Housing Searching Tips

Finding and maintaining housing is not an easy task for anyone. The first step is to evaluate your current living situation and decide what you need in order to obtain suitable housing. It is important to recognize the barriers you are currently facing. These may include things like unemployment, education, income level, poor credit, poor rental history, life circumstances, skills, and medical conditions.

Barriers: Income, Employment & Education

What is your current source of income?

  • Employment
  • Ontario Works
  • Ontario Disability Support Program
  • Employment Insurance
  • Other

How much income do you receive on a monthly basis?
In determining how much you can afford, the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Association states that no person should be spending more than 30% of their gross (before tax) income on shelter. This figure includes utilities and basic needs. For example, if you have an income of $1500/month, you should not be spending more than $500 of this each month on living expenses. Unfortunately, the reality is that income levels have not been rising in accordance with rental rates, which leaves many Londoners with no choice but to spend more than the recommended amount on living expenses.

Are you employed?
The best chance of affording suitable accommodations comes with stable employment. Employment is not always an option for everyone, but if you are employable, what steps have you taken to locate a position? If you are currently employed, but are not satisfied with your income, consider upgrading your skills in order to secure a better paying position. Have you utilized the employment help centres in the London area to create a resume and cover letter? These centres also provide job search workshops as well as internet access and current job listings.

Thinking of Upgrading your Skills
When upgrading your education or skill level, it is important to be aware of the availability of positions once you have completed the program, and the salary levels associated with them. Is the market overloaded with employable people who share your same skills? What qualifications are currently required in order to make you stand out amongst your peers? Are there sectors in the community that are in need of qualified employees? For instance, skilled tradespeople are currently in high demand, so much so that the government is offering special grants for those who enter these fields. Have you looked into the Ontario Student Assistance Program to help you pay for upgrades to your education? Have you contacted the financial aid or business office at your institution to gather information regarding grants and bursaries?


Credit and References

Poor Credit/No Credit

When applying for a rental unit, a landlord will perform a credit check in order to confirm your ability to pay the rent required. Knowing your credit rating, what affects it, and how to correct or repair it, is vital.

There are three Credit Bureaus that collect information regarding your payments. These are Equifax, Trans Union Canada, and Northern Credit Bureaus. These bureaus keep a record of all your credit and debt products, such as bank and store issued credit cards, auto loans, student loans, mortgages, etc. What your repayment history is like, and how many times you have applied for various credit or debt products is also recorded. This information is kept for a period of 7 years.

It is important to know what your credit report says about you. You can obtain a free copy of your credit report by sending a request in writing to the credit bureau. It is necessary to request a copy from all three bureaus as they may contain different information. You can also order copies online, however there is a fee attached to these. Credit bureaus will not discuss your credit report over the phone.

Once you have received your reports, you should read them over carefully and verify all the information included. If any incorrect information appears on your reports, you should fill out the dispute form provided by the Bureau and submit it with the correct information. Make sure to follow up by requesting a second copy of your report to verify that the information has been corrected.

If your credit report is correct, but you still have a poor rating, there are a few things you can do. First, make payments on time, and try to make more than the minimum required. Recent late payments reflect more poorly than older late payments. Paying more than the minimum benefits you in a couple of ways. First, it shows potential lenders that you are able to repay your debts, and second, it lowers your debt faster and reduces the amount of interest you will be charged over time. For instance, if you held a credit card that currently has a balance of $5000 owing and the interest rate was 18%, with a minimum monthly payment of 2.5% of the overall balance, you would be required to pay $125.00/month. If you continued to pay only the minimum amount each month it would take you 313 months (over 26 years), and cost you an additional $7115.42 in interest, above the original $5000 you owed.

Other things affecting your credit include how long your credit history is, how many products (this includes credit cards from banks and stores, unpaid bills for services like phone and cable may appear, lines of credit, etc.) you currently have, how many times you have applied for credit/debt products, whether or not you were successful in obtaining them, and your total amount of outstanding debt. Be sure to formally request that old credit products that you no longer require be cancelled and removed from your report with a statement such as cancelled at request of customer. You will need to make this request directly to the company offering the product. Again, be sure to follow up with both the company and the credit bureau.

