First Steps in Ontario - Finding your new home
Updated: Mar 20
Welcome everyone to Immigrant Chronicles. Today's post will be about starting your life in Ontario and one of the first steps that you need to take to settle, finding your new home.
Image: Photo of Toronto and CN Tower
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Renting a place in general
Our move to Canada from the US was a multi-step giant planning project that took months to build and days to execute.
Once we were finally here, I thought I was done. How wrong was I? I had this naïve idea that because we were living in the US, it would be easy to move to Canada. Same continent, right? Totally wrong.
I realized that our job was only starting... Settling in a new country (no matter where you come from) is hard (especially more complicated during the pandemic)
It needs a lot of planning, information, resources and help.
I decided to write down the important first steps to settle in Canada, kind of chronological and logical way.
The first and foremost important thing in my opinion is to find a place to live.
Ontario Peel Region & Mississauga
I will be honest with you, before I moved to Canada, what I knew was pretty much only Toronto.
We really hoped to visit Canada before we did the actual move, but well global pandemic... Desperate times call for desperate moves. We moved to a country that we have never visited before...
Renting a place in general
When we moved to Canada, we knew we would be living in Ontario and thought most probably in Toronto (as that was I all knew back then... ) plus my husband's company is located in Toronto.
If you are living in Canada, you would already know that Toronto and Vancouver are one of the most expensive cities in Canada in terms of housing and rental costs. Therefore, we really didn't see the point to live in Toronto really, if Arda won't be commuting to office for the foreseeable future. Due to Covid, everyone is working from home for the foreseeable future therefore, it has been a blessing in disguise. We were able to rent a decent sized place with reasonable rent in our budget, in so called GTA region.
Greater Toronto Area in Ontario (GTA) is the area that encompasses Toronto till Hamilton. This are happens to be the most densely packed area in Canada.
Image: Map of GTA (Source: Wikipedia)
Almost all cities surrounding Toronto have a good reputation and lower cost of living in general. We read great things about Oakville and Burlington as they are good places to rent townhouses or houses and raise kids.
We currently live in Ontario Peel Region, Mississauga (oh, boy I almost never get that spelling right at first try...) and I will tell you the story of how we found our place.
Keep in mind that some of the information that I give might be specific to our area, region or province so please also do your own research if you are living or plan to live in another region or state.
You can see the map above for the region, right next to Toronto.
Image: Google maps Peel region
How did we find a place?
Well, that is a nightmare to remember to be honest.
Differences compared to US
To our surprise the rental market here is very different than NY, as it is kind of very structured the way things go here.
Back there, I had a referral from a colleague for an apartment close to the school and I remember going directly to the realtor office for the credit check and paper work. It was all so easy.
Here, we had to do couple of back and forth with the agents then days long paperwork. Only agents talk to one another and we realized we were not technically allowed to talk to landlord directly until the end.
Also back in US, no one ever asked post-dated checks. Here it is a thing. They ask for one-month security deposit (they hold this until they you leave the place and give back to you.) Here its all about checks and there is no security deposit. You pay the first and last month of rent at once. The last month of the rent is called deposit.
In Ontario region, there are different types of housing let's say: Detached houses, condominiums, apartments and town houses.
First, we set out heart for townhouses as they are two levels and plenty of space...
I mean also, look how cute they look!
First, we were almost set to settle for one, then we realized the actual dimensions sq-feet-wise were too small for what we need... We are not a minimalist family really and toddlers come with all sorts of things - toys, more toys, bikes, strollers..... so we do need some space.
Then, we found another place, which had a very bizarre landlord. She asked about all our immigration documents/passports and how long we were planning to stay in Canada...
I started freaking out a bit because in my gut I felt that its not okay for her to ask for those sensitive info. (Now I know better that it ILLEGAL.) Also she kept asking for post dated checks where we didn't yet have a bank account... She ignored our US landlord's letter that we are good tenants and kept asking for Canadian references. We did provided my husband's work colleagues and his work letter... still she had very hard time to trust us. Ultimately she asked us we were willing to pay three months in advance, which is also illegal too.
