How to rent an apartment in Toronto
Finding an apartment to rent in Toronto is all about decisions: what neighbourhood to live in, house or condo and price. If you're buying a property you can often leave the heavy lifting up to a real estate agent, and supplement their research with sites like Zoocasa and Homezilla to aid you in your search. It can be more difficult if you're renting - you have to search for gems that fit your specific criteria.
Using online resources to help renters find the perfect property isn't a recent trend - I can remember using ViewIt.ca years ago to find an apartment. But while several of these sites - ViewIt, Kijiji, Craigslist - are well-known, their features are quite basic and they can often be frustrating to navigate. Luckily, there's a crop of Toronto apartment rental sites that are helping connect renters with properties, and using new technology to do it. Here are the ones I like the best.
Toronto-based RentCompass bills itself as Canada's first apartment rental search provider on mobile devices using native applications. The company, active in several Canadian cities, allows renters to search for available places using criteria including number of bedrooms and keywords. Users can see available locations on a dynamic, interactive map on the homepage, and can click on each icon for more details and can even see a Google Street View image.
I like how the site has a resources tab that links to organizations like the Landlord and Tenant Board of Ontario, and tip sheets for landlords and tenants. Looking to rent out your property? Post an unlimited number of listings for free.
RentCompass is the only rental site I've seen with a full suite of free mobile applications. They have iPhone and iPad apps, and recently released the first Canadian apartment rental search application for Android. The mobile apps enhance the user's experience by adding geo location information to the search result using the phone's GPS. It also allows users to exchange information about rental vacancies via social media tools like Facebook or Twitter. Speaking of Twitter, you can connect with the company at @RentCompass.
RentSeeker.ca says the company is the #1 apartment rental search site for Toronto apartment rentals & apartments, condos & homes for rent. Visitors can use the search function to browse available properties in a list or on a map, though its map features aren't as extensive as RentCompass. The site has pages for tenants and landlords, and I like how they have a section devoted to students where they can search for roommates and read relevant articles. Regardless of whether you're looking or have already found a place to rent, the site encourages conversation on its Tenant Forums.
Users can sign up for a free account that provides them with features like the ability to favourite properties. RentSeeker really pushes the ability to share listings with family in friends via social media tools like Twitter and Facebook - the company itself tries to be active in social media as well. They're on Twitter at @RentSeeker, have a few videos on YouTube, and blog about topical issues in Toronto's housing industry.
MyHood.ca doesn't claim to be the #1 rental site, instead it bills itself as Toronto's largest community of renters. It was founded by Jeff Hersh in 2006 - he has a pretty funny bio on the About page that's worth reading. The site has a search engine, but instead of just searching listings it allows users to browse for roommates and property reviews. It also combines listings from NOW Magazine, Craigslist, real estate agents and property managers to create comprehensive listings. For anyone who's had a good or bad experience renting they can write a review - unfortunately you have to sign up for an account to post one.
I think the most useful part of the site is the neighbourhood profiles, something I would have found helpful when I moved to Toronto so I didn't end up living right next to the Eaton Centre. You can choose the area you're interested in learning more about and it provides information like the boundaries, transit access, written profile, and even an embedded audio tour. The site also has a Tips tab that links to articles on topics including avoiding tenants from hell and the amenities that matter.
Okay fine, this isn't a rental site. But unless you've been living under your bed, you've likely heard about the bugs that could be living in it. I strongly advise you to put your desired address into the Bed Bug Registry's search engine - it shows 248 addresses in the city with bed bug reports, and you really don't want one of them to be your new digs.
These aren't the only sites out there - there are a few I didn't mention including TorontoRentals.com, but the ones I did discuss in detail are either using new technology or have a really fleshed out feature set. Have you used any of the sites above? Or do you stick with the tried and true methods (Craigslist, etc)? Let us know.