Busting the Myths of Roommate Renting

roommate renting

Toronto renters know it: There is such thing as an ideal tenant in our city, and they’re most definitely not two or three roommates splitting a two-bedroom condo.  But if you’re throwing out rental applications from roommates, you’re likely missing out on some quality tenants—and narrowing the field for your own rental unit.

So this week, we’ll make the case for seriously considering tenant applications from roommates for your condo and looking at roommate renting from all the angles.

Myth: Adults living with roommates are unsuccessful or financially unreliable

No one would want to live with roommates once they’re an adult, right?  The only reason the potential tenants on your doorstep would is if they just can’t afford a place of their own, and that’s not someone you want to rent to.

That’s the biggest myth around when it comes to renting to roommates, and all it takes is a look around at Toronto’s real estate prices to consider it busted.  Although Toronto and the surrounding area frequently make up for it in opportunities, fun, culture, and social diversity, they aren’t cheap places to live for anybody—and many renters are sharing space with roommates into their twenties and thirties for a whole bucket of reasons on top of affordability.  Sometimes it’s a question of being able to live in nicer digs or a neighbourhood that’s near work, friends, and family; making a prudent decision about their own financial capacity rather than going it alone, going into debt, and wrecking their own credit ratings, and just generally being responsible.

For many Toronto renters, though, it’s not about the money: roommates are also a way to save up to buy a place of their own, make a permanent Toronto home worthwhile while working a job that’s heavy on the travel, or just have the sheer pleasure of coming home to friendly face in a city that can be isolating.

So when showing roommates your condo for a potential tenancy, make sure you’re looking at the renters in front of you, not a general idea of why people share space or not.  Evaluating each tenant for a good fit—and not their social habits—is both a great way to find good tenants and a protection against getting fooled by the bad ones who know which signals to send.

Myth: Roommates are risky

What if someone leaves?  What if plans change?  Will you, as the landlord, be on the hook for continuing tenants who can’t make their rent?

The indicator that this is a myth—and needs busting—is when we ask those questions of potential tenants, and when we don’t.  Marriages break up all the time, but tenant screening generally doesn’t ask about the health of people’s marriages when they come to view a condo unit.  People routinely rent to couples who are moving in together for the first time, even though that’s when you find out all about the fingernail clippings your partner lovingly stores away.

Again: Look at potential roommates as tenants and people, and consider whether their work history, tenancy history and expressed habits make them likely to be reliable.

Myth: Roommates don’t keep units clean and will trash the place

This is a subset of that unsuccessful, unreliable, irresponsible idea just above: That living with roommates after school is a sign of immaturity, and therefore adult roommates will inflict their immature behaviour on your walls, floors, and appliances.  And while that might have been more reasonable in the times when you could buy a house at 24 on a blue-collar job—and let’s be fair, it probably wasn’t—it’s definitely an outdated hangover of an idea now.

Tenants who are splitting a condo with roommates for financial reasons are stating some pretty clear priorities just by showing up: Even though they’d get more space and privacy for less in a basement apartment or corporate high-rise, they want to live somewhere clean, safe, and central—and are ready to split that space to do it.  That’s fundamentally an intensely adult decision.

A tenant who’s done that math and still showed up at your door is quite likely to take good care of your unit.  They know why they want to live in it, they’re working hard to meet that higher rent, and house-proud tenants are the ones who’ll be most meticulous about tidiness, maintenance, and collaborating with you to keep on top of the necessary repairs to keep your unit in great shape.

Myth: Roommates are the tenants no one else wants

This one’s pernicious—and pretty murky.  While it’s true that sometimes potential tenants buddy up with friends to shake off a spotty tenancy records, it’s also true that there are many very uncomfortable reasons why great tenants find it hard to rent in Toronto.  While we live in a progressive city, it’s also a city made of people and people’s individual biases—which means sometimes the reason a tenant wants to bolster their case with a roommate is because they’re a first-generation immigrant.  Or part of a visible minority.  Or a single woman who doesn’t want to view apartments—or live in them—alone.

