April 1, 2024

First time renting an apartment: a step-by-step guide

Sometimes, when you start a new job, go to university or feel the need for a change of scenery, you have to find a new place to live. Although it’s not as complex as buying real estate, there are many aspects to consider when renting an apartment, including your needs, budget, apartment search and the move. Before starting, especially if you’re a first-renter, learn more about the steps involved in securing your next apartment with our complete guide.

A couple moving into their new apartment

  1. Identify your needs, wants and priorities
  2. Familiarize yourself with apartment expenses and determine your renting budget
  3. Decide if you need a roommate
  4. Choose the best neighbourhood for you
  5. Know the different types of apartments in Quebec
  6. Consider renting a furnished, semi-furnished or unfurnished apartment
  7. Start your apartment search
  8. Prepare your apartment visit: what to look for and questions to ask
  9. Put together the paperwork for the best rental application
  10. Understand your tenant rights and obligations under the lease
  11. Organize your move step by step
  12. Get a tenant insurance
  13. Understand how lease renewal, lease assignment, and subletting operate
  14. Find the perfect home for you
  15. Apartment Search FAQs

1. Identify your needs, wants and priorities 

Before starting your search, you need to determine your needs, wants and priorities.

  • Size and number of rooms
  • Location and proximity to work or school
  • Access to public transit or parking
  • Access to a backyard or balcony
  • Length of lease
  • Laundry in the apartment or building
  • Renovated or new apartment
  • Pet policy
  • Etc.

Take the time to ask yourself these questions and assess your needs so you can narrow down your search with established criteria.

Tips and tricks
Make a list with separate columns for your essential, optional and ideal criteria. If you’re renting with others, try this exercise together. Having a list during your search will help you make a rational decision that’s in line with your needs instead of falling in love with something that doesn’t meet your needs.

2. Familiarize yourself with apartment expenses and determine your renting budget

Do you know the 30% rule? According to this rule, you shouldn’t spend more than 30% of your income on housing (including rent, electricity, tenant insurance, heating, internet and TV). You can also include prices for appliances, furniture, decor, housekeeping and alarm systems in this rule.

Budget for a first apartment

With rising rent prices, the 30% rule isn’t really realistic anymore, especially if you live alone and pay all the bills. The important thing is to adapt your budget to your specific situation. Also, there are significant variations in apartment prices between cities and even within different neighbourhoods.

Take a look at these apartment expenses (besides rent)to help you make a realistic budget.

First apartment budgeting checklist

 Recurring expenses

 Average cost

 Heating and electricity

 $100 - $200 per month

 Internet, phone and TV 

 $75 - $125per month


 Fees if parking isn’t included

 Tenant insurance

 $20 - $40 per month

 Non-recurring expenses

 Average cost

 Furniture, appliances, other

 Appliances: $250 - $2,000
 * Depending on if appliances are new or used

 Hiring movers

 $100 - $150 per hour


Remember, moving can be costly. However, you could always treat your friends and family to some pizza to get their help! Hiring two movers costs between $100 - $150 per hour. Additional travel charges may apply, especially over large distances (i.e., when moving to another city).

Check out this budget planning tool to help you create a budget for your apartment.

Tips and tricks
When budgeting, browse apartment listings situated in various neighborhoods and cities to get a quick idea of the average rent in the area you desire to live in.

3. Decide if you need a roommate

There are many reasons for living with roommates or alone, and both have pros and cons. If you share an apartment, you’ll save money by dividing expenses.

To make living together easier, you should sit down and agree on parameters before signing the lease:

  • Discuss who’s providing furniture, kitchen and bathroom accessories, etc.
  • Establish rules for guests, meals, noise, etc.
  • Talk about living arrangements and responsibilities, such as household chores and grocery shopping.
  • Figure out how the bills (internet, electricity, etc.) will be divided and how payments will be made. 

Remember that signing a joint-tenancy lease comes with benefits, but also obligations and consequences if someone doesn’t pay. When signing the lease, make sure you understand each clause and what your obligations are if your roommate(s) fails to pay.

Tips and tricks
Make a list with separate columns for your essential, optional and ideal criteria. If you’re renting with others, try this exercise together. Having a list during your search will help you make a rational decision that’s in line with your needs instead of falling in love with something that doesn’t meet your needs.

4. Choose the best neighbourhood for you

One of the most important steps in renting is choosing a neighbourhood you want to live in. Whether it’s a neighbourhood in Montreal or somewhere else, it should meet your needs, wants and priorities.

Elements to consider when choosing your future neighbourhood:

  • Proximity to work or school
  • Access to public transit or parking
  • Neighbourhood characteristics (quiet, urban, lots of activities)
  • Safety
  • Average rent: can you afford it or is it too expensive?
  • Proximity to grocery stores, pharmacies, the gym, restaurants, museums, green spaces, bike paths, etc.