I understand she doesn't want to rent it out to strangers or without being sure that we will stay in the place for at least a year and take good care of it, but what she did was very abusive and discriminative behavior in my opinion. And you know it goes the way it starts...
Plus, I learned after a short research that it is illegal for landlords to ask for post dated checks or immigration documents. Tenants can offer to give the rent as checks but it can not be mandated by landlord to rent the place.
Anyway, we knew we could file a human rights complaint but didn't want to file a complaint and go down that rocky rode (even before we set out foot to this country...) and moved on.
Here you can see from The Code (The Human Right Code of Ontario) says what landlords can ask when choosing tenants:
Rental history, credit references and/or credit checks may be requested.
A lack of rental or credit history should not count against you.
A landlord can ask you about your income, but they must also look at any available information on your rental history, credit references and credit rating (such as through Equifax Canada).
Income information can only be considered on its own when no other information is made available, and only to make sure you earn enough to pay the rent.
Unless you are applying for subsidized housing, it is illegal for landlords to apply a rent-to-income ratio such as a 30% cut-off rule (which means only considering people if the rent is less than 30% of their income).
Landlords can only ask you for a “guarantor” (someone who promises to pay your rent if you can’t) to sign the lease if they have the same requirements for all tenants.
Please check from the same site in detail for all your rights and responsibilities as a tenant and what your landlord can ask or not. Keep that in mind, if you are bullied or slightly coerced into something by a landlord that you don't think it's right or fair -- you do not have to stay in that difficult position, you can file a human rights complaint here or here.
Last one was another landlord of a townhouse we were interested in was a sweet older lady asked us to come over a visit to her house (in the middle of a pandemic where lockdown was ordered in Toronto at the time...) so, that didn't go exactly well, too.
After all, our quarantine time 14 days was coming to an end, and we didn't want to rent another Airbnb. We did hoped to finalize the rent during this 14 weeks and straight move to the place.
So we decided to settle for a condominium as there were plenty of them in the market at time. Also we somehow believed this townhouse thing was going very rough (n=3 of problematic behaviors...) and it was not meant to be.
It's worth mentioning that also in townhouses the rent usually did not include any of the utilities, and we were apprehensive that it might add up quickly. We took this as a sign that rather live in a condo with a rent that includes all utilities and save money than live in a townhouse/house for the first year.
Our condominium - Pros and Cons
Like everything in life, our condo has it's pros and cons.
The beautiful parts of our condo, includes the rent, location and our landlord.
In the end, I can say that roughly rent a 1+1 bedroom apartment condo in Toronto is around the same rent for 2+1 bedroom apartment in Mississauga. Our condo rent includes all utilities ( heat, water, electricity, parking, locker and all amenities) which is great. We only pay for the internet and cable and I really appreciate the fact that we do not to have to think about extra utilities when we are budgeting.
Amazing! The condo lies at the heart of Mississauga I can say. More we live here, we better realize the premium location of this condo. (and more things started opening around us after lockdown...) It is at the core of downtown Mississauga, close to Civic Center and very close to a big shopping mall called Square One. We can go to a park or another shopping center, grocery shopping in 10-15 minutes max. I love the location of this condo truly as it gives us the feeling of living in downtown city center.
Image: The view of the Civic Center of Mississauga from our balcony
The best part of our condo - our landlord! She happens to be a very sweet and kind person who is living in Canada for more than 10 years. She has been extremely kind and helpful to us in terms of the maintenance of the apartment (more on that below), told us a lot of information about where to shop, visit etc. I do like her a lot and I believe we were truly meant to meet with her, through this place.
Again, as everything in life this place has it's own issues. Nothing is perfect.
It is Labor time!
I was shocked to see the state of the place on the first day in 3D. We saw the place only through video (renting through quarantine, remember?) and we had no idea about so many little things that were waiting for us.
The refrigerator didn't have lower baskets, the dishwasher and some closet door rails had rust, shower head was leaking, the drain was clogged, so many places there were molds, the balcony net had a big cut and then ants showed up...
I was a bit disappointed to say the least (to be very political) in our realtor agent not to give us a heads up about ANY of this. These are all little things but when you find so many little things missing, broken, damaged and then you have to fix, clean - you get a little annoyed.