Unfortunately, sometimes people confuse being a good tenant with being exactly like themselves—the same habits, the same career and family plans, the same skin, religion, or sexual orientation.  And to be blunt: That is not what makes a good tenant.

In short, sometimes the tenants who are finding it hard to rent alone aren’t having trouble because of anything they did.  Treating them with seriousness opens the door wide to a whole pool of marvelous potential tenants—and is a vital step to making sure your unit’s profitable, well-loved, well-lived-in, and treated with care.

Renting to Students: A Quick Guide

Renting to students

With the new school year around the corner, Toronto’s annual influx of new undergrad and graduate students have hit the streets—and the rental market.  With the limited space in Toronto university residences, you’re likely to get a few calls from full-time students if you’re renting a small-space or studio condo not too far from campus.

So if you’re looking at applications and considering a full-time student, here are some tips and thoughts on renting your condo to a student tenant for the school year.

Don’t believe the stereotypes

The standard sitcom idea of university students is pretty grim: careless, arrogant, and usually drunk.  It’s also brutally off-base.  Student renters can be putting themselves through school on two jobs, soldiers or reservists picking up their education now that they’re back from overseas, scholarship recipients who take that honour seriously, or the first in their family to finish high school (with all the pressure that entails).  I went to school with all of those people—and was one during my undergrad—and none of us were particularly interested in trashing our homes or blowing our GPAs.

Toronto’s host to several top-flight universities—and any student who’s got an admission worked hard to get it, and will be working hard to keep their grades up.  That goes double if they come to your door with a part-time job on top of their classes, and triple if they’ve been admitted into a grad school program.

Yes, the drunk-and-inconsiderate type exists—but that’s a personality type, not an age bracket, and those personalities don’t grow out of partying when they get their degree or diploma.  Use the same rigorous eye and good judgment you’d apply to a professionally-employed potential tenant, and rent to the person, not the stereotype.

Understand why student tenants might go for a condo rental

There’s a lot to appeal to a student tenant when looking at a rental condo.  Smaller condos might lack floor space, but they’re usually big on windows and natural light—a marked improvement over the basement apartment option.

The standard inclusion of utilities in a condo’s fees—and therefore, in a tenant’s rent—can make life much easier for a student renter, who will appreciate skipping the signups and deposits for a double handful of utility services.

As well, small-space condos are well-maintained and private—a huge advantage during weeks of exam studying.  They’re secure, which can be very reassuring to students living in a city for the first time—and their parents, who might well be nervous about sending their child into an unfamiliar area.  What’s more, their solid amenities can really ease the transition from residence or parental living to a new city by giving student tenants a few key foundation stones: a helping hand at the concierge desk if they have a problem, a safe place to park their bike—which many students rely on—and built-in laundry and workout facilities that help that OSAP dollar stretch.

Make room for their inexperience—but don’t take it for granted

Student tenants want the same thing from a home as most other tenants: A place that’s well-maintained, safe, and close to work and school, with a landlord who’s professional and competent.

Especially if your potential tenant is a first-time renter, there are going to be things they don’t know how to do—you can’t tell if anyone’s ever taught them to change a toilet chain or clean a stove—but how you treat the landlord-tenant relationship will set the tone for how they move in that space.

Be clear about your expectations as a landlord, and make sure anything you’re concerned about is explicitly communicated, whether it’s noise, mess, or other factors—but make sure you stay within the bounds of the Residential Tenancies Act.  It’s not off-base to agree to a scheduled maintenance inspection of the property at a certain point in the lease, or to ask for the unit to be professionally cleaned when your tenants move out.  But asking for damage deposits upfront isn’t just inappropriate, it’s illegal.

In short: As always, be professional and you’re most likely to get professional back.

Ask about their plans for a lease

The other standard stereotype about renting to students is that they’ll be in one summer and out by the next, requiring you to find brand new tenants every year as your student tenants’ plans shift.  However, if your potential tenants have multiple years left in their program, they’ll value a good landlord and a stable place to live as much as you value a good, stable tenant.  And depending on their program and their work plans after graduation, they may well be happy to stay on as they transition into their first full-time position.

