid for if the previous tenant is willing to part with them, but again, it'll make your life way easier in the long run.

If there's no spot for a washer/dryer or the like, then you should definitely keep in mind how close you are to a laundromat, or if there are machines in your building. Being too far from a washing machine on laundry day can be a serious hassle.

Building Rules Or Obligations Need To Be Given Before You Sign A Lease

Often times a landlord will have a set of rules tenants/all tenants in a building complex need to follow, which may be referred to as "by-laws." As a tenant, you're obligated to follow these rules, but only if they were given and explained to you before you signed the lease. If not, all such rules are technically null and void. Which brings us to...

When Pets Are Allowed And Not Allowed

There is no overarching law in Quebec stating that certain types of dwellings do not allow pets; the prohibition of animal companions is up to the individual landlord, and must be stipulated in the bylaws/building rules mentioned above. So if you're landlord says "no cats or dogs" allowed, then you're kind of out of luck.

But, if nothing is covered on the topic of pets, you are completely allowed to have a cat, dog, or anything else. Even if a certain type of pet is specifically prohibited (e.g. dogs), then you would be able to conclude that another animal (e.g. a cat) would be allowed, as it would have been otherwise stated.

Note, however, that your pet can't disturb the general peacefulness of the building or make a living space inhospitable, in which case the landlord has justification to ask you to remove said pet.

The Length Of A Lease

Even though most landlords ask for a year-long lease, any type of rental period is technically allowed. You could do it month to month, bi-annually, or even without a fixed duration. So, if you're willing, you could try and reason out a lease with your landlord that's more or less than a year if that works better for you.

Leases Are Automatically Renewed

Something to keep in mind (which I wish I knew when I had got my first apartment in the city) is that all leases in Quebec are automatically renewed every year. This is done as a boon to tenants, falling in line with the "right to maintain occupancy." If you love your apartment and don't plan on leaving, then this just makes your life easier. However, that isn't always the case.

For more on leases, read this.

When You Have To Let Your Landlord Know You're Leaving

In line with the above, if you don't want to stay in your apartment and bypass the struggles that can come with an automatic lease renewal, here's a rundown of when you need to give your landlord notice that you want the lease to end. These dates take into account things like increase in rent, which can happen annually. Note that you should have some form of proof of delivery when sending out a notice.

  • 12 months or more fixed lease: 3-6 notice before the end of the lease.
  • Less than 12 months fixed lease: 1-2 notice before the end of the lease.
  • Leasing a room: 10-20 days before the end of the lease.

But even if you do get hooked into an automatic renewal, you can always transfer the lease. I've even been in apartments where the property manager handled the finding of new tenants entirely, too, so the process can be pretty smooth.

When You Can Get Out Of A Lease Without Notice

Leases are binding contracts between the tenant and landlord, but you can get out of them under special circumstances. On the landlord side of things, it's their duty to ensure the apartment is in proper living condition. If at any point the dwelling becomes unfit to live in (needed repairs aren't done) or something comes up to make the apartment inhospitable to the tenant that the landlord didn't originally disclose (e.g. bedbugs) then one could apply to the Régie du logement to have the lease cancelled

Painting Your New Apartment

So you found a place but hate the colour? Not the biggest worry, as in most cases a landlord will actually cover the cost of painting supplies as long as you're willing to do all the work. Technically, however, a tenant is supposed to leave the place the same as when they moved in, and a change of paint colour could be considered an infraction on that front. Still, most landlords recognize that a fresh paint job will add value to the place, and not reprimand you for what's basically free labour.

Emergency Repairs And House Work

Anytime something important breaks in your apartment (windows, plumbing, locks) then it's up to your landlord to fix it. But, if they're taking an incredibly long time or just not getting to it, you can handle the repairs yourself, just be sure to be recompensed. Simply document the price of everything and send a notice to your landlord that you'll be deducting the charges from your rent, in which case they'll agree or just pay you back directly.

When A Landlord Can Enter Your Apartment

A landlord may own the place, but you're the one living there, and you have a right to privacy. With that in mind, a landlord can only enter your apartment as long as they've given a full 24-hours notice coupled with a legitimate reason. "Checking in on things" won't cut it, and you can refuse entry if that's the reason.

Things change when you've given notice of ending the lease. Since the landlord needs to find new tenants, she/he is technically allowed to show the place anytime between 9am and 9pm, but they still need to get the existing tenants permission. If the landlord (or a representative) isn't going to be present at the apartment showing, then you can deny entry.

Collecting Rent

Generally, a landlord and tenant will work out some form of system when it comes to rent collection. If not, however, it's up to the landlord to go to the tenant each time a rent cheque/payment is due.

How To Find Cheap Rent Prices

The general rule of thumb for finding an affordable apartment in Montreal (a city that already has some of the cheapest rents around) is that the farther from the city's core, the cheaper the rent. Same goes for proximity to major academic institutions and trendy hot-spot areas like Griffintown.

So if you're a student at a university, don't bet on living too close to school if you want to pay cheap rent. Some especially cheap rent spots right now that are pretty trendy and no crazy far from the city's core include Verdun, Parc-Ex/Mile-Ex, Little Italy, and NDG. Of course, you can find a solid deal in just about any borough, if you're lucky.

Useful Websites For Finding An Apartment

Now with all this info, you're ready to go look for an apartment. One old-school tried and true method is to just walk around neighbourhood you like and keep your eyes peeled for rental signs, but that isn't exactly efficient or enjoyable with our current weather. Fortunately you can find everything online (as with all things) with these websites being pretty solid resources for apartment-hunters:

  • CraigslistMontreal - A classic apartment-hunting site that has a handy map feature and search button.
  • Kijiji - Like Craigslist but more French.
  • PadMapper - Forms a bunch of listing on one big map. Also my personal favourite.
  • ForRent - A basic listing of rentals. Not extensive but can have places not found elsewhere.
  • RentJungle - A lot like PadMapper but with more homes included.
  • ShouldYouRent - Basically RateMyProfessor but for apartments and landlords. A great way to see if your potential place is free of any landlord drama.
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