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8 Things I Learned Trying To Rent An Apartment In Toronto & Seeing 14 Units In 2 Weeks

My realtor gave me loads of advice.

Toronto Associate Editor
Mira Nabulsi in her condo. Right: Keys to Mira's rented apartment.

Mira Nabulsi in her condo. Right: Keys to Mira's rented apartment.

This Opinion article is part of a Narcity Media series. The views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Narcity Media.

Finding an apartment in Toronto is arguably the worst part of living in the 6ix. It's a tedious, degrading and lengthy process that requires a lot of money and time — two things that are dreadful to stress about.

I am in the process of moving to a new apartment in Toronto because my sister moved back home, and living in a two-bedroom alone is expensive, as many Torontonians may already know.

After checking out 14 different units in person, going through three separate bidding wars, and researching hundreds of other condos online, in only two weeks, I finally signed a contract on a new one-bedroom condo in downtown Toronto. And I learned a lot throughout the process.

I spoke with Karim El Barbary, founder and real estate broker of Dwelly Realty Inc., about all the things you could do to make your application and apartment rental search in the city more manageable and more successful.

Here are eight things I learned while apartment hunting with my realtor in Toronto:

Your initial paperwork matters

Mira's desktop files.

Mira's desktop files.

Mira Nabulsi | Narcity

The fastest way to get approved by a landlord to live in their condo is to ensure you have a good enough income to cover the rent comfortably.

"Good income really means 30% or less of the total income/annual income the applicant has is going towards housing," El Barbary said. "Sometimes you can push it to 40%. But once it gets to near 50%, then the landlord or the listing agent starts having concerns."

Additionally, your credit score also matters. "A good credit score is anything above the 720 range, but anything over 700 is still considered good," the realtor added.

References are pretty important as well. If you have good references from previous landlords, add them to your initial application. If you're condo hunting in Toronto, then El Barbary suggests that references from landlords within the city would help boost your chances too.

Leaving out information could affect your application

When applying, landlords usually ask for a lot of information that can sometimes be awkward to send.

For example, if you reside in the city but are staying at an Airbnb until you can find a place, you should probably include that information. Leaving that information out can be read differently to the landlord and possibly result in a rejection.

The founder of Dwelly said, "the biggest mistake is not disclosing certain information or submitting an application that's half-filled because you don't want to share some information or you're trying to do it in a rushed manner."

It's all about first impressions, especially regarding your landlord.

You should disclose that you have a pet

\u200bMira Nabulsi and her dog Sky.

Mira Nabulsi and her dog Sky.

Mira Nabulsi | Narcity

When I was looking for an apartment in Toronto, I didn't want to disclose that I have a dog because it felt like it would make finding a home a lot more complicated.

According to the city of Toronto's Rights & Responsibilities for Landlords & Tenants, "landlords have the right to refuse tenants if they suspect they will move in with pets. However, once a landlord accepts a tenant, in spite of any verbal agreements or contract stipulations, landlords cannot evict tenants for pet ownership under most circumstances."

But it's important to note that "a tenant cannot be legally evicted because they have a pet in violation of a 'no pets' clause in the rental agreement."

So, in other words, it just makes life more difficult.

In my case, I didn't want to disclose I had a dog because I was stressing out about finding a home, but when the landlords would ask, I would answer truthfully and send them pictures of my dog too.

"If you disclose it from the beginning, then you build a good rapport with the landlord, and there's transparency in the relationship, and it can grow from there," El Barbary said. "But if you do disclose it, you can also get rejected multiple times for applications and rarely will they say that landlords reject them because of the pet."

You can get rejected for no reason at all

Email from one of the agents.

Email from one of the agents.

Mira Nabulsi | Narcity

When I was condo hunting, I found my perfect home, and it was a duplex too. I pictured living in it for years. It was cozy, in a great area, surrounded by dog parks 0 —in other words, it was just straight-up incredible for me.

The listing was up on the MLS system for weeks, and no one claimed it, which was a bit weird considering it was "affordable" and huge — two words that aren't commonly put together when condo hunting in the 6ix.

I applied, they asked for a guarantor, and then told us, "the owner has reviewed your offer and respectfully declines."

It low-key was more hurtful than dropping your ice cream after you waited so long in line on a hot summer day.

When we asked them for a reason, they didn't give us an answer. But, as unfortunate as that was, I just couldn't do anything else about it.

P.S.: The property in question was on the rental market for weeks after as well.

El Barbary said receiving a response with no reason at all might be one of the weirdest responses he has seen.

Other odd answers include, "no, sorry. The landlord is looking for an insert ethnicity kind of family. Or landlords only looking for family, or sometimes the landlord decided not to rent anymore," he said.

Race can sometimes play a part

Even though it's not bluntly stated as a requirement, there have been a few scenarios in which ethnicity can play a role in the landlord accepting a rental offer.

"I definitely think there is some stereotyping in the real estate world. And usually, there's an agent in there to buffer that and not give a reason," El Barbary said.

He was put in a scenario where the realtor "wanted a certain ethnicity of a family to occupy the unit and not students."

You might be wondering "Is that legal?" Well, according to the Human Rights code, it's not a legitimate reason for screening tenants and is considered discrimination. But that doesn't mean it doesn't happen.

Landlords can sometimes ask the weirdest questions 

El Barbary said that landlords sometimes request the weirdest information from applicants.

The Dwelly founder explained that some landlords have asked for multiple Zoom video calls, going to Mississauga to meet the landlord but the condo is in downtown Toronto, tax documents, multiple guarantors, months upfront, and bank statements from parents of the renter.

They might actually call your references

When I was filling up the rental application, I added the contact information of people that I had numbers for in hand. I didn't think a realtor would actually spend time calling each and every one, but I was very wrong.

This is why it is pretty important to be transparent about your life because they might find out one way or another. People you add to the reference list should know you because the questions can get deep and personal.

Someone asked my references about my personality and insinuated my cleanliness. They also asked about my dog's personality.

Be prepared

El Barbary said applicants could do a few more things to boost their chances of renting their first-choice apartment. Some things include:

  • Narrowing your criteria from the start
  • Before you start viewing condos, you should get all your documents prepared beforehand
  • A personal letter to the landlord helps. Explaining yourself, why you're moving, why you liked their unit, or where you've been living
  • Have as many pay stubs as possible
  • A letter of employment
  • Contact information for all your previous landlords
  • Good references
  • Working with a local real estate agent.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

    Mira Nabulsi
    Toronto Associate Editor
    Mira Nabulsi is an Associate Editor for Narcity Canada’s Ontario Desk focused on cheap travel from Toronto and is based in Toronto, Ontario.
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