Even if you don’t keep a tenant for the long term, a good experience with a student tenant can keep you in referrals forever.  If you’re comfortable establishing your investment condo as a property specializing in student rentals, you might be able to save the listing fees when your tenant leaves.  Responsible people often know other responsible people, and student tenants are frequently happy to tip a friend off to a good living situation and pass it on.

Consider co-signing or a guarantor

Asking a parent to co-sign or guarantee your lease has a few advantages, and only some of them are financial.  Yes, you’ll have a solid backstop if your tenant fails to pay rent for whatever reason—and it gets around the fact that most students don’t have a credit rating to check—but the real benefits to a guarantor are in the built-in responsibility.

When your tenant’s accountable to not just you but their parent, there’s an extra layer of responsibility in how they’ll treat your space.  Not in the potential for consequences if they default, but in the potential for parental emotional investment in taking care of the space and growing their child’s skills.  Their name’s on the piece of paper too, and that creates a real stake in how things go during the tenancy.

Co-signing or guarantorship also lets you meet your student’s parents up close, and get a sense of what kind of models they have when it comes to caring for a home.  A potential student tenant likely doesn’t have a fully-formed style of tenancy, but their parent will, and watching a parent’s interactions with your space—and what they advise their child about your space—will let you know whether this is a tenant for you.

Best of luck!

Renting With Pets: A Quick Guide

Renting with pets

Condo renting means making a few allowances about how we live—white curtains facing the street if the building rules require it, not having skee-ball tournaments on your landlord’s nice wooden floors—but it doesn’t have to mean living without a pet.

If you’re making a move with your best fuzzy friend in tow, here are some things to consider as you hit the streets—and the condo listings.

Find out each condo building’s pets policy while setting up the viewing

While no-pets policies aren’t easily enforced in regular apartment buildings, condos run on bylaws set by their boards—which means not only are pets policies very enforceable, but they might have clauses or requirements that you wouldn’t expect.  Condo buildings have a range of pet policies—restricting the type of pet, their size or weight, pet control in common areas, or the amount of noise a pet makes—and each one is a little different.

Some condos are quite friendly to pets, with amenities including dog wash areas, pet spas, or pet runs outside to work out or hang out.  Check out listings of pet-friendly buildings—widely available online—as your starting point for your condo search.

Even if your prospective building is entirely cool with pets, your prospective landlord might not be.  Ask potential landlords how they feel about a pet, and have information about your own pet’s habits, needs, and training on hand.

It’s crucial to remember that this is not a matter you want to be evasive on, or try to loophole your way through: Unauthorized pets can be an eviction matter in a rental condo, and are a pretty quick way to poison a landlord-tenant relationship.

Think twice about that view

Yes, a condo on the eighteenth floor gives you picture-perfect scenery outside, but if you’re a dog owner, you’ll be heading down all those stairs—or waiting for a lot of elevator time—every time your puppy needs to do some outside business.

It’s not fun.  Take the rent discount and hit the lower floors.

Think about whether your pet will be happy in that space

The least fun thing in the world is an unhappy cat or dog—especially one who’s acting out to make their misery known.  If you’ve got a cat who’s used to roaming outdoors at night, a condo with a supervision-required policy in the common areas will not be the place for them.  Large, energetic dogs are likewise not the greatest fit for high-rise condos, unless you’re willing to do the running with them multiple times daily.  If your dog has separation anxiety and cries when they’re alone, a condo living situation with multiple neighbours will go bad fast.  And rescue cats who are shy around people will be massively unhappy in a bachelor or open-concept space—unless you’re willing to sacrifice your social life.

When looking at a space for you and your pet both, consider their personality and needs.  Just like people, some animals are more suited for condo life than others, and that’s just preference and temperament.

