We all know Montreal is a wonderful place to live, but unfortunately, can be hard to live in as a renter. Between predatory landlords and decades old buildings, knowing what’s acceptable versus spotting red flags can be tricky to navigate – particularly if you’re a student renting around Milton-Parc and the Plateau. So… are you a first-time renter? Looking to renew your lease? Fed up with shitty landlords? Confused as to why you keep getting shown apartments with “bedrooms” without windows? Look no further – the Daily has compiled a list to help guide new and seasoned renters as lease-signing season for May 1 approaches.
Apartment-hunting tips and red flags:
1. Dwelling Unit By-Laws: While dense, it might be a good idea to familiarize yourself with Montreal’s By-laws concerning the sanitation and maintenance of dwelling units to make sure the apartment you’re looking at is safe and adheres to these regulations.
2. Pests: If you can spot mouse traps, droppings, or other signifiers of pests, chances are those pests will still be there when you move in! While pests can be fairly common, it’s important to keep in mind, and might be important to ask the current tenants about the severity of the problem, and how their landlord has helped them. Landlords are required to take corrective action within 10 business days upon alert of the presence of vermin, harmful insects, rats, or mice.
3. Ventilation and mold: Old buildings – particularly those with poor ventilation – tend to be more susceptible to mold and other water damage related issues. When touring the apartment, the presence of mold can be indicated by spots in all colors (though often black or green) on walls, ceilings, carpets, around windows, in closets, etc. An earthy smell can also indicate the presence of mold, along with the presence of stains, buckling, peeling, or other signs of water seeping through walls or ceilings. When touring, notice if there is a build up of condensation on ceilings or windows, which could be a sign of poor ventilation. While exposure to damp and moldy environments may not cause any adverse health effects, some people are particularly sensitive and can experience a reaction to a “mold allergy” – an overall unpleasant experience! According to the City of Montreal’s by-laws, there may be no accumulation of moisture causing damage to the structure of the building, nor may there be visible presence of molds. Furthermore, ensure that bathrooms are installed with a window or mechanical ventilation, in line with the city’s by-laws concerning sanitation and maintenance of dwelling unitsunit.
4. Heating, air conditioning, and insulation: With hot and humid summers and cold frigid winters, climate control is a crucial consideration to make when apartment-hunting. Notice if the apartment is properly insulated – are the windows double-paned? Do the walls feel thin? Can you feel a draft? Are there radiators, or another form of heating, throughout the apartment? The cost of hydro is also important to consider. Some landlords include the cost of heating and electricity in their rent, while others don’t. With the former option, you’d likely be paying a fixed cost month to month. With the latter, however, depending on the rate you pay with Hydro Quebec, you may be paying depending on your consumption for the months. In the winter, with the cost of heating this bill may go up significantly (which is why it’s especially important to make sure your apartment is well-insulated!). Pro-tip: after having been subscribed to Hydro Quebec for one year, you can enroll in the Equal Payments Plan, wherein the invoice will be the same price month to month regardless of consumption. Whether or not you can control the heating is also an important consideration to make.
5. Light and Windows: Light and windows can be an overlooked yet very important factor to consider when looking for an apartment. A not-so-fun fact is that in Montreal, landlords can rent apartments with “bedrooms” listed that do not have a window. Rather, in bedrooms in Montreal without windows are only required a partition that allows for “borrowed light” from another room.
What to look out for on the lease:
1. Repairs: Ensure that the landlord is assuming responsibility for all repairs in explicit terms, and not using coded language to slouch off responsibility. Considerations for repairs should also extend to furniture as well, if the apartment is already furnished, considering that the furniture has likely been used by many tenants before you.
2. Payment: The lease should clearly specify an agreement on the terms and conditions for paying the rent. However, notably in Quebec it is illegal for landlords to require postdated checks and/or charge additional amounts in the form of a security deposit or other charges.
3. Rent: In Quebec, when a lease is signed, it is within your right to ask for a written notice stating the lowest rent paid in the 12 months before the start of the lease, or the rent set by the Tribunal Administratif Logement (TAL). However, this request must be made within 10 days of signing the lease.
4. Subletting: Are you going on exchange for a semester or want to go back home for the summer? Subletting your room or apartment allows for this flexibility without having to pay rent for a place you are not staying in. A lease cannot state that a tenant is not allowed to assign or sublet the unit.
Know and protect your rights:
1. Visiting rights: Have you ever had your landlord or repairman randomly knock on your door? You should know that landlords must give 24 hours notice before entering the apartment – whether that’s inspecting the dwelling, or doing minor repairs. The same rule of 24 hours notice applies to scheduling visits for future prospective tenants, which can only be scheduled between 9 AM and 9 PM.
2. Major repairs or renovations: Generally, major repairs or renovations must respect the tenant’s right to stay in their home – it is illegal for landlords to violate the “right to maintain occupancy.” If major work is being done, landlords must notify the tenant in writing at least 10 days before the work begins. This notice must include: the type of work being done, the date it will begin, an estimate as to how long it will take, and other conditions under which the work will be done. Also, work can also only be completed between 7 AM and 7 PM. Furthermore, tenants may ask to postpone the work and to reduce their rent while work is being done.
3. Heating: In an apartment wherein the heating is controlled by the landlord, the landlord is legally required to maintain an appropriate room temperature regardless of the time of year. There is actually no law nor municipal bylaw that specifies a temperature apartments should be kept at, but it is generally accepted that around 21 degrees celsius is a comfortable temperature. If you find that your landlord is overheating your apartment, you can file an appeal with the TAL.
4. Rent increase: Landlords must notify you of rent increases within 3-6 months before the lease ends for leases of 12 months of more. For leases of less than a year, you must be notified within one or two months of the lease ending. Did you know, you can refuse a rent increase? By notifying your landlord that you refuse a rent increase, they can either accept your refusal, try to enter a friendly negotiation, or contact the TAL to rule on the change of rent.
Finally, it’s always good practice to keep a copy of your lease as well as dated proof of all communications with your landlord.
If you have any concerns or are wanting to appeal any changes your landlord has made, access the Tribunal administratif du logement where you have access to your rights as a tenant and can contact an informations clerk to aid in your applications and documents. You can also find resources with the Syndicat de locataires MTL; they meet biweekly every week on Saturdays at 3 PM, in person and over zoom. You can also consult educaloi.qc.ca, which has a useful guide for navigating housing and property law.