Whether you are just about to move out of rez and enter the wild world of Montreal apartment living, or a seasoned pro who has lived everywhere from the Mile End to the Village to NDG, here are some useful tips for finding the perfect living arrangements while studying at McGill.
First, A Note on Roommates:
When choosing whom to live with there is no point trying to compromise your living habits. If you’re a night owl who loves listening to loud music and your prospective roommate likes to go to sleep early and needs a quiet study area, you may want to reconsider. It might seem like a great idea to live with your best friend, but what makes you friends might actually be what also makes you incompatible roommates. When looking for roommates it is important to consider lifestyles (party animal? light sleeper? neat freak?) and also how many people you can see yourself sharing a space with. Remember that your roommate(s) will be sharing your home and will be there whether you are in a good mood or a bad one.
What if everyone you have just met in rez already has a roommate picked out for next year, or your current roommate is planning to move out? Many people become hesitant about living with someone they don’t know, especially if they’ve experienced some unfortunate roommate situations in the past, whether in rez or otherwise. Living with someone you don’t know can actually end up being a great situation! Remember that, unlike rez, you will be sleeping in separate rooms and will have the opportunity to pre-screen your potential roommate by meeting them beforehand, and therefore have the flexibility to choose a roommate who fits your living habits nicely. If you’re looking to fill a room in your apartment, exchange students are often willing to lease for a semester, which is a great way to meet people from around the world. Your roommate does not need to be your best friend, but should be someone whom you are comfortable sharing close quarters with. A ‘Roommate Questionnaire’ can be found on page 15 of the McGill Off-Campus Survival Guide PDF here.
A Note to Students in Rez: Just because you’ve been in rez for a few months and have met a great group of people does NOT mean you’ll still feel the same way about them five months down the road. Not to be too harsh Gretch, but you’re pretty overwhelmed by new people and at first everyone is friends with each other. Your roommate may turn out to have some habits that you find less than endearing, or maybe it’s simply that you meet another group of people who better fit your lifestyle. In any case try to avoid making any serious roommate arrangements until at least second semester. This way you’ll avoid all of the drama that is roommate groups falling apart and you’ll be able to keep all of your options open.
Once you decide how many people will be living together, you’ll want to know what size apartment to look for. Generally, it’s the number of total rooms plus ½ for a bathroom. There is a very useful chart on page 5 of the McGill Off-Campus Survival Guide PDF here.
Location, Location, Location!
Next step after figuring out your roommates is deciding what part of the city you want to live in. Remember that there are pros and cons to every area. Rent prices in the Ghetto (Milton-Parc) are going to be higher due to proximity to campus, and it’ll be more difficult to find a nicer place (but not impossible!). At the same time, you need to consider how far you’re willing to walk when it comes to getting to and from campus… a twenty minute walk through the Plateau may be nice in the fall, but when winter hits and you’re facing a full-out tundra complete with -40C wind-chill, will it affect your class attendance? Furthermore, are you ok with having to spend all day on campus, perhaps not having the time to return home to eat lunch (in this case a Commuter Meal Plan may be useful). Are you willing to pay for an OPUS card and take public transit to school if it means you can live in one of the nicer, low-rent flats in the Old Port? Distance is only one aspect to consider, among others may be proximity to grocery stores (a scarcity in the immediate region West of Campus), proximity to transportation (where is the nearest metro/bus stop? How far away is the train station for weekend trips home? Are you still within the “Downtown” area in order to get the $40 flat rate to the airport in a cab?) and other variables you may wish to consider.
The McGill Off-Campus Listings website offers the map below indicating all of the different “zones.” There is a very useful chart with information about each zone on page 2 of the McGill Off-Campus Survival Guide PDF here.
When to Start Looking:
So it’s November and you already know whom you’re living with next year and where you want to live. Great. HOLD YOUR HORSES! The general rule in Montreal is that tenants are not required to inform their landlords of their intent not to renew their lease until three months before the lease is set to end. Since most leases start on the first of May, July, or September, it could be very late in the semester before many of the potential apartments become available. Generally, it will be around the last week of February when apartments will start appearing on the listings. You may see some before then, but by signing the lease early you risk not having looked at many places and may be passing on an opportunity to find some place better with lower rent a few months down the road. Most people don’t sign a lease until March, and even then new listings will be popping up in April and May. If someone is advertising their apartment in December, you may want to ask yourself why they are in such a rush to get rid of the lease?
