Sooner or later, young people leave the family nest—to study in another region, for example, or simply to go their own way. While settling in a student dorm is a fairly simple matter, finding and renting one’s first apartment can be a challenge. Read our tips, and you should be able to ace the exam!

The first step is to find the dwelling that offers the best fit for your needs… and your budget. Next, you’ll have to sign your first lease—a contract that gives you rights, but also responsibilities.

Study your needs

If you or someone you know is looking for an apartment, the first thing to do is some thinking. Define your needs with regard to the following aspects:

  • The number and dimensions of the rooms and storage spaces you’ll need;
  • Location: for example, proximity to your college/university or workplace, and to retailers for basic necessities (grocery, pharmacy, etc.);
  • Access to public transit or parking;
  • The maximum rent you can afford.

For this last point, you’ll need to know whether heating is included in the rent, and make sure to spend no more than 25% to 30% of your gross monthly income on rent. Good to know: it costs less to heat an apartment surrounded by other units, or one with floors above and below it in a multi-storey building.

The quest for the perfect pad

To improve your chances and possibly benefit from word-of-mouth, tell your friends and relatives that you’re apartment hunting. Regularly check the classified ads in your daily and local newspapers, notice boards in supermarkets, etc., and listings on specialized websites. Take a walk in neighbourhoods where you want to live and search out “For Rent” signs.

Keep the following tips in mind with regard to visits:

  • If you see a listing that looks like a good match, call right away;
  • Make an appointment to see the place during the day, preferably, when it will be well lit;
  • Have someone accompany you when you visit, so you’ll have a witness if ever there’s a problem (related to a verbal promise to make certain repairs, to possible discrimination, etc.);
  • During the visit, focus on the condition of the unit (security and airtightness of doors and windows, what shape the walls and floors are in, the plumbing and taps, and quality of the lighting and heating);
  • Be alert for signs of mould or vermin.

After the visit, you might well be tempted to take the plunge. But be careful: it’s often better to look at several places rather than jumping on the first opportunity.

Before you commit to signing anything, collect as much useful information as you can. Contact the current tenant or someone in another unit in the same building to find out the true heating costs, and confirm the previous rent amount. You might even learn some details about the landlord’s behaviour.

The ABCs of the lease

The lease is a contract between the owner and the tenant. The former is required to provide the peaceful enjoyment of the dwelling in good, safe condition. The latter is required to pay the rent as agreed and use the premises responsibly.

The Régie du logementOpens external link in new window lease is mandatory and must be used for any new lease, whether it’s for a room, a house, etc. Moreover, unless the parties agree to use another language, the lease must be in French.

The lease must contain the following:

  • The full address of the unit;
  • The names of the tenant and landlord, along with the phone number of the person responsible for the building in case of emergency;
  • If applicable, a list of repairs or improvements promised, and the list of what’s included (heat, electricity, furniture or appliances, whether pets are allowed, etc.).

For comprehensive information on the rules that govern the signing of a lease, see the online guide Mon appart, mes droits! (in French). It covers roommates, the deadline for providing the tenant with a copy of the lease, what sort of information the landlord is allowed to demand from you, and so on.

Once the lease is signed, the landlord may legally demand payment of the first month’s rent in advance, but no more than that. If you pay in cash, always demand a receipt.

Note: providing a series of postdated cheques isn’t recommended, because of the procedures and fees in the event of a cancellation.


General advice

When moving day arrives:

  • Note the Hydro-Québec and/or Gaz Métro meter readings;
  • Immediately report to the landlord any damage that you find (e.g., to a window or wall) so that you aren’t blamed for it;
  • Have the lock re-keyed (on this topic, see The key to getting a "new" door lock—affordably).

Don’t hesitate to insure your property:

  • Buying furniture, appliances and everything else you need for that first place of your own is expensive… but if you’re the victim of a theft or fire and you have no insurance, it will cost you double.
  • Do your homework and find out exactly what’s included and excluded (e.g., computer equipment) in insurers’ policies.

In conclusion, some advice to keep energy costs down…

If you have to pay to heat your apartment and you qualify as a low-income tenant, you can have energy-efficiency specialists visit and install caulk, weatherstripping and hot-water-saving devices. This free service is provided under the Éconologis program.