“Knock knock!” “Who’s there?” “Noah.” “Noah who?” “This apartment has Noah-ter, no heat and no electricity.”

Some people want to get better at writing. Others want to start their own business.

Us? We want whatever apartment-hunting skills people on TV have.

Seriously – remember Monica and Rachel‘s apartment from Friends? (How could they afford that on a chef and a barista’s budget?)

How about Carly Shay‘s apartment from iCarly? (The only thing prettier is her apartment in the reboot, TBH.)

Freddie Benson jumps onto Carly Shay's bed.

Unfortunately, we don’t know where to find you a pad with three stories and a private elevator. However, we can alert you to some risks that commonly come up when searching for a place of your own.

So, whether you’re hunting for your first home on your own or looking to relocate, here are six apartment hunting red flags to watch out for:

1. The landlord asks you to “wire” money

This is a common sign of a rental scam.

Even if you’ve met the landlord and signed a lease, it’s recommended you use more secure methods of transferring money – such as a certified cheque or direct deposit.

Conversely, according to the United States Federal Trade Commission, wiring money “…is the same as sending cash — once you send it, you have no way to get it back.”

Two people shovel money into an incinerator.

2. The landlord asks inappropriate questions

Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, landlords cannot refuse to rent their property to you on the basis of:

  • Race or skin colour
  • Ancestry or ethnic origin
  • Place of origin
  • Citizenship
  • Faith or religion
  • Sex
  • Gender or gender expression
  • Sexual orientation
  • Age
  • Marital status
  • Family status
  • Disability
  • Receipt of public assistance

If a prospective landlord asks about these things during the application process, it’s a sign to start looking elsewhere.

Bye bye.

3. The landlord asks you to sign a non-standard lease

In Ontario, residential tenancy agreements signed on or after April 30, 2018 – aside from those leasing certain specific types of housingrequire a standard lease form. If the person you’re looking to rent from asks you to sign a non-standard form, it may be a sign they’re not who you should rent from.

Get familiar with the Government of Ontario‘s guide to the standard lease form so you know what to look for in an agreement. The guide is available in 21 languages.

4. The landlord’s additional requirements are unreasonable or unlawful

Eyes narrowing.

Landlords are allowed to add certain additional requirements to their standard lease form that pertain to the specific property at hand. For example, additional terms could specify who is responsible for cleaning the property when you move out or whether you’re allowed to re-paint the walls. However, additional terms may not infringe on your rights and responsibilities as a tenant. Some unacceptable additional terms include:

For a full understanding of the terms your landlord can’t include, check out the section on renter rights and responsibilities in Ontario’s standard lease form.

5. The landlord asks for rent or a deposit before you sign the lease

Or, worse, before they let you even view the property.

Spongebob Squarepants says, "Put the money in the bag."

Often, landlords will try to justify this request by claiming they live far away but that, once you send the money, you’re free to check out the place on your own. While it may be true that the landlord is in a different area, they should always have a connection nearby who can take you on a tour – before you put down a deposit.

6. The property appears poorly maintained

So, let’s say the landlord didn’t ask you to wire them money. They didn’t pose any inappropriate questions, present a non-standard lease, include unlawful lease amendments or ask you to pay them before viewing the place. Everything seems legitimate.

But what if you get there to view the place and it’s littered with out-of-order signs and clearly hasn’t been cleaned?

How well the landlord took care of the property before you moved in can be a sign of how well they’ll take care of it while you live there. Always ask about the timeline to fix broken appliances and be wary of apartments that appear neglected.

A messy room.

When scouting a new place, red flags are like banana peels in Mario Kart: if you can spot ’em, you can avoid ’em.

If you have more questions about your rights as a renter, or if you suspect your landlord is treating you unfairly, get in touch with the Ontario Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) at 1-888-332-3234. Alternatively, visit the LTB’s website for a list of frequently asked questions and their Help for Tenants guide.

And, when all else fails, trust your gut – if something feels off, it probably is.

Score some cash to decorate your new place with IGNITE’s $1000 Summer 2021 contest!

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