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7 Things Every First-Time Renter Needs to Know

How to get the right information from your first walkthrough and more.
By Justin Kerby Jul 24, 2020

Renting for the first time is a big moment, but it can quickly become overwhelming without proper planning. You’ll notice the questions begin to pile up without warning. What’s your budget? Are you looking for an apartment or a basement suite? What kind of neighbourhood matches your lifestyle? What questions should you ask your landlord before you sign a lease?

While those big questions are important, here are a few more things first-time renters need to think about when looking for a new home.

 

1. Which insurance coverage is right for you

Many landlords require tenant insurance, but it’s highly recommended you get it either way. Tenant insurance policies vary in cost and coverage, so it’s essential to understand what you need (or want) covered and what you’re willing to pay. 

Basic policies usually protect your personal property and the building itself. For example, if you cause flooding that also damages the building, both the building and your belongings will be covered by the policy. They also usually cover displacement costs – so if you need to temporarily move after a flood, you’ll get some funds from the insurance company. 

When budgeting for monthly insurance fees, you’ll need to consider the deductible: this is the amount you have to pay out of pocket before your coverage kicks in. A higher deductible usually means a lower monthly fee. However, it also means you’ll be on the hook for a larger lump-sum should you need to make a claim. 

There are also some add-ons you may want to consider adding to your policy, such as earthquake, at-home business, or pet coverage, depending on where you live and if any pets live with you. Keep in mind, each of these will increase your monthly premium.

To ensure both the cost and coverage are right for you, you should chat with a local insurance broker and get quotes from a few different companies.
 

2. The difference between living in a wood-frame versus a concrete building

You won’t want to learn this one the hard way. 

There are a few critical differences between wood-frame and concrete buildings. First and foremost: noise. Noise carries quite far through wood-frame buildings that aren’t well insulated. If you tend to crank your music up, know that your neighbours will likely hear it all (and some may not enjoy it). If you’re a light sleeper, hearing your neighbour’s footsteps at all hours might result in some restless nights. If either of these sounds like you, consider renting in a concrete building. 

Noise issues aside, wood buildings are often (but not always) older, which means they could be more affordable while also having bigger units. Depending on your budget, lifestyle, and what you want out of your living space, don’t completely rule wood-frame buildings out.  

 

3. The pros and cons of living on different floors

If you live anywhere other than the top floor, you will likely regularly hear your upstairs neighbours. But does that mean everyone should be fighting over the top floor? Not necessarily.

Consider mobility: does the property have an elevator, or will you be up and down the stairs all day? And how many flights are you comfortable carrying your groceries up each week?

Then, think about how your building is heated or cooled (more on that next). Hot air rises, which can mean the top floors are warmer than the bottom floors. This could be a pro in the winter, but a con in the summer. 

As with the wood-frame versus concrete debate, there’s no one right answer here. But as you view rental properties, consider what day-to-day life will be like after you move in.

 

4. What different heating systems mean for your utility bills

If you’ve never been a homeowner or renter, you might not realize how important it is to understand your new heating system. Always ask if the unit has control over the temperature. If it doesn’t, that can mean there’s a central heating system that the landlord manages and turns off and on seasonally. While this could make an early-season cold-snap a not-so-fun experience, it might also mean those heating costs are included in your rent, instead of an added expense. You should clarify this with your landlord.

The summer months are a different story. Landlords aren’t usually required to provide cooling units. If you find the summer heat unbearable, consider investing in a portable air conditioner. If you’re budget-conscious, look for rental units with ceiling fans. 

 

5. You (usually) have to set up utility accounts yourself

As a new tenant, you need to contact each utility service provider individually and set up an account and bill payment. Some are mandatory (depending on where you live), such as electricity, natural gas, water/sewer/trash, and recycling. Others are optional, such as cable and internet. If you don’t take this step, your utilities could quickly get shut off. The exception is with basement suites or other shared spaces where you pay a portion of an already-existing bill, which should be laid out in your lease.

 

6. The initial walk-through and inspection are very important

On move-in day, it’s standard practice for you and your landlord to walk through the unit together, noting the condition of various aspects of the rental unit. This includes floors, walls, appliances, blinds, etc. Tenants need to be thorough in these inspections. If you aren’t, you could be held responsible for damage you didn’t cause. 

If your landlord doesn’t do an inspection with you, you should do it yourself. Take photos of anything that could be considered damaged and email it to them right away. This gives you an electronic trail that could help make your eventual move out easier. 

 

7. Your rights as a tenant 

Tenants and landlords have specific rights that are meant to create a safe and comfortable living arrangement. While the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation list some commonalities, these rights vary by province. Do a quick web search for your province’s tenant rights before signing your first lease – the official government websites are usually the most accurate. 

While there are many details to think about as you become a renter, the best advice is to ask a lot of questions before signing the lease, communicate regularly with the landlord once you’re in, and make yourself a comfortable home. Happy rental hunting!

Justin Kerby
Justin Kerby is the founder of Something Great, a digital marketing agency that specializes in real estate branding and content creation. They help companies create social media strategies, newsletters, blog content plans, and advertising campaigns.
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