As the next academic year inches closer, many U of T students are venturing into the rental market for the very first time. It’s a scary endeavour — even before considering how ruthless the GTA’s rental market has become over the past few years. Here is what first-time student renters should know before their search begins. 

Starting the search

Kickstart your search with websites like Realtor, ViewIt, and Kijiji. These platforms provide a comprehensive list of available rentals in the GTA. Another option is Facebook groups, where local residents and students post about vacant properties, room shares, and sublets. 

Remember to filter based on how much you can afford, how many bedrooms and bathrooms you are looking for, and how far you’re willing to live from campus. You can also filter between options such as apartment buildings, houses, and basement units. 

Beware of scams

In a rental market as competitive as the GTA, it’s vital to avoid scams. There are common red flags to watch out for. Some fraudsters may ask for a deposit without a lease agreement, or insist that you use wire transfer payment methods. They may advertise properties that don’t exist or aren’t available. 

If an offer appears too good to be true, it usually is. Familiarise yourself with common scam tactics by referring to U of T’s guide to avoiding housing scams.

Ontario also has strong laws in place to protect tenants. The Residential Tenancies Act of 2006 governs the relationship between landlords and tenants. It’s crucial to be aware of your rights under this legislation, which include the right to a habitable property — landlords must maintain your residence in a good state of repair; rights against illegal eviction — landlords cannot evict tenants unless they have a valid reason and obtain an order from the Landlord and Tenant Board; and the right to privacy — unless it’s an emergency, landlords must let you know in writing 24 hours in advance before entering your residence. 

Read your lease thoroughly

Understanding your lease agreement is important in protecting your rights as a tenant. This document stipulates your rent amount, payment methods for it, the duration of your lease, and the utilities included in your rent. 

Ensure that the written document reflects the conditions you agreed to verbally. Check the provisions for requesting maintenance and repairs — is there a phone number or email address to contact if the sink starts leaking? 

Your lease agreement will also include rules of conduct for living in your new residence. These might restrict smoking, noise levels, subletting the unit, or using common areas. Importantly, landlords are not allowed to restrict keeping pets in the unit, and they cannot arbitrarily deny permission to you to sublet your unit. 

The government of Ontario has created a Standard Tenancy Agreement, a template of a lease agreement that is designed to be clear and fair. If your landlord writes out the details of your lease agreement without using the template, you are legally entitled to request a Standard Tenancy Agreement instead. 

Make sure you fully comprehend the terms of your lease before signing. If something isn’t clear, don’t hesitate to ask for clarification or seek legal counsel.

Be wary of rent increases

When budgeting for your housing, consider the possibility of rent increases in subsequent years. Many students are grappling with escalating rents in the GTA rental market. While Ontario laws generally limit yearly rent increases to 2.5 per cent at most, units that were built after 2018 are exempt. 

I’ve witnessed this first-hand. Last year, the total rent for my apartment was $4,600 per month. This year, the landlord raised it to $5,400, a hike of over 17 per cent. My master bedroom rent escalated from $1,600 to $2,000. 

Fellow students who have gone through the rental process before will have invaluable advice, especially when it comes to choosing neighbourhoods and communicating with landlords. 

While the process of finding your first rental may seem daunting, arming yourself with the right knowledge will go a long way. Stay safe, know your rights, and remember that the perfect rental for you is out there. Good luck!