The best way to discover a new neighbourhood and learn about it is to visit it. Walk through or drive around at different times of the day to get a sense of its character, and to see how you feel about it. If you come across any residents, ask them about the neighbourhood. They’re your best resource.

Check out the city or borough website to find out the available services.

5. Know the different types of apartments in Quebec

In Quebec, there are several types of rental housing on the market.

  • Loft: completely open space, often in a former workshop, warehouse or factory 
  • Studio: one-room apartment
  • Bachelor: apartment located in the basement of a house
  • Apartment or unit: space containing several rooms and occupying part of a building
  • Detached house: house not attached to another (single-family home)
  • Townhouse or row house: several semi-detached houses, each connected by a common wall
  • Rooming house: private room of a house for the tenant with access to common areas (kitchen, bathroom)
  • Divided co-ownership: apartment governed by a declaration of co-ownership; the unit belongs to the owner and the common areas are co-owned. Renting a condo comes with advantages, for example, access to amenities (e.g., swimming pool, gym, common room, etc.)
  • Co-op or housing cooperative: collective organization that provides housing for its members
  • Student housing: housing designed for students and managed by educational institutions, usually close to a school or on its campus

Tips and tricks
Depending on the type of rental property you choose, there may be differences in terms of amenities and maintenance. If you choose to rent a house, you may be responsible for maintaining the outdoor space. Be sure to discuss this with your landlord early on to avoid any surprises!

6. Consider renting a furnished, semi-furnished or unfurnished apartment

You can choose to rent an apartment that’s furnished, semi-furnished or unfurnished. Explore the ins and outs of each option to make an informed decision.

  • Furnished: all the tenant needs to do is bring their personal belongings—the apartment is ready to move into and comes equipped with all the necessary furniture and appliances. Some are even fully furnished or turnkey, so they even include commodities like linen, towel, dishes, etc. Although theses options are more expensive than an unfurnished unit, it’s attractive for a short-term rental and sometimes includes electricity and heating.
  • Semi-furnished: the tenant must bring their own furniture and personal belongings. Appliances (oven and refrigerator) are typically included, so this option is ideal if you don’t already own appliances.
  • Unfurnished: the tenant must furnish the entire unit. More expensive at first (if you furnish the whole place), but the furniture belongs to the tenant.

If you are considering a furnished or semi-furnished apartment, it is worth noting that they are more common in large cities than in rural areas.

Is it better to rent a furnished apartment or not? It depends on how long you live there. If you’re between two apartments or about to go globetrotting for a year, the furnished option is ideal because you won’t need to worry about any furniture. If you plan to stay there for much longer, unfurnished is cheaper.

Tips and tricks
Buying used furniture will save you a fortune when furnishing an apartment. Visit resource centers and garage sales, browse classified ads, and ask your friends and family if they have any furniture to give away or sell you for cheap.

Quebec is unique because almost everyone moves on July 1! In fact, most apartments are available from July 1st, so leases typically run from July 1st to June 30th. It’s a good idea to start your search 3 to 6 months beforehand (i.e., from January to March).

But how to find an apartment for rent? To quickly find an apartment, you can browse social media, classified ads and, of course, online listing platform such as Centris.ca. Use the filters to find apartments that match your criteria and needs. Discover important information about properties such as walk score, proximity to shops, transit, and much more! Follow the step-by-step guide using the search tools on Centris.ca.

Did you know that you can work with a broker to find a rental?

  A real estate broker can identify properties that meet your needs and guide you in filling out the Promise to Lease. They can also advise you on regulations regarding certain types of tenancy, such as common areas in divided condominium buildings. Their technical, legal, and professional knowledge is one of the many advantages of working with a broker.

Jessica Lavoie,
Communication and Marketing Director at the Quebec
Professional Association of Real Estate Brokers (QPAREB)

Tips and tricks
Add alerts to stay up to date on the latest apartment listings. To do so,
create an account on Centris.ca today. Be ready to quickly respond to ads. Although the “first come, first served” rule doesn’t apply, landlords are more inclined to rent their property to a prospective tenant with good credit rather than leave it listed for an extended period.

8. Prepare your apartment visit: what to look for and questions to ask

You’ve found the perfect neighbourhood—now you’re ready to visit apartments. Check these items and ask these questions to make an informed decision.

Apartment tour checklist:

  • Water pressure and quality
  • Electricity and heating
  • Doors and windows
  • Soundproofing
  • Smoke detector
  • General cleanliness
  • No mould, holes or pests (mice)
  • Storage capacity
  • Etc.