Look for veterinary amenities in your neighbourhood

Not all pets are happy campers on the TTC, so look into neighbourhoods that have good cat or dog infrastructure: pet stores, quality vets, late-night emergency vet offices, walking routes that aren’t entirely reliant on major thoroughfares, and most importantly, parks.

Toronto got an extra helping from the God of Excellent Green Space, but some parks—like Trinity-Bellwoods—go the extra mile, with off-leash areas and doggy culture that’s more involved than your own social life.  Some, especially those with playgrounds and a lot of young families, are a little less welcoming to pets out for a run.  Find out what you’ve got to work with, and make sure nothing’s too far away to contemplate on a bad-weather day.

Rugs, rugs, rugs

Not only will they dampen the sound of little pet feet clicking along the floors—and keep your downstairs neighbours happy—but rugs are a serious boon for both dog and cat owners.  Dogs famously hate hardwood or slippery tile floors—which are massively common in modern condo buildings—because they can’t get a good grip on the surface, and cats’ affection for picking at carpeted stairs or surfaces can find an outlet on your own rugs, not your landlord’s carpet.

What’s more, laying down some good area rugs will concentrate fur and dander during shedding season, and make it that much easier to vacuum all that up.  And if you’ve got a cat in the later stages of life—or a puppy just learning about outdoor bathroom time—it’s much easier to clean or, ultimately, dispose of a rug than get a stain off an installed floor.

Be a good pet owner

This seems basic, but being attentive to your pet’s needs—and making sure your neighbours understand their personality and are comfortable around your pet—is the best step you can take when moving into a condo with a small friend.  Pick up after your pet, keep litterboxes proactively clean (and away from the intake vents!) and proactively introduce your pet around to your nearest neighbours.  Not only might you get a supply of cheerful pet-sitters, but you’ll make it clear that you’re a good-faith sort of neighbour—and any problems will come to you for solving before they show up at your landlord or condo board’s door.

Best of luck!

Making the Most of Your Toronto Condo Balcony

Condo Balcony

It’s spring!  Well, it’s above freezing, which is good enough right now, and absolutely everyone wants to be outside again.  Now that the weather’s turning, using your condo balcony’s starting to look great again.  So here are some tips for taking another look at your condo balcony—the notorious “additional room” developers advertise—and setting up a space you’ll get the absolute most out of all summer long.

Set the guidelines

The board of your condo might have some specific ideas about what’s a go—and what’s a no—on your balcony.  Before sketching out that fourteenth-story dream oasis, check what your building has already nixed.  For most condo developments, paint is going to be off the table, and so will barbeques (unless you’re lucky enough to have a gas hookup built in)—but that doesn’t mean there isn’t lots of room to play.

Once that’s done, get to the brainstorming: What do you want out of your outdoor space?  What do you wish you just had that much more of in your home, today?  Think less about what you’d use if you were a different person—the aspirational stuff like that herd of adorable milk goats, or the tai chi you’re not going to do—but what you feel is actively missing in your life right now.  It can be as small as a quiet nook to read with a cup of tea on Sunday mornings—as long as it’s the thing that’ll get you out there, and give you that little slice of satisfaction when you use it.

Lights, fabric, action!  Do a little decorating

Next step?  Set the scene, and build that space both practically and for the look you want.

With Toronto weather being so frequently wet, we don’t often think of fabric as an outdoor decorating tool, but luckily for us, most of the hardware stores in the city have.  Generations of your parents’ friends with that cottage up north have brought us the miracle of outdoor rugs, which are usually latex-backed so they don’t slip or rot, UV-resistant, and comfortable for bare feet.  A few rugs thrown down on that sturdy concrete—and some bright fabric over the glassy dividers that sort of let you spy on your neighbour—can really kick your balcony space into something warmer, brighter, and absolutely easy to store when you take it down for the winter.  It’s also a great way to lay down some colour without having to use paint.

