10 Resources To Check Before You Rent In An Apartment Building

by Mike Holman

This article was written by Rachelle: a real estate guru who works as a property manager and helps investors find rental properties in Toronto and surrounding areas.  She has recently started a very interesting blog called Landlord Rescue.  You can subscribe to the RSS feed here.

Read Rachelle’s last story – The Stripper With Dirty Feet – A Tenant From Hell Story.

After years in the business, if I were to rent again, these are the places and people I’d check before renting in any building.  Rent the landlord, not the apartment.  Most apartments in buildings look remarkably similar, but your experience for a whole year is likely to be hellish if you don’t do your homework.

1 – Make sure the apartment you have seen is the apartment you are going to rent, not a sample suite.

Needless to say, the old bait and switch is not unheard of.  Ask to see the apartment that you will be renting.  Don’t believe a word your rental agent says about all the work that will be done to the suite.  After they get your money, you’re stuck with it in many cases. If your application is approved you will not get your money back!

2 – Check the Police Department

One place I worked at had 3-5 cars stolen out of the underground parking PER WEEK. Nothing was ever done about security!  Ask the police department.  A police car parked out front doesn’t mean much.  With so many people living in a decent sized building, they could be there for anything.

3 – Talk to some current residents

After the showing by the rental agent, go back in the evening after the office is closed.  The culture in the building will be obvious.  Are there a bunch of drug dealers out front?  Or is it seniors?  In any case, ask people coming or going out of the lobby how they like the building.  Tell them you are thinking about moving in.  Question them in detail.  One bad report doesn’t necessarily mean anything – you could be talking to a guy who’s getting evicted next week!  A majority of “NO WAY’s” means bad news – stay away.

4 – Google your building name and address

A quick Google of the address or building name including the city name may reveal something interesting.  Two of the buildings I worked in have reviews on them.  Country Club Towers and 3400 Riverspray both have poor reviews, and I can assure you with good reason.

5 – Pest Control

The first place I lived when I first moved to Toronto was a huge one bedroom in Parkdale.  The rent was cheap, it was very spacious and newly renovated.  By the second day I knew why.  The place was full of cockroaches.

I went to the super and she actually told me I brought them in.  The next two years were a nightmare of spraying and fighting to get sprayed.  All it did was knock the numbers down.  Within a few days they were back.  Disgusting and unbelievable amounts of cockroaches.

Since then I have learned more about pest control.  Every building has in Toronto has pests occasionally.  It’s what they do to control them that counts.  Look up your potential new building.  Bedbugs are becoming a fact of urban life in Toronto and Vancouver.

6 – Check Google News Archives

Use Google news archives so you can look at any articles that come up on the building and decide if you want to live there.  For 2460 Weston Road, I found this article and this one.

For 3400 Riverspray Crescent In Mississauga, I found this article.

If nothing recent has happened in the building, it won’t show up.  On a regular news search you will find only news for the last 30 days.  If you don’t find any results, click on Advanced Search and then click on Archives.  Don’t be too freaked out if there’s something in the news about your building.  Buildings house a lot of people and there’s always something happening.  If there’s a ton of bad news you may want to take a pass.

7 – Building staff

If your rental agent/super/property manager is showing any signs of being mean, snarky or inconsiderate, take a pass.  If they look stressed/overworked or not happy at their job, find a different place to live.  Believe me this is the best treatment you’ll get when renting in a building.  If service is already poor and you’re not even in the door, what will it be like when your tap is leaking or you find a pest or have a problem?  I don’t like dealing with rude people and I doubt most people do.  Watch how other residents are treated.  Don’t believe any excuses.

8 – Google Search the Property Management Company

Search for “Property Management Company Name” Review.  Don’t be surprised if you have to go back a few pages.  The larger companies have website and ads out so you’ll need to filter that out.  This will give you an idea of what’s in store for you in terms of customer service.

9 – Search for By-law Building Code Infractions

Toronto has a searchable form you can use to check if your potential building has any outstanding building code infractions or city work orders.  I’m not sure about every city or town you’ll have to do your own searching on this one. This is a huge red flag. You really have to be grossly negligent to be written up by the city. Inspectors give multiple warnings and inspections so if a building you are moving into is listed here seriously reconsider. Search the City of Toronto’s database here.

10 – MyHood.ca

This website and others like it exist for many major centers.  This site has searchable reviews and for many buildings.  Keep in mind that anyone can submit a review including building staff.  If you see a large number of distressed complainers and then a couple completely positive reviews, you may want to draw your own conclusions.

So there you have it, a complete and exhaustive list of resources you can check before you rent and sign a one year lease. If you rent the wrong place, one year will seem like one hundred years. If you’re on a budget you can pick the best available in your price range.  It’s unrealistic to expect the same kind of service and amenities in a $650 per month apartment in Parkdale as a nice high end condo for $1200 per month.

Happy Renting!

Do you have any other tips for potential renters?

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Angelo

Great tips here on places to check before signing that new lease. I thought I’d add a link I found a while back called The Leak / La Fuite (currently in Beta for Montreal at http://the-leak.org), which is in a similar vein to MyHood.ca — users can leave or search feedback on apartments and landlords. Very Web 2.0, very slick. Maybe some of your readers will find it handy!

2 Patricia

Thanks for this timely article both daughters are apartment hunting at the moment I have passed this article on to them.

3 Mr. Cheap

Interesting post! I’ve never done anywhere near this much due diligence when renting, but maybe I should have…

4 Rachelle

Maybe I’m just paranoid :0

5 Funny about Money

These are VERY smart things to look into! Much better than the usual checklist of things like “photograph any pre-existing damage.”

LOL! The first apartment I moved into had so many cockroaches that I decided to quit complaining about them and regard them as my cute little roommates, enjoying them for their acrobatics (one could do a double-spin dive through off the cabinetry and onto the kitchen cabinet…so adorable…).

One thing to ask the current residents is about the soundproofing. The same apartment — which was, BTW, in a very nice and beautifully maintained complex — I could hear the guy upstairs get up every morning when nature called, walk across into the bathroom, and tinkle!

Ah, apartment life. What a joy.

6 Caroline

Go with your gut. If you’re uneasy – walk away. Applies to many more things than just renting! =)

7 Patricia

Thanks again, my daughter avoided a building with bedbugs by using the information on this site.

8 Rewind

I wish I read this before I moved into 3400 Riverspray as well as this

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