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.