The other great way to put colour and texture into your balcony is with light.  Fairy lights or candles are an affordable, easy way to make a space feel cozy and warm—or romantic, or a great spot for a little party.  Both translate outdoors in a pinch: many balconies will have outdoor wall sockets accessible, and hurricane lamp-style candle holders are available at, you guessed it, most hardware stores to give you that soft light without wax and smoke going all over the place.

Outdoor cushions?  Also a thing, and not just at the Thompson rooftop lounge.  Twenty to thirty bucks at Ikea or Pier 1 Imports will get you bright, squishy, UV-treated outdoor cushions to scatter across your new balcony space with abandon, so sitting outdoors living the literal high life can be a lot more comfortable.

The furnishings

Picking out balcony furniture—a lot, a little, or none at all—is where your plan will come in.  Toronto has an overflow of stores that specialize in just patio furniture.  Treated wood is big for lawns and bigger outdoor spaces, but the balcony tradition seems to be rattan, which is light, portable, and wears the weather well enough to tentatively store outside, which is an important consideration for balconies we use about five months of the year:  Can it stay outside?  If not, where are you going to store it?

Modular furniture, where the frames will do fine in a Toronto winter and cushions or other components can come off to be stored inside, is always a great bet.

Grow something

You’re outside—and you’ll want to feel like you’re outside.  Whether it’s making sure you have the flowers for the proverbial smelling or raising some beans and tomatoes for dinner, one of the best uses of a condo balcony is for your own private, raccoon-free garden.

Think about what kind of exposure you get—south is a winner, followed by east, for sun-loving plants—and whether you’re high up enough for a lot of wind.  At a certain height, blooming plants should probably be punted in favour of succulents, low-growing plants, or shrubs, which can withstand any gusts of wind that much better.

Toronto’s own Young Urban Farmers have great tips for ornamental or edible gardens for any kind of balcony space, including pointers specifically for condo balconies.

Enjoy it!

Once you’ve got your balcony set up to be inviting, fun space you want, make sure to enjoy it.  Using your balcony doesn’t have to be a major production, or the experience to end all experiences.  We inhabit our homes in little ways, and your balcony’s part of your home.  Take lunch out there one afternoon, hang out with a coffee or glass of wine when friends are over, or move your laptop outside and do your usual email catching-up in the sun, with a nice breeze.

When it comes down to it, most of why most Torontonians don’t use their balconies as often as they could is because their balcony dreams don’t fit into their everyday lives.  Make yours part of your life, day in and day out, and those small enjoyments will build into something beautiful.

How to Detect—and Avoid—Rental Scams

Rental Scams

Rental vacancy rates in Toronto are low—and even lower for Toronto condominiums, where just 1.2% of units are ready to be someone’s new home.  With the urge to jump on that excellent rental before someone else snags it away comes an unfortunate side effect: a rise in rental apartment and condominium scams.  Here’s how to sniff them out and not get taken in by those questionable folks who’d rather take your money and leave you hanging on moving day.

Know Your Average Rents

Any scam requires bait, and a rental rate that’s too good to be true is your first—and major—red flag.  There’s such thing as an absolute steal when it comes to renting in Toronto, but if someone’s offering a downtown one-bedroom for three-quarters the cost of every single one of its neighbours, unfortunately it’s more likely that something doesn’t add up.

Once you decide which neighbourhood you’re looking to settle into, look at a few sets of rental listings as well as news articles to get a sense of what the average condo in that area rents for.  It’ll not only help you pick your neighbourhood and budget well, but that’s the knowledge that can most easily keep you from getting drawn into a rental scam.

The Invisible Condominium Problem (or Landlord, or Lease)…

So you’re all set to see this condo unit, but there’s one problem: The landlord doesn’t live in town—the classic phrase is “I’m a business person who travels abroad”—and only wants to communicate by email.  There’s nobody local to show you the place.  Or your prospective landlord has met you outside for a showing—but doesn’t want to show you around inside.

All these flags?  They spell trouble.