Still to this day, we have small things coming up (and we have to bother our sweet landlord here and then...) From my interactions with friends who also live in Canada, the tenant takes care of small repairs usually here and does some handy work like painting! and fixing stuff. Honestly we had no idea this would be the case here as that is not our experience in the US. You live, you learn I guess.
Living in a condo during the pandemic = no amenities
Well, this is not such a big deal but as we are living through the pandemic, renting a condo with all kinds of amenities is kind of silly. The common areas like party room, bowling, playroom, pool etc -- they are all closed therefore, there is really no use of having all these amenities at this time. I do hope at some point they will reopen safely and we can enjoy them and have a real experience of what it feels like to live in this complex.
The fire alarms - almost every week
This has been the case since the beginning and I got a little annoyed about this. Every week almost, we hear a fire alarm at a random time (can be night time or during the day) which really scares my daughter. I don't mind listening to it as it is for couple minutes usually but its quite loud and she totally freaks out and wants us to hold her for the duration of the alarm. I know it is safe to have these alarms very sensitive and it's for the good of us, but try telling that to a toddler waking up from a nap by the fire alarm...
We asked to our management if it is normal for fire alarms to go off (false alarm btw) every week, and they informed us that in a 900 unit condo that is totally normal... Last week, we luckily found the button to tone the alarm down with help of our landlord, so I do hope it will be more bearable for us as long as we stay in this unit.
Start early to look around and know your budget
As I mentioned in the beginning, we thought we will live in Toronto, then we checked Oakville and Burlington and ended up renting in Mississauga.
Keep an open mind.
Start looking early especially if you are renting for the first time. Ask around other people for trusted neighborhoods and stay away from the shady ones. If you have a child who will go to a daycare or public school, the location is every more important. Try to ask a lot of questions in the process and set your budget straight. Are you willing to pay for utilities or you need to make sure they are included in the rent? You can research the average utility cost for the particular region or ask for your landlord. In the end, my advice is that you start early, use your network and researching super powers and stick to your budget.
See the place by your own eyes.
If you are renting from abroad, be ready for surprises. As no one will be as diligent as your are or they simply may not have the same priorities as you, so you might find out surprises! like it happened to us with our agent... The lease is for a year usually so I strongly suggest that go see the place if you can and decided for yourself.
Find your silver lining
If everything doesn't go as you planned, don't beat yourself up. Try to see the bigger picture. Everything has a silver lining in life, like our landlord is an amazing sweet person and I do care about my relationship with her. Also the location is great and we are so close to everywhere by car. So try to see the bright side and be happy in your place.
Last word on the process of renting
Questions to keep in mind and ask to your future landlord or their agent, when you like a place,
What is included in the rent?
Laundry on site / Parking on site?
Do they look for post-dated checks? How you will pay?
Who does the repairs? (Up to 20$ it can belong to the tenant)
Locker or garage included?
How will you communicate with the landlord?
How long is the lease?
Where is the closest public transport?
Also, check this helpful list here for more questions.
In our experience if you want to rent a place, there was a couple back and forth with documents and you need to present some documents to prove your income, credit as well as ID and filling out some forms.
ID document - if you are in Canada apply for Ontario photo card or Driver's license so you don't have to use your passport or PR card as an ID.
Job offer - If you have one, they might ask for it especially if you have not arrived yet or to prove your income.
Credit check - If you have a Canadian credit score you can present it. If not, you can try for US credit score, too.
References (Canadian if possible) - Colleagues, friends or previous landlord as a character reference for you.
Basic personal information - such as your name, your spouse or children's name, basic personal information.
Post dated checks - This is not a must, landlords can not demands this as a prerequisite to rent the place but you can agree with your landlord to provide them for convenience.
Ontario Residential Tenancy Agreement - The Lease document - This has to be filled and signed by both you and your landlord. Make sure you read all the points very well before you sign/initial everything.
No matter where you choose live, you will make that place HOME.
I wish you the best of luck in your renting journey and don't forget to check the full guide to get you started on your life in Ontario from here.