How to find a private rental safely

Oddly enough, I had a special request on reddit to give advice. Look at that. I’m getting requests now – and I wasn’t even soliciting for readers! Sorry for the late reply my dude, but this is for you.

As a single person, I have come to rely on condo or apartment rentals for my accommodation. Buying as a single person is a huge commitment – one that I was never ready to make on my own. Factor in health issues and temp work, and I just never felt comfortable buying my own home. So, after living an absolute hell hole of an apartment building owned by Mainstreet Biz, I opted to go with a private rental and for the most part, it’s worked well.

Experiences will be highly dependent on the home owner. I’ve worked with some great people but I noticed over time – owners lost interest. Things worked out well for the first three or four years, but after that, as the property started aging, the owners sort of “checked out” mentally and didn’t want to put anymore money into the property.

My first private rental in Parkdale, I lived at for SEVEN years. I nearly paid off their mortgage for them. The owners actually wanted to sell the condo to me. But the building had its issues. There were bedbugs on the top floor. The fire alarms seemed to malfunction on a weekly basis which resulted in massive bylaw fines from the fire department. A neighbour had a grease fire which led to standing out in -35 weather. And then there were the neighbours. One woman had a dog that would bark all weekend long . Or she’d stand on her balcony and yell at guys sitting in their cars who came to visit her. Then the guy next to me – grease fire guy – had a party one night with about 20 guys on his balcony. I couldn’t believe it either.

I should have held off on moving a bit longer because the market was terrible. Rent was on the rise and I was struggling to find what I wanted. My main things were – a nice large balcony, a good sized kitchen and something that was clean and well maintained – and safe.

It wasn’t until after about a month of moving into my last building, that I started noticing all the things wrong with the condo. The plumbing crapped out every month which resulted in the landlord coming in to fix the faucets. He could have just replaced them which would have saved him a lot of time. You could tell he fixed the bathtub himself as there were grease stains I couldn’t get out and the caulking looked like a kid had done it. Then came the mice – and you know the rest.

So knowing all that I know now – here are some tips on how to find a good and safe rental through private rentals.

Rentfaster is a great tool

I love this website. I started looking for my current condo in November and kick myself for not moving out then. It took a long time and didn’t find this place until the very last minute – like the month I was supposed to move.

With Rentfaster, you can create a profile, an application and reach out to potential owners. If you find a neighbourhood you like, you can search through the area by clicking on the neighbourhood name. Landlords who use the site, go through a vetted process and have to provide ID. I think they pay for their listings, but I could be wrong about that.

What I did for the last two months, was save the properties I was interested in, and that were in my budget range, and contained at least 3 of 5 things I considered “must have’s.”

Then I narrowed down the list to about five properties that I was really interested in viewing. The next part – was totally dependent on the owner and how they responded to me.

With Rentfaster, you can also create accommodation wanted ads and use filters. I suggest not using too many filters though, and go by the neighbourhoods you are interested. But act quickly — I was amazed at how fast properties were being rented out. One was gone in 24 hours! If a landlord doesn’t get back to you within a couple of days – consider that to be a red flag.

Start off by making a list of must have’s and nice to have’s. Things to consider would be price, location, size, private laundry, amenities and location. Make a list of all the things you want and things you could do without. The more amenities you want – the more you’ll pay in rent or condo fees. As you narrow your search down, you can narrow your list down if you have to.


Must have’s vs nice to have

When it comes to finding the right rental for you, there are a lot of things to consider. Here were my top requirements that I eventually had to narrow down. I desperately tried getting into specific neighbourhoods but rent was out of my budget. In the end, I had to move further south than I wanted to. But now I’m closer to family so that’s a bonus. Here are some things to consider:

  • Price – more often than not, the cost of rent will be the deciding factor in where you choose to live. But do try to find an area that is safe. Because trust me, your sanity is worth more.
  • Location – what’s more important being closer to work, school or your family? Consider how long the daily commute will take you and factor in the costs for gas, car maintenance and parking.
  • Transit – if you don’t drive, look for a rental that is central, close to shopping and has good LRT service or regular bus routes that can take you where you need to go. Use the ETS planner, or google maps to help you with this.
  • Safety – in Edmonton, we have this nifty crime map that tells you the number of crimes that have happened in specific areas. While crime is on the rise here with the pandemic, this helps to tell you which areas are safer. The further north you go for example, or in some pockets in the downdown core – things can get really bad. There’s a lot of gang violence, drugs and break-in’s. Theft of vehicles happen everywhere. Make sure the building looks safe when you’re viewing it too – proper lighting, check to see if it’s well maintained, look for holes or cracks in the walls or near the doors. If you see a lot of chains or extra locks on the mailboxes – run!
  • Bugs and rodents – Mice are rampant in Edmonton. I don’t know why it’s so bad now but my last building was infested by them. We also have a huge problem with bedbugs and cockroaches. Most apartments owned by Mainstreet are just a host for these bugs. And trust me – this is a problem you do not want. Same with mice. Mice are impossible to get rid of. I’ve lost so much furniture! There is an Alberta bug registry.
  • Online reviews – search for the address online and add “reviews” next to the building name. Make sure you are checking the right building address. Next, you’ll want to search the company that maintains the property. If it says Boardwalk, Mainstreet or Braden Equities – or worse – Avenue Living. RUN. I could write an entire book of all the things that happened to me while living on 107th Avenue. I went through a lot of shit man.

Next will come all the extra things like – private laundry, huge balcony, onsite gym, etc, etc. This is just a preliminary list and it gets you thinking about what kind of buildings might be in your price range.


Google your potential landlord

Once you’ve opened a dialogue with a potential landlord, and you get a good “vibe” from them – I suggest hopping onto Google or another trusted search engine and look them up on social media. If you can’t find them on social media (that might be a good thing), then try sites like LinkedIn or just search their name.

I had a ten minute conversation with my current landlord, and we instantly clicked. We had similar needs and wants out of a rental agreement and he is pretty easy going. He used to live in this condo so I knew he took good care of it. He was also willing to make repairs and upgrades as he had a list of things he wanted to do. He had also installed all new light fixtures which wasn’t something I needed – but it made the place look GORGEOUS. I didn’t even mind having to do a couple of small repairs myself.

A quick Google search was all I needed. I found his full name, his place of employment and located his sister – who wound up showing us the condo. She was super nice. And I thought, yes, this is the place for me.

Landlords will be looking you up online and even though Rentfaster does vet their landlords – it’s just a good idea to practice online safety.

Use online intranets or social forums

When I worked in health back in 2008-2010, I found my landlords through the company’s watercooler site – also known as “intranet.” I knew I could trust the landlord because she worked in the same ministry as I did and had easy access to her if I needed anything.

And then I did something I would never do again. I got so sick the morning that I was supposed to view the condo that I sent my boyfriend to go for me. He said, “you’re taking that condo, it’s gorgeous” – and that was that. Whatever he said to her, must have won her over!

My next search took longer as I couldn’t decide where to move to. But I always suggest having a few conversations to get to know the person.


Questions to ask before signing

So, now you’ve found the property of your dreams and the landlord of your dreams, what’s next? Make a list of questions to bring with you when you view the property. I forgot to do this and wound up asking my landlord 20 questions the following day over the phone. A phone call is better as it helps you build that relationship and get to know each other better. Keep it friendly. Professional. And then get things in writing after.

What’s included in the rent?

If you’re renting an apartment, typically condo fees, water, heat and parking are included in the rent. If none of these are included, run far and fast. In most condo buildings, these fees are included in condo fees. Your rent should cover condo fees too. In some cases, you might luck out and find a landlord who will pay for all utilities including internet. But this is rare.

What’s expected of me for maintenance?

Chances are, most buildings will have their own on-site maintenance person to take care of things like shoveling the snow, mowing the lawn or general clean up. My last building didn’t and you could tell. The neighbours all pitched in from time to time but we were like – why are we paying for condo fees if this isn’t included? We had to band together as a group to demand the condo board hire someone for maintenance.