Yes, they might have pictures.  But in a 2014 scam which hit renters from Toronto to Vancouver, in which the fake landlord sent pictures of the inside of a third-floor condominium unit—but the catch was, units at that address started on the fifth floor.  Photos of a unit can be lifted easily from real estate listings or plainly faked.  One quick way to check if those photos are legit is to run a Google image search to see if those photos show up anywhere they don’t belong—like on a real estate site, or rental listings for multiple other addresses.  If so, you’ve just found a scam artist, not a landlord.

On the whole, if the potential landlord gets a little too nervous about letting you inside the property, makes excuses to avoid it, or cancels viewings without explanation, it’s quite possible that the front of this building is exactly that, a front, and they don’t own this space at all.

Make sure, whenever you’re renting a unit, you physically see the inside of that unit—or if you’re renting a property from out of the city to move into for work or school, have a trusted friend or colleague check it out in person, or look into hiring a reputable rental agency to be your eyes on the ground and pre-clear any property before you consider it.

Lease First, Payments to the Back

Beware—strongly—of anyone who wants you to write a cheque—or especially wire or pay cash—for a first and last month’s rent without having signed a paper lease.  It’s never, ever a good idea to put down money for any upfront deposit before the lease is signed.

If you feel like your prospective landlord is pushing for money upfront, or if they say those magic words—”We don’t need a lease”—pick up and get right out of there.

Furthermore, if you’re being asked to wire money—which is less recoverable than cheques, especially when sending overseas—that’s a significant red flag.  While it’s true that many Toronto condominium rental units are owned by overseas investors, landlords who are business-minded enough to keep a rental condo in another country are also business-minded enough to hire a management or leasing company locally to manage it, and there should be a manager or agent available in the city.

Professionalism is key

It’s the inconsistencies that sometimes can mark someone who’s not so much renting a condominium but playing a part.  Does the email address that writes back to you match the name of the contact?  Do your contacts with this landlord come from multiple email addresses?

Likewise, while “I’m a travelling business person” is the standard for apartment scams, does this person act the part of who they claim to be?  Are they asking you for references, a credit check, letters of employment, and the other tools they could use to make sure you’re a good tenant?  If they’re a little too eager to skip the steps that protect a landlord from bad tenants, they might not be interested in having you as a tenant at all—just in your deposit.

Further, if a landlord solicits extra personal information—”Tell me about yourself, so I can decide if you’re the kind of person I want to rent to!”—but don’t want to give information back, be careful: that’s more a rhetorical tactic than a question, designed to create a situation where you’ll worry about being the kind of person who can get this condo unit—and not ask the hard questions of the prospective landlord.

Ask Questions.  Lots.

As always, when looking at a potential home, more questions—and more detailed questions—are your friend.  Ask about the landlord, their plans for the property, its history, the rent and utilities; anything you’d normally ask.

If anything about the process feels rushed, off, or gives you an uneasy feeling—wait.  And ask the landlord for an extra day or two.

If your prospective landlord gets a little weird and evasive—or a lot weird and evasive—when you ask questions about leases or proper legal procedure, or if they can’t quite answer questions about the area, the property, or their plans in concrete detail, check out all the rest of the signs of a scam and see if they add up.  Most people aren’t actually built to lie happily or well (it’s science!) and the best-laid con game can fall apart because human beings, as always, are only human.

So, if you’ve run into a rental scam, what to do?  Report, report, report.  Drop a line to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, file a report, and help make sure nobody else gets caught in this particular trap.

Stay smart, and happy renting!

When Renting a Condo Makes Sense

Renting a condo

Toronto real estate is having its hottest—and most reported on—spring and summer in approximately forever.  With the argument between purpose-built rental, private rental, and putting down that money to buy a place right this second raging in the papers, it’s harder to get a sense of when renting a condo—or buying—makes good sense for you.  So if you’re torn between hitting the real estate pages or the rental listings, here are some considerations to help you decide what’s best for you right now, right here.