No credit history can be just as detrimental as poor credit history. This means that lenders or service providers have no information to base your application on. If this is the case, you can begin building your credit by opening a savings account at a bank and making regular deposits. Once you have a demonstrated history of regular deposits, you can ask to meet a bank representative to find out if you would qualify for a credit card. Remember, the credit report also includes the history of your declined applications, so if you do not qualify, find out why and what you need to do to correct the situation before reapplying.

If you are in an immediate rental situation and you have poor or no credit, you may wish to find a cosigner for your application. You may also want to explain your credit situation to the landlord and ask if there are any other references that may be supplied in addition to the credit check, such as a letter from your employer or agency that supplies your income. If you are on assistance, you can request to have your rent paid directly to the landlord each month. This may ease the minds of landlords concerned about credit and rental payment history.

Rental references are also a requirement on most rental applications for accommodations. You are usually required to provide a list of previous landlords and their contact information. With this, the future landlord can verify your payment history as well as your suitability as a tenant. If you have poor or no rental history, you may choose to explain your situation to the landlord. They may accept personal references from teachers, employers, banks, or other professionals.


Locating Housing in London

London has a number of different services geared towards helping people find housing.

The London Housing Registry is a service agency dedicated to linking property owners and tenants in the private market. This agency has compiled a database that is updated monthly, of landlords and property management companies that register with the service. Clients are assisted on a drop-in basis, and given referrals based on the needs of both themselves and the landlords. The Housing Registry also offers alternative housing options such as homesharing. This allows a homeowner to share their home, similar to a roommate situation. A homesharing matching service is provided by the Housing Registry free of charge and is available to all members of the public. More information on homesharing is available in the Alternative Housing section of this site.

The Housing Access Centre is specifically for those who wish to apply for Rent Geared to Income or subsidized housing. They accept and review applications and maintain the waiting list for these units. The wait list is usually 5-7 years, depending on the applicant’s situation.

Local newspapers always carry rental listings in their classified sections. The London Free Press, smaller neighbourhood publications, church bulletins are all excellent sources of information.

Sometimes the best properties are located in what is known as the “hidden market”. The hidden market is made up of private landlords who have a unit for rent in their home or sometimes small apartment complex, and advertise the availability of the unit via a sign in the window or on the lawn. The only way to access the hidden market is on foot. This means going to a neighbourhood you are interested in living in. Keep an eye open for such advertisements and write down the numbers and call the landlord for particulars.


Viewing the Property

Once you have found an advertisement or a building you are interested in seeing, contact the landlord to make an appointment. Use a telephone with good, clear reception in a quiet area. A telephone is available at the London Housing Registry, free of charge for housing related calls. Be ready with a list of questions about the property, such as amount of rent, utilities, pets, laundry, parking, guests, security, etc.

Always make sure you view the property before you sign any rental agreements or leases! This will be your opportunity to make a good first impression with the landlord. Treat meeting the landlord as if it were a job interview. Dress appropriately, be on time, and be friendly and courteous.

While you are touring the building, make a note of the overall cleanliness, the security measures, the lighting in hallways, parking lots, and noise levels. Once inside the rental unit, do not be shy to ask questions about anything you see that may need to be repaired. Make sure you, open all cupboards, drawers, windows, check the appliances, look for fire alarms, and check the water pressure by turning on the shower and flushing the toilet. Look for signs of insects or mice. Make sure to confirm whether utilities are included in the rent or if the tenant pays them separately. If the tenant pays them, ask what the average monthly utility bill costs.

If you are interested in the property, you can ask to fill out a rental application. This application provides the landlord with previous rental references and information to perform a credit check. Make sure your answers are truthful, as they will be verified. If you do not have previous rental references, or they are poor, explain this to the landlord in advance. Ask if you can use personal references. For poor credit, explain the situation beforehand.

The landlord will usually ask for a deposit of the first and last months rent to accompany the application. For properties under the Residential Tenancies Act, any amount above this is illegal. If you do not have enough of a deposit, ask the landlord if they would be willing to work out a payment schedule, perhaps where you pay a little more each month to go towards the last month’s rent. Some landlords may be willing to negotiate this.

Note: Some applications may ask you to provide a Social Insurance Number. You do not have to supply this information.

Some examples of properties not covered under the RTA include homesharing, co-operative or non-profit housing, shelters and residences for students.


