Finding Rental Housing
If you are looking to enter BC’s competitive rental housing market, register for Renting It Right: Finding a Home – a video-based and self-paced online course that has been designed with first-time tenants in mind. In this introductory course, students are taught how to search for housing, put together a strong rental application, and safely sign a tenancy agreement. Renting It Right: Finding a Home consists of Five Modules:
- The Law in BC
- Searching for Housing
- Rental Applications
- Tenancy Agreements
- Moving In
Aside from your regular rent payments, there could be other ongoing expenses that may or may not be included as part of your tenancy agreement. Here are some common examples:
- utilities, such as electricity and heating;
- TV and internet;
- coin-operated laundry;
- a fee for a storage unit;
- a new or more expensive transit pass;
- a parking fee or permit; and
- tenant insurance.
In addition to those ongoing expenses, you may also have to pay some one-time expenses at the start of your tenancy. Here are some common examples:
- a security deposit;
- a pet damage deposit;
- deposits to utility or telecommunication companies;
- installation or activation fees to utility or telecommunication companies;
- a moving truck;
- boxes and supplies to pack your belongings;
- new appliances, such as a microwave, barbeque, and TV; and
- new furniture, such as a bed, couch, and dresser.
Charging a rental application fee is illegal – even if the landlord plans to later return the fee, or apply it towards a security or pet damage deposit. According to the Residential Tenancy Act, landlords cannot charge a fee for:
- accepting an application;
- processing an application;
- investigating an applicant’s suitability as a tenant; or
- accepting a person as a tenant.
Creating a Budget
The Credit Counselling Society is an accredited non-profit charity that helps Canadians with their money. They opened their doors in 1996 and have served over 700,000 Canadians through credit counselling and education. Their free Budget Calculator will guide you through the budgeting process, suggest how much to spend on each category, warn you if you are spending too much or too little, and offer other general suggestions to help you create a budget that makes sense for you.
Deciding where to apply for rental housing can feel overwhelming. To help focus your search, think about what matters most to you. Here are some common factors to consider:
- distance to work, school, friends, and family;
- access to public transit;
- size of the unit and number of bedrooms;
- type of property;
- type of neighbourhood;
- nearby amenities;
- smoking rules;
- pet policies;
- roommate restrictions; and
- accessibility requirements.
When searching for a new home, you will have to consider multiple factors and weigh your options. What are the pros and cons of each rental unit? More importantly, how do you rank those pros and cons? Use this Ranking Needs and Preferences Worksheet to help focus your search for housing.
When searching for rental housing, use popular websites such as Craigslist, Kijiji and Padmapper, but also expand your search beyond the internet. Not all landlords know how to advertise their properties online, so look for ads on bulletin boards in coffee shops, “vacancy” signs outside buildings, and listings in local newspapers. It can also be a good idea to spread the word throughout your network of family, friends, coworkers, teams, and clubs. Even strangers or acquaintances may have a lead on your future home, so consider mentioning your housing search when buying groceries, walking your dog, getting a haircut, or settling your bill at a restaurant.
While searching for rental housing, you might want to Google yourself. Do you have old posts, comments, or photos that some people might find questionable? Should some of your privacy settings be more restricted? If there is information on the internet that may cause a landlord to decline your rental application, take a proactive approach to remove or hide that content.
This Rental Property Search Form will help you stay organized when searching for rental housing. Before, during or after viewings, use this resource to keep track of the properties you have viewed, and what you liked or disliked about each one.
Asking the Right Questions
You may only get one chance to view a rental unit, so try to make the most of it. The goal is to absorb enough information to help you decide whether or not to submit a rental application. Here are some questions you may want to consider asking during your viewing:
- Is the rental unit considered an illegal suite?
- Is the building decently soundproofed, or is it common to hear noise from other units?
- What types of appliances are included, and has any of the unit been “staged” for the viewing?
- Has there been a history of bed bugs, other infestations, or illegal activity?
- What are the rules about smoking, pets, roommates, and accessibility?
- Is there laundry available in-suite, or at least somewhere on the property?
- Are there designated parking spots for tenants, or only street parking?
- Is there storage space available on the property?
- Are there any fees for parking, storage, or laundry?
- Is the thermostat located within the unit or controlled from within a different unit?
Making a Good First Impression
When attending a viewing, do your best to stand out from the crowd – in a positive way. Here are a few tips to help you make a good impression with a potential landlord or their agent:
- arrive on time;
- dress business-casual and avoid clothing with controversial slogans or logos;
- minimize strong smells of perfume or cologne;
- do not smoke or drink alcohol before the viewing;
- consider bringing a responsible friend or family member for support;
- bring copies of your cover letter, references, and credit report;
- introduce yourself and, if it feels appropriate, shake the landlord’s hand;
- offer to take your shoes off when touring the property (and remember to wear socks);
- strike up a friendly conversation and try to find some common interests; and
- thank the landlord for showing you their rental property and answering your questions.
The competitive nature of BC’s rental housing market has led to an increase in rental scams. There are mostly legitimate listings on popular rental websites, but watch out for people trying to take advantage of your need to put a roof over your head. To avoid being scammed, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is the rent suspiciously low? How much do similar rental units in the neighbourhood cost?
- Is the person you are contacting not willing to arrange an in-person viewing?
- Are you being asked to mail your deposit in cash or send it electronically before viewing the unit?
- Does the person you are contacting seem too eager? Most landlords will ask for references and/or a credit check before committing to a tenant.
- What do the neighbours say? Depending on the type of housing, you may be able to ask people living nearby about the owner and property.