When you balk at the cost of real estate

It’s the big one: Article after article through 2014 and 2015 have laid out how expensive real estate is getting in Toronto, with bidding wars and skyrocketing prices talked over in excruciating detail.  Find a handy online mortgage calculator or talk to your financial advisor about what sort of mortgage terms you’re eligible for with your projected down payment, and if they’re worse than what you can pay for monthly rent—which skips the condo fees, repair bills, and more—it might be in your best interests to renew the lease rather than buy.

Likewise, look at the price point for units in your neighbourhood of choice.  As sellers have got wind that it’s their market in Toronto right now, real estate prices have gone opportunistically up.  If the cost to buy in your neighbourhood outstrips the cost to rent there, prudent investments might be a better destination for the cash you’ve saved.

When you don’t have concrete plans for permanence

You don’t know whether you’ll stay at your company in a few years—or if they’ll transfer you for a stint at an international office.  You don’t know if you’ll stay single, childless, or at your current family size forever.  You don’t know if this neighbourhood is where you want to plant your permanent roots.

That’s when it’s time to hold off on buying a home.

One of the primary benefits of renting a home is its flexibility: If you need to pick up and move to another city, a bigger space, or another neighbourhood, it’s as simple as giving your legal notice and hitting the rental sites.  Selling a home is a much more complicated endeavour, and if your life still hasn’t set in shape in certain ways, it’s a simpler and much less expensive proposition to settle down before you physically settle down.

When you haven’t budgeted for the fine print

Buying and selling houses isn’t a fee-free, tax-free transaction, unfortunately.  When one buys or sells a property, some of that money goes to land transfer taxes, your real estate agent, your lawyer, home inspectors, and more.  If those necessaries of doing real estate business aren’t in your budget, it’s best to hold off—and not get hit with a bad surprise.

If you’re not prepared for maintenance

One of the best things about owning a home is you can do pretty much whatever you want to it, as long as that’s within city building codes and you don’t make the house fall down on your head.  And one of the best things about renting one is that if something starts trickling down toward your head parts, it’s not your financial responsibility to fix.

Home maintenance is an ongoing, lifelong responsibility, and it’s the kind of thing you want to do right: hire qualified contractors, make long-term decisions, use the best materials.  If you aren’t financially or emotionally prepared to sink time, money, and effort into keeping that home in great shape, this can produce a whole lot of stress and grief, and considerable life disruption.

If the thought of hiring roofers gives you hives, it might be best to stick to a rental situation, where any repairs land straight on your landlord’s desk.

Property taxes and insurance

Home ownership also comes with the question of insurance and property taxes.  If the property values in your neighbourhood go up—and Toronto’s property values don’t seem to be inclined to go down—that shows up in your property tax bill, if, unfortunately, not your pocketbook.  If you’re unsure you can carry the year-to-year load of property taxes and insurance on top of your other responsibilities, it might not be the right time to buy a home.

As your stern grandpa would say: A home is a responsibility.  The tradeoff we make for permanence and equity is a whole lot of financial juggling and the burden of making sure everything is legal and works right.  There’s no stigma in not being up for fitting that into a busy life just yet—or, bluntly, ever.  Consider the factors, make the decisions that work for you, and don’t look back.

Best of luck!

Renting a Condo vs Apartment

Quality condo appliances

The Condo Conundrum: What Renting a Condo Does for You (Renting a Condo vs Apartment)

More and more of Toronto’s rental housing is coming in the form of condominiums, for rent by private or corporate owners.  But aside from the name, what’s the difference between renting a condo vs apartment for your next move?

There are tangible differences between apartment rental and condominium rental to weigh when making your choice of applications.  Here are five factors to consider when asking whether a condominium rental is right for you.

  • Condominium buildings tend to be newer builds

Although with the new year—and UrbanCorp’s cancellation of two downtown condo projects in favour of building rental apartments—there’s been a decided shift back toward newly built apartment buildings, a Toronto condominium will generally be newer and built with more modern materials than an apartment building.

“Purpose-built apartment construction has been almost non-existent the last few decades across the GTA,” says the Toronto Star, and Shaun Hildebrand, vice-president of Urbanation, a research group specifically focused on the condominium industry, backs that up, saying that privately owned rental condos have soared to take up 99% of Toronto’s new rental supply.