10 questions to ask the landlord when visiting an apartment:

  1. How much is rent?
  2. What’s included in the rent?
  3. If the apartment is furnished or semi-furnished, what furniture/appliances are included?
  4. Are there one or more parking spaces for tenants? If not, what are the rules for parking on the street?
  5. Who is responsible for maintaining the exterior and common areas? For example, who is responsible for plowing snow, cutting grass, and maintaining hallways and interior stairwells?
  6. Are there common areas for all tenants (access to backyard)?
  7. Are pets allowed? If so, what kinds?
  8. Are there any restrictions on decorating or alterations?
  9. Who are the neighbours?
  10. Is heating and electricity included? If not, how much do they cost per year?

If anything looks broken or the walls are an unattractive colour, ask the landlord if it can be fixed before you move in.

If you’re moving into student housing, find out what the policies are regarding guests and noise. This type of housing may have stricter rules to maintain a study-friendly environment.

Tips and tricks
You can check your heating and electricity costs yourself with this tool from Hydro-Québec: Estimate a home’s electricity costs . This tool makes an annual estimate based on average electricity consumption over the last 12 months.

Watch out for rental frauds

Unfortunately, rental scams happen. How can you tell if an ad is a scam? How can you tell a fake landlord from a real one? To avoid being scammed, watch out for the following:

  • The rent is 25-50% lower than the market
  • Professional photos of a high-end apartment
  • Difficulty contacting the landlord, can’t be reached by phone
  • Generic email or chat replies
  • Landlord is absent or can’t meet you, so you meet a third party who is not an agent or professional
  • Pressure to quickly make a decision
  • Request for payment before signing a lease
  • Incomplete lease

You can avoid this problem by doing some research. Check the apartment’s address on Google Maps and compare it with photos from the listing (window shapes, balcony, entrance, etc.). Check Google Images to see if it’s listed elsewhere with different information. You can also check the property’s assessment roll and verify the owner’s name.

Tips and tricks
ALWAYS visit the actual apartment you are going to rent before signing the lease, not a supposedly neighbouring apartment. If you come across tenants during your visit, try to stop them for a chat. It’s a great way to check that the apartment is truly for rent, and that the person showing the place is who they claim to be.

9. Put together the paperwork for the best rental application

The housing crisis in Montreal is very real and requires a little more work from tenants. To maximize your chances of getting an apartment, have rental documentation on hand to complete your rental file. It’s a good idea to have:

  • Rental references from previous landlords and neighbours
  • Proof of income
  • A valid form of ID
  • A verified credit check
  • A credit report from your financial institution

10. Understand your tenant rights and obligations under the lease

A lease is a rental contract between a landlord and a tenant that defines their respective commitments for renting the unit.

The landlord provides the lease. Since 1996, it must be the standard lease from the Tribunal administratif du logement. The landlord is also responsible for providing a copy to the tenant within 10 days of signing the lease. In the lease agreement, you’ll find the lease term, inclusions and exclusions, whether or not you’re allowed pets, as well as regulations and services.

Maintenance specifications are also to be included in the lease. Snowstorms are common in Quebec, so who is responsible for snow removal? Which parking space is included with the rental? This is important information that should be specified in the lease agreement.

Want to know the lowest rent paid in the last 12 months? You’ll find this information in section G of the lease.

Once the lease is signed, the tenant is obliged to pay the rent on the agreed date, to keep the unit clean, to comply with the building’s code of conduct, and to notify the landlord in the event of damage or a defect. At the end of the lease, the tenant must return the unit to its original condition. Did you sign your lease with a co-signer? In the eyes of the law, a co-signer is another tenant who has the same obligations.

The landlord is responsible for maintaining the unit in a good livable condition, making all necessary repairs and ensuring that it functions properly.

Tips and tricks
Although it’s common, it’s illegal in Quebec to request a security deposit upon or before signing the lease. Landlords already have access to recourses in case of any damage. However, the landlord may request first month’s rent in advance.

11. Organize your move step by step

You found a rental property, you signed a lease, and now it’s time to organize the move.

Moving timeline

Check out our moving tips and timeline to make your move easier:

Six weeks before

  • Order boxes or pick them up from different stores
  • Write down or request the dimensions of your apartment (rooms, doorways) to make sure your furniture will fit
  • Hire movers or ask family and friends to help you move
  • Rent a moving truck

One month before

  • Sort through and give away what you don’t want to take with you
  • Pack and label your boxes
  • Keep track of the number of boxes you have
  • Cancel or transfer services (e.g., internet, heating, phone, etc.)
  • Change your address

Tip: move your valuables yourself to avoid potential damage.

Two weeks before

  • Book time off work
  • Confirm the date and time with your moving company

One week before

  • Pack your clothes and essentials

A few days before

  • Empty the fridge as much as possible
  • Double check when the movers will arrive
  • Ensure parking or street parking is available for the moving truck
  • Double check when you’ll be receiving the keys
  • Double check the number of boxes you have

Did you know that some moving expenses are tax deductible?