Where to Look:
Along with keeping a constant eye on Craigslist, Kijiji, and the McGill Classifieds, McGill offers an Off-Campus Housing website. Here, you can search based on size, location, and the type of dwelling you’re looking for (apartment for rent, roommate wanted, room for rent, faculty housing or sublet). All ads include rent price and location, many have pictures, and all state the availability (when rent is expected to start being paid). There is also a virtual alert option where you can enter the type of dwelling you are looking for, the zone and the size, and receive e-mail alerts when a new ad is posted fitting your criteria. You can also save an ad for later under “My Fav Ads.” There is also PadMapper, which offers similar tools, plus looking at places within an adjustable walking radius from campus. Then there is RentalGuru, a new site with similar tools, plus the ability to select for cat or dog friendly apartments. There's also moreMontreal Apartments, which has lots of different search options as well. Last but not least is this Facebook group.
When searching for apartments it is always important to check both the safety of the apartment and to be smart as you are searching. Remember as you respond to listings and begin communication with landlords and tenants that these are still strangers and are not necessarily safe just because they have posted on the McGill Listings. On this note it is important to bring a friend with you when visiting potential apartments, as this still constitutes entering a stranger’s home.
When looking at apartments, make sure that there is some sort of emergency exit, whether a fire escape or a back door, and that all fire safety materials are up to date (smoke alarms, fire extinguishers, etc.). Also check security systems; if you’re in a building, is there a doorman? Are their deadbolts on your doors? Has the building ever been broken into before? Even if the apartment itself is beautiful, you may feel uncomfortable with other places on the street or the neighborhood itself. Chances are you’ll find yourself walking home alone at some point and it is important to feel comfortable being out in your neighborhood. Safety and security tips can be found on page 14 of the McGill Off-Campus Survival Guide PDF here.
One thing you should never compromise on is your landlord. No matter if it is the most beautiful, spacious, affordable apartment you’ve ever seen, if the landlord is going to make your life hard, don’t sign the lease. It can be hard to tell immediately if a landlord is going to be difficult. In reality, most landlords will probably leave you alone for the majority of your lease time, be a little slow answering any of your requests for repairs and maybe ignore one or two of your e-mails. You can also run into great landlords that will be super fast responding to your communications and reasonable at complying with your requests. There are, however, some landlords that are downright miserable, and will fully place the responsibility on you should anything in your apartment stop working (like the fridge, toilet, etc.). Beware of any landlord that says anything along the lines of “the apartment is under renovations now but it will be completed by the time you move in” since this is often not the case (but sometimes is!). Make sure when you DO sign the lease that you are aware of what appliances in your apartment come with the lease and which are your own responsibility should they break.
So how do you know ahead of time if your landlord is going to be reasonable or not? First, try and arrange an apartment visit with them, that way you can get a first hand impression. If something feels off about them, trust your instincts. Second, ask the previous tenants and other tenants in the building to get their impression. Third, The Off-Campus Housing Office, located on 3743 University St. keeps a black book of awful landlords, so it is always smart to go make sure your potential landlord is clear before signing the lease. On the other side, if you’ve experienced a terrible landlord (and we’re talking ripped-you-off-hundreds-of-dollars terrible) please contribute to the black book!
The tenant is required to:
- Pay the agreed rent on the agreed date
- Keep the dwelling in the same condition as how the landlord intended it to be (ex: do not make any renovations without first asking your landlord. This can even mean painting the walls!)
- Keep the dwelling clean
- Allow for any necessary repairs and to make some of the lesser repairs themselves*
- Allow visits from the landlord, prospective new tenants, and repair workers.
- Not to change the locks.
- Not to disturb the normal enjoyment of the other tenants.
- Inform the landlord of any serious defect or deterioration of the dwelling.
- Take all movable belongings at the end of the lease.
- Leave the dwelling as they found it.
- For leases less than twelve months long, tenants must notify their landlord of their intent not to renew the lease no earlier than two months in advance and no later than one month in advance. For leases that are twelve months or longer in duration, tenants must notify their landlord no earlier than six months and no later than three months before the lease is set to end should they be choosing not to renew.
The tenant has the right to:
- Maintain the lease as long as he/she wants, so long as they have not given the landlord reason to terminate the lease.
- Refuse any unreasonable rent increases
- To apply to the Rental Board if they feel that they are not being treated fairly by their landlord and cannot come to an agreement.
The landlord is required to:
- Deliver the leased property in clean condition with all necessary repairs done on the agreed date.
- Give peaceful enjoyment of the dwelling.
- Respect all safety and sanitation laws pertaining to the building.
- Make all necessary repairs that fall under their responsibility according to the lease.
- Provide the tenant with either a lease or a form of mandatory writing (in the case of a verbal lease) within then days of the agreement.