What that means for you?  Rental condominiums are less likely to have the issues associated with building age: Wear and tear in common areas, occasional pest issues, water pipe corrosion, disruptive noise due to ongoing heavy maintenance, less efficient heating and ventilation systems, and more.

However, newer rental condominiums can lack some of the features of older trends in building design: The insulating brick and plaster of Toronto’s oldest rental stock provides less natural light than current glass-walled condominiums, but keeps the cold out—and heat in—like magic and ensures low hydro bills.

As well, there’s a sweet spot for condominium rental: It takes a new condo a few years to work the kinks out, construction-wise.  A condominium unit that’s less than three years old may be still discovering its maintenance problems, while slightly older units can usually be relied upon for the minimum of maintenance trouble.

  • Condominium rentals can bundle your utility bills

As discussed in previous posts here, one of the major draws of condominium living is that you can bundle your utility bills into easy-to-pay, easy-to-budget-for condo fees, set by the condo board to a fixed monthly rate.

While the words “utilities included” used to be standard in Toronto rental listings, with the advent of the provincial government’s smart meter legislation in 2007, rental apartments that pick up the hydro bill have all but vanished.  Instead, they’ve been replaced by individual unit meters that gauge your hydro usage individually.

If you’re a renter who’s dedicated to conserving hydro, the apartment option may be for you.  But if not—or if you worry about paying winter heating bills on a rental apartment you can’t personally reinsulate—the pooled resource of monthly condo fees, rolled into your rent, can be a great source for peace of mind.

  • Security matters

While apartment buildings with a security desk and weekend patrols are not uncommon, on the whole, condominium buildings have a consistently stronger game when it comes to security and front desk coverage.

The reasons are simple: Rental buildings, especially those owned as investment properties, won’t have the same stake in a good security presence that a condominium board made up of—and funded by—people who own units and live in the building will.  Condominium boards allow residents to set the security budget, and have a stronger motivation to allot the security presence that’s necessary for the neighbourhood they call home.

As well, an active and engaged security presence can be a massive help for in-building disputes.  A noisy party next door can be calmed down with one call to the front desk, rather than late-night hunting for a superintendent’s phone number—who may live offsite—or going directly to the police.

  • Building for ownership means quality appliances

While condominiums owned by investors make up a significant portion of the rental stock in downtown Toronto, they’re not built to rent—which means a higher quality, overall, of appliances.

Condominium kitchens are overwhelmingly more likely to come with new, energy-efficient, organized fridges; easy-to-clean glasstop stoves; and compact dishwashers, which don’t appear in any but the most luxurious apartment rentals.  This extends into the bathroom, where low-flow toilets and adjustable showerheads are increasingly common features.  As well as using less energy and water, newer appliances will perform better, cook more evenly, clean more easily, and give you infinitely fewer maintenance problems from day-to-day use.

Architectural design geared for ownership also means another vital perk: the majority of rental condos will provide ensuite laundry rooms.  There’s a significant savings in not having to hoard your quarters—or fill a chip card—to do laundry in a common laundry room or outside laundromat, and the convenience of a washer and dryer that’s always available, no matter what hour of the night, can turn an early-morning-meeting wardrobe emergency into a minor before-bed fix.

  • Maintenance with the pride of ownership

The most intangible—and most important—bonus to renting in a condominium building is the attention that pride of ownership brings.  A condominium building is maintained by its owners, rather than a third-party management company or REIT, and owners take more consistent care of their common areas—and in the case of your landlord, of your unit in particular.

While common maintenance tasks can fall behind in a rental apartment building—unpainted walls, unreplaced carpets, sidewalks going unsalted in the winter—maintenance standards are often higher in a condominium building.

Ultimately, renting in a condominium building can be rental with the advantage of an ownership ethic: clean, bright, and with neighbours who will appreciate the common areas like it’s their home—because it is.