Moving day

  • Take possession of the new apartment and inspect it
  • Clean it up

On the same day, go over the moving checklist to make sure everything is in order. Take photos for evidence and contact the landlord (if they’re not the one handing over the keys) to report any damage or defects before you move in.

If you have the budget, the most efficient way to move is to hire a full-service mover. From packing to dismantling furniture to moving and unloading, they take care of every step of the moving process.

Tips and tricks
To get the best rates for your move, you can use companies that offer a referral service for verified movers such as Moving Waldo . They’ll also coordinate your move dates, advise you every step of the way, and simplify the change-of-address process by centralizing all the paperwork via their Address Change Tool.

12. Get a tenant insurance

Although it’s not mandatory in Quebec, tenant insurance is very important. What would happen to your property in the event of a disaster? If you’re responsible for damage to the building, without tenant insurance, you’ll have to pay the bill out of your own pocket.

Although the owner of the building is insured, their insurance does not cover the tenants’ property or civil liability. Paying $15 to $30 a month for insurance might be worth the peace of mind. Choose a higher deductible for a lower monthly price. You can get a tenant insurance from well-known insurance companies or work with an insurance broker, who will shop for you.

Tips and tricks
As with any other service, you need to shop around for tenant insurance. Comparing quotes from three different providers is a great way to save money. You can also consolidate your home and auto insurance for more savings. Insurers typically offer great discounts when you bundle. Remember to reassess your tenant insurance every year to make sure you’re always getting the best deals and the most competitive rates.

13. Understand how lease renewal, lease assignment, and subletting operate

The lease for an apartment is automatically renewed without any action required from the landlord or tenant. However, if the landlord wishes to increase the rent or change any other condition of the lease, they must send a notice to the tenant. Upon receipt of the notice, the tenant has one month to refuse or request a change.

  • For a lease of 12 months or more, the notice must be sent between 3 and 6 months before the end of the lease.
  • For a lease of less than 12 months, the notice must be sent between 1 and 2 months before the end of the lease.

As a tenant, if you wish to terminate your lease and move, you must notify your landlord no later than one month after receiving the lease renewal notice. Otherwise, your lease will be renewed automatically.

  • Leaving the unit before the end of the lease: If you want to break your lease, it’s best to reach an agreement with your landlord. No specific procedure applies, but you can’t just move out; your landlord must agree.
  • Assigning or transferring your lease: You may also assign your lease, including all rights and obligations. In this case, no further obligation binds you to the landlord and you are free to move out.
  • Subleasing or subletting your apartment: If you decide to sublease, the person temporarily becomes the tenant, but you remain responsible for the lease and all its obligations. Something to think about carefully!

If the landlord wishes to terminate your lease to repossess your unit, they may only do so under these four circumstances:

  • To live there themself;
  • To have their parents or children live there;
  • To have a parent or step-family member live there if the landlord is their primary support;
  • To house an ex-spouse (married or civil union) if the landlord is the spouse’s primary support.

Each year around January, the Tribunal administratif du logement sets the applicable percentage for rent increases. This percentage considers increases to the cost of living in the last 12 months. In 2023, the percentage increase in rent was 2.3% for unheated units and 2.8% for heated units. You can consult the Calculation for rent increase tool to assess whether your rent increase is acceptable or not.

Find the perfect home for you
Congratulations! You’ve reached the end of our comprehensive apartment renting guide. Now that you’re equipped with valuable insights and practical tips, you can confidently navigate the rental process and start
searching for property listings. Remember, renting an apartment is an exciting journey, and understanding your rights, responsibilities and options is key to a successful tenancy.

Apartment Search FAQs

Why is finding an apartment so hard?

There are many reasons why it’s increasingly difficult to find an apartment. Quebec’s vacancy rate of 1.7% is evidence of the lack of availability. The vacancy rate in a healthy market is normally from 3% to 4%. The cost of rent is also increasing, and inflation isn’t giving households any respite.

How to budget for a first apartment?

Budgeting for your first apartment involves considering various monthly expenses such as electricity, heating, insurance, phone, online subscriptions and transit. It’s important to anticipate moving costs as well as the cost of buying furniture. Remember to factor all other financial obligations into your budget (loan repayments, savings, groceries, outings, clothes, etc.). 

What’s the age requirement for renting an apartment?

In Quebec, there is no legal minimum age for renting an apartment. Minors can rent apartments without any problems, as they are subject to the same obligations as tenants of legal age. In this case, it is common for landlords to ask for a guarantee, such as adding a parent as a guarantor.

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See also:

Joint tenancy: benefits, obligations and lease

Rent-to-own: an answer to home ownership?

Everything you need to know about lease renewals

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