- Give a new tenant a notice indicating the lowest rent paid in the 12 months preceding the beginning of the lease
* If you cannot reach your landlord or else he refuses to make the repair, you must send him a letter through registered mail detailing the repair(s) that need to be done and providing a time limit (usually ten days). You may state that if the repairs are not completed within this time limit that you will take legal action with the Régie du Logement (Quebec Rental Board). Be sure to keep a personal copy of all communication between the landlord and yourself.
Should the landlord ignore attempts at communication and there is an urgent necessary repair to be done to a part of the dwelling that is covered in the lease, the tenants may fix the problem themselves or hire a professional. The landlord is then responsible for reimbursing any reasonable expenses that are being claimed for fixing the issue. Bills, receipts, and other necessary documents will be required. If a movable object is replaced (i.e. a pipe) the object must be returned to the landlord. Should the landlord refuse to reimburse the expense, the tenant has the right to withhold the amount from the future rent. THIS IS ONLY APPLICABLE IN URGENT SITUATIONS, I.E. WHEN THE OBJECT IN NEED OF REPAIR POSES AN IMMEDIATE HEALTH RISK. This information was taken from the following page.
- It is illegal for a landlord to ask for key money, to demand post-dated cheques, to collect deposits (other than the first month's rent) or to collect the final months rent before it is due.
- Don’t sign a lease on your first house visit except in very rare cases.
- Take notes on apartments that you visit, specifically what you liked and didn’t like.
- Talk to the previous tenants and/or other tenants in your building (where applicable) to get a sense of how they like living there. It can be helpful, but also watch out for tenants who are just trying to get you to lease the place.
- Keep watch on as many listing sites as possible, new listings will be added every day.
- If you’ve just returned from an apartment visit and have decided that you love the place, let the landlord know, but make another visit before you sign anything.
- Lease Applications are legally binding. If a landlord asks you to fill one out, it means that you are agreeing to sign the lease if they pick you. The landlord has all of the power so if you sign one and they decide to take you on as tenants, even if you’ve found a better place in the meantime you are legally responsible for renting that apartment. It can be very difficult and sometimes impossible to get a landlord to release you from a lease application.
- When going to visit an apartment for the first time, make a list of the questions you want answered. Good questions to ask would be: What are the safety features of the apartment? Are Hydro and/or internet included in the rent? What is the policy on pets/parties/noise/smoking indoors? Are the neighbors noisy? Have you ever had problems with pest/rodents/bedbugs?** Will you allow subletting? Is any of the furniture or appliances included in the lease?
- Key money or finders fee, meaning extra money that either the landlord or the previous tenants are requiring you to pay in order to be chosen as the new tenant, is illegal. Besides your rent, your landlord should not require you to pay anything.
**Check www.bedbugregistry.com before you sign the lease!
First & Second Visits
On your first visit, just get a good idea of the place, the landlord, the neighborhood, etc. If you’re seriously considering the place, on your second visit make sure to do the following:
- Check the taps and shower for water pressure.
- Check drawers and doors to make sure everything opens properly
- Check smoke detectors
- Check for damp areas or mold, especially in the bathroom(s), kitchen cupboards and closet(s)
- Check for any cracked windows; note which windows open and which have screens.
- Check the stove, fridge and freezer. Make sure all are in proper working order.
- Check behind hanging paintings for holes or spotty paint-jobs, and under carpets for poor flooring.
There is a checklist on page 8 of the McGill Off-Campus Survival Guide PDF here.
Heat, Water, and Electricity
Heat, water, and electricity all fall under the jurisdiction of Hydro Quebec. Some landlords will include these in the rent, and others will place it under your responsibility. If the latter is the case remember that you will need to add this cost to your monthly rent. Hydro Quebec will either bill you every two months for your usage, or you can opt to go on an Equalized Payment Plan that will average out the Hydro use of the past year under the previous tenants and bill you the average of that usage on a monthly basis. Hydro Quebec will then re-evaluate your account after one year and depending on whether you went over the average or under, will either require you to pay an extra fee to cover your usage or will transfer your surplus pay to the tab on your account to be used towards further bills.
Internet is usually not included by the landlord in the rent and will have to be set up and paid for separately. The two main Internet companies in Montreal are Bell and Videotron. Check to see what plans fit your needs. Also, BEWARE of overage fees as most Internet plans do not cover unlimited usage and going over your allotted monthly GB can be VERY expensive.
The Unofficial McGill Guide has attempted to highlight some of the big questions and provide as much information as possible. However, we still HIGHLY recommend that you read the McGill Off-Campus Survival Guide PDF here. It is also useful for after you’ve signed a lease and are wondering about what to bring/buy, where to find health food stores, how to clean your apartment, etc.). You should also plan to attend one of the Apartment Hunting Info Sessions provided by the Off-Campus-Housing office. More Information on these sessions including dates and location may be found on the McGill Off-Campus Housing website.