Thinking about these questions will help you spot some common red flags. If you suspect someone is trying to scam you, it might be best to trust your instincts and look for housing elsewhere – even if that means paying for a hotel/hostel or staying at a friend’s place until you can find more permanent housing.
Most applications will ask about rental and employment history. This type of information can help a landlord determine what type of person you are and how you will behave as a tenant. The goal is to list references who can help convince the landlord that you will pay your rent on time, respect the property, not disturb neighbours, and otherwise follow your legal responsibilities.
For some individuals, such as first-time tenants, it may be challenging to provide references. If you do not have any previous landlords, try to get references from employers, coaches, teachers, volunteer supervisors, or anyone else who can provide a positive description of your character. If a reference says you are always on time for your volunteer shifts, that can be a good indicator that you will be on time with your rent. Similarly, if you have an employer who claims that you display a caring attitude in the workplace, that may help convince a landlord that you will respect their property.
If you are struggling to gather references, you can also complete Renting It Right: Tenant-Landlord Law in BC, and include the certificate of completion as part of your rental application. This certificate can help demonstrate to a landlord that, despite not having the best references, you have taken the time to educate yourself on what it means to be a good tenant.
Most rental applications will ask for references. This References Worksheet encourages you to list not only previous landlords, but also employment and personal references. Providing a range of references may set you apart from other applicants and increase your chances of finding housing.
Some landlords might ask for a credit report to help them evaluate you as a potential tenant. This type of report can often be obtained using only a person’s full name and date of birth, but sometimes a landlord may require a Social Insurance Number (SIN) – a sensitive piece of personal information that should generally be kept private. To avoid having to provide your SIN when searching for housing, you can order a free credit report on yourself and have copies ready for potential landlords. This will not only keep your SIN protected, but also save your landlord time and demonstrate your preparedness.
Key Resource: There are two credit reporting agencies in Canada – Equifax and TransUnion. Ordering a free credit report from each can be a good idea, as potential landlords may prefer one over the other.
Overcoming Poor Credit History
If you are concerned about poor credit history, you may have to show a potential landlord that it will not interfere with your ability to pay rent going forward. Here are some basic strategies to help you overcome poor credit history and convince a landlord to accept you as a tenant:
- Be honest. If a potential landlord is requiring a credit report, consider letting them know about your issues before they discover them on their own. This will demonstrate your honesty and allow you to provide some context to the situation.
- Explain your situation. The landlord may be more likely to accept you as a tenant if you can explain how you arrived at your current situation. For example, if you experienced an injury that put you out of work, or had to take care of a sick family member for an extended period, your credit history may speak more to those unfortunate past circumstances than an inability to manage your money in the future.
- Prove financial security. Show the landlord that your current situation will allow you to consistently pay your full rent on time. Proof of your financial security may include pay stubs, a letter of employment, or confirmation of government benefits.
- Prove reliability. Show the landlord that you can be trusted to pay your rent by providing positive examples of past behaviour. References from previous landlords stating that you always paid rent on time, a letter from your current employer indicating your ability to meet deadlines, and statements from other people in your life who have experienced your reliability are all good examples.
Most rental applications do not require a cover letter, but preparing one can help persuade a landlord to choose you as the successful applicant. Writing a cover letter gives you the chance to speak about your character and demonstrate how you will be a responsible tenant. Your cover letter should focus on the positives, without being misleading or dishonest. Consider writing about your job, interests, and hobbies, and why you would be excited to live in the landlord’s rental property. If you are applying with a roommate, partner, or as part of a larger family, make sure your cover letter describes everyone who will be included in the tenancy.
Consider including a cover letter as part of your rental application, even though most landlords will not expect one. This Cover Letter Template will help you write a cover letter that will hopefully increase your chances of being chosen as the successful applicant.
It can be challenging to find pet-friendly housing in BC, since landlords are allowed to restrict pets in rental properties. To inspire confidence in a potential landlord, provide positive information about your pet as part of your rental application. Do you have pet references? Positive information about the breed? Certificates from a training program? The goal is to show that your pet has a positive history of being non-destructive, reasonably quiet, and friendly to neighbours.
To increase your chances of finding a home for you and your pet, use this Pet Resume Template to highlight your pet’s training, good behaviour, and positive history in rental buildings.
Tenant insurance is yet another cost to consider in BC’s expensive rental housing market. If you are already struggling to pay your rent and bills, you may decide to pass on this additional expense. While tenant insurance may not ultimately be right for you, consider at least doing some basic research; it might be more affordable than you think, and it could end up saving you in a time of crisis.
Most tenant insurance policies cover the following:
- Personal possessions –tenant insurance can cover your lost clothes, furniture, appliances, and electronics. For example, if there is a major flood in your rental unit, you might be able to use your tenant insurance to replace your personal possessions.
- Liability – tenant insurance can cover damage caused to other units. For example, if you start a fire that spreads to your neighbour’s home, you might be able to use your tenant insurance to pay for those expensive repairs.
- Displacement – Natural disasters can force tenants to leave their homes temporarily. For example, if you are displaced due to a wildfire, tenant insurance might pay for your accommodation and living expenses until you are able to return.
Tenant insurance policies can vary from company-to-company, and person-to-person. Some policies will replace stolen belongings with brand new items rather than items based on their current value, while others may not cover burglary at all if you live with multiple unrelated roommates. The cost of tenant insurance can also vary depending on your credit, and whether you have had insurance in the past. You will have to do some research to find the company and policy that best fits your situation.