The Lease

The lease or rental agreement is a contract between the landlord and the tenant renting the property. It outlines the rules and regulations, as well as the responsibilities of both the landlord and the tenant.

Leases are usually for a period of one year; however, they can be longer or shorter than this. Not all lease agreements are the same. Make sure that you read it carefully and understand it fully before you sign it. Ask questions about anything that is unclear, since once you have signed it, you are legally bound to the contract.

If English is not your first language, or there is anything that is unclear and you do not feel comfortable talking to the landlord about it, ask to take the lease away with you and return it signed the following day, once you are clear on the terms outlined in the agreement.

Remember: If there are any conditions in the lease that contradict the Residential Tenancies Act, the RTA provisions override what is stated in the lease, regardless of whether or not you have signed the lease.

It is also important to note that even if you have not signed a lease, you still technically have a verbal contract with the landlord once you have occupied the unit. This means you must still abide by the guidelines in the Residential Tenancies Act regarding terminating your lease and giving notice, along with all other responsibilities outlined. This also means that you are also still protected under the RTA, and that the landlord must also follow the guidelines laid out in the legislation.


Moving Companies and Storage

Paying a company to move you can be very costly. Most moving companies in the London area charge in the range of $80-115/hr, for two men and a truck, with the average move for a two-bedroom unit estimated to take 3 hours. This works out to between $240-$345.


Hook Up Fees

Fees to hook up utilities and other services can be quite costly. If utilities are not included in your rent, you will have to contact these companies on your own to arrange for installation. London Hydro charges a deposit of $180 if you do not have a proven payment history with them, or if your payment history is poor. If you have electric heating in your unit, the deposit increases to $280. If you will also be paying for the water, there is an additional deposit charge of $100.

Union Gas charges a fee of $35 plus tax to set up a new account. If you have not been a customer of Union Gas in the past, or you have a less than excellent payment history with them, you will also be billed a security deposit of $250.

Bell Canada charges $55 for phone installation. You would also be charged hook up fees for cable and you may be responsible for the rental charges on a hot water heater.

If you are an Ontario Works recipient, then contact your worker for more information about your utilities.


Alternative Housing

If you are finding it difficult to locate affordable housing, finding a roommate can be an economical solution. You can place an ad in the paper, put up signs, or just put the word out to friends and family. Make sure living rules are outlined before you move in to avoid future conflicts. Also, ensure that all roommates are listed on the lease before moving in together.

Home Sharing
Homesharing is a way of matching people with similar housing needs. Home owners/renters with an extra room are matched with people who want to rent a part of a home at an affordable price. In some cases, the renter may be able to complete some additional chores, such as lawn maintenance or snow removal, in exchange for lower rent. This matching service is offered through the London Housing Registry.
*Note: Homesharing situations are not protected under Residential Tenancies Act.


Rights and Responsibilities of Tenants and Landlords

Landlords have a responsibility to, make all repairs necessary in a timely manner, keep the building safe and secure for tenants, respect a tenant’s privacy, and be respectful to other tenants.

Tenants have a responsibility to, keep the unit clean and in good condition, follow rules outlined in the lease, be respectful of the landlord and other tenants, and pay the rent on time and in full each month.

If you do not pay on time, and in full, the landlord can begin eviction procedures through the Landlord and Tenant Board for “non-payment of rent”. When paying your rent, always ensure that you receive a receipt. The landlord is required to provide you with receipts if you ask for them. Try not to pay in cash, as this leaves no paper trail. Receipts are necessary in case your payment is ever questioned, as well as for future rental situations.

Never withhold rent. Regardless of the situation, even if major repairs have not been completed, you are required to continue paying rent, otherwise you may be evicted. If you have major repairs or disputes with the landlord, be sure to follow the proper channels to have them resolved, such as calling the provincial Investigation and Enforcement Unit at 1-888-772-9277, Health Unit, the City of London Property Standards Department, Landlord and Tenant Board, or Community Legal Services.

If you are renting a house, or similar property, make sure it is outlined clearly who is responsible for things like lawn maintenance and snow removal. If there are external buildings such as a garage or shed, discuss with the landlord the use of these buildings before moving in. The Residential Tenancies Act does not outline any specific rules for cases such as these. Make sure that whatever arrangements you have made with the property owner, they are in writing.