If you are renting a house or townhouse, you may have to look after snow and the lawn yourself. This is really important to discuss before you sign your lease.

What is the length of the agreement?

In most cases, landlords will prefer a yearly or annual agreement. This really saves on paperwork. It’s a pain to have to renew leases every month or every six months. If you love your rental, then why not sign a longer lease?

A friend of mine loved his townhouse so much, he convinced the agency to let him sign a two year lease. That can be risky. But at the same time – it can potentially save you from a rental spike.

Also make sure to review the “clause” for breaking the lease. You will need to know this in case you lose your job, or have to move for unseen circumstances.

What are the terms of the agreement and are they legal?

There are a lot of things to consider when going with private rentals. For example, a landlord cannot enter your property without giving 24 hours (at least) notice. I’ve seen many horror stories online of landlords that do not respect this. Mainstreet was infamous for this – or they wouldn’t lock the door behind them.

  • Can you have visitors or friends stay overnight?
  • Do you need a parking pass?
  • Is there underground parking – is it safe?
  • What is the garbage pick up like?
  • What are the bylaws?
  • When is rent due and how do you prefer to be paid? (Suggest E-transfer – so much better)
  • Are there any other details I need to know? Has the building had any mice or other pest problems?

You can ask to review the condo bylaws before signing the lease to see if it’s a good fit for you. Typically, bylaws include things like noise, pets, keeping your balcony clean of clutter, but this is condo/apartment specific.

Write down all your questions and bring them to your viewing. It helps to bring a friend or relative with you who can ask questions you might forget. I was glad to have my sister with me here.


Move-in Inspection

This is crucial. Don’t sign a lease without doing your diligence. Before moving in, if you can, wander through the apartment. Take as many photos as you can. Make note of any cracks or holes in the walls, stains or paint peeling. Any other damage – make a note of it, take a picture and date stamp it. Sign the form – and send it to your landlord. Get them to sign it as well.

This will really help you when it comes to moving out. This condo was in pretty good shape when I moved in but I noticed a couple of things that needed repairs like the towel rack in the bathroom and shelf in the living room. Luckily, they were minor and I was able to repair them myself.


References

So, you’re ready to move out and into your next home – now what? You’ll need a reference that states you have a good track record with your rent payments. You may also need to provide a credit check. I used the free site Credit Karma which provided a basic overview of my credit history. It showed that I had no outstanding accounts and I was good to go. I also printed out a few paystubs and took a screenshot of my salary and job information which saved my landlord a couple of calls – and time. That’s key. If you can do the work for them – it starts the relationship off on a good note.

Get your references in writing. I knew my last landlords would try to screw me out of a deposit (which they did but I was so done by that point) so I made sure I got the reference in writing. Print it. Save a copy. Place in a folder marked “NEVER DELETE” – then you’ll have it for use later on.

Fifteen years later, and I can still go to my first landlord for a reference. That’s pretty good, wouldn’t you say? I left that place in good condition. It needed cleaning, but nothing was broken or damaged in the time I lived there.


Avoid Scams

There are so many scams online. If something feels off to you – then there likely is a reason for it. Go with your gut instinct. Don’t send money without seeing a property first. If you follow the steps I’ve listed above, you should be good to go. But scammers can and will slip through the cracks.

I had contacted someone on Facebook about a building I had been dying to get into. We had set up a time to view the condo, when I realized I had more questions. She didn’t answer for a few days which was a bad first impression – and then it was, “Oh, I don’t know. I’ll ask the owners.”

So, not only did she not live there – but she didn’t even OWN the property. That earned a block and a “hell no” from me.

Be smart and trust your gut.


I think that’s about it for this question. If you loved this article – then give it a like, and follow my blog for more “how to” tips. If you have anything else you’d like to ask – leave it in the comments below!

Cheers and happy home hunting to you.

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