Finding Rental Housing

From Clicklaw Wikibooks
This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Tenant Resource & Advisory Centre, 2018.

DO: trust your instincts. If a potential landlord asks for illegal personal information, think twice about filling out an application.

DO NOT: sign a tenancy agreement that you do not understand or have not fully read.

Budgeting for rental housing

When searching for rental housing, it is important to calculate how much money you can afford to pay each month. Your basic rent is an obvious expense, but there are still other monthly and one-time expenses to consider.

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Monthly expenses

Here are some examples of monthly expenses that may or may not be included as part of your rent:

  • utilities, such as electricity, heating, and hot water;
  • TV, internet, and phone services;
  • coin-operated laundry;
  • transit pass;
  • parking fee or permit; and
  • tenant insurance.

One-time expenses

Here are some examples of one-time expenses that you may need to pay at the start of your tenancy:

  • security deposit;
  • pet damage deposit;
  • deposits to utility companies;
  • installation / activation fees to utility companies;
  • deposits to telecommunication companies;
  • installation / activation fees to telecommunication companies;
  • moving truck;
  • boxes and supplies to pack your belongings;
  • new appliances, such as a microwave, barbeque, and TV; and
  • new furniture, such as a bed, couch, and dresser.

Identifying rental needs and preferences

Deciding where to apply for rental housing can be overwhelming. To help focus your search, think about your rental needs and preferences. Consider ranking the following factors:

  • distance to work, school, shopping, and friends;
  • access to public transit;
  • size of the unit;
  • type of property;
  • type of neighbourhood;
  • nearby amenities;
  • smoking / non-smoking rules;
  • pet policies;
  • roommate restrictions;
  • accessibility requirements; and
  • safety concerns.

Searching for rental housing

Search popular rental websites such as Craigslist, Kijiji, and Padmapper, but also expand your search beyond the internet. Not all landlords know how to advertise their rental units online, so look out for bulletin board postings at coffee shops, “vacancy” signs outside buildings, and listings in your local newspaper. It can also be wise to get the word out within your network of family, friends, coworkers, teams, and clubs. Even strangers or acquaintances may have a lead on your future home, so consider mentioning your housing search when buying groceries, getting a haircut, or settling your bill at a restaurant.

Application fees

In BC’s competitive rental housing market, some landlords try asking for illegal application fees. According to section 15 of the Residential Tenancy Act, landlords cannot charge a fee for:

  • accepting an application;
  • processing an application;
  • investigating an applicant’s suitability as a tenant; or
  • accepting a person as a tenant.

This practice is illegal even if a landlord ends up returning the fee to rejected applicants, or applying the fee to the security deposit of successful applicants.

Rental scams

Craigslist, Kijiji, and PadMapper have a lot of legitimate rental listings, but you need to be careful of scams. Never send money to someone you have yet to meet, and never pay a deposit before you have viewed the rental unit. If you are suspicious of a potential landlord, trust your instincts.

To avoid rental scams, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is the rent suspiciously low? How much do similar rental units in the neighbourhood cost?
  • Are you being asked to mail your deposit in cash, or send it electronically?
  • Is the person you are contacting not willing to arrange an in-person viewing?
  • Does the person you are contacting seem too eager? Most landlords will ask for references and/or a credit check before committing to a tenant.
  • What do the neighbours say? Depending on the type of housing, you may be able to ask people living nearby about the owner and property.

Newcomers to BC: If you are moving to BC and want to have a home lined up for when you arrive, ask someone you trust to view rental units and meet with potential landlords before accepting any offers. Alternatively, consider staying in a hotel or hostel until you have personally taken the time to find a new home.

Viewing a rental unit

Finding a rental unit in BC can be challenging, as you will most likely be competing against several other applicants for the same housing. When attending a viewing, do your best to stand out from the crowd by making a good first impression, coming prepared with relevant documents, and asking the right questions.

How to make a good first impression

Here are a few tips to consider when viewing a rental unit:

  • arrive on time;
  • dress business-casual;
  • avoid clothing with tears and controversial slogans or logos;
  • minimize strong smells of perfume or cologne;
  • do not smoke or drink alcohol before the viewing;
  • introduce yourself and shake the landlord’s hand;
  • take your shoes off when touring the property (and remember to wear socks);
  • strike up a conversation and try to find some common interests; and
  • thank the landlord for showing you their rental unit and answering your questions.

What to bring

Consider bringing the following to a viewing:

  • cover letter;
  • references;
  • credit check;
  • pet resume;
  • Renting It Right certificate;
  • tape measure and furniture dimensions; and
  • friend or family member.

What to ask

Consider asking the following questions during a viewing:

  • Does the rental unit follow local bylaws? For example, is the rental unit an illegal suite?
  • Does the place include appliances and amenities, or has it been “staged” for the viewing?
  • Are the neighbours generally quiet and respectful?
  • Is the building soundproofed, or is it common to hear noise from other units?
  • Has there been a history of bed bugs, other infestations, or illegal activity?
  • Is there public transit nearby?
  • What are the rules about smoking, pets, roommates, and accessibility?
  • Is there laundry available in-suite, or at least somewhere on the property?
  • Are there designated parking spots for tenants, or is there only street parking?
  • Is storage room available on the property?
  • Are there any fees for parking, storage, or laundry?
  • Is the heat for the unit controlled from within the unit or from within a different unit?

Personal information

Landlords in BC must follow the Personal Information and Protection Act, which outlines the rules for collecting, using, storing, disclosing, and protecting a tenant’s personal information. The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for BC (OIPC) has developed a helpful guidance document that explains these rules in plain language. This Tenant Survival Guide covers only the basics of personal information, so contact the OIPC or view their guidance document at for more information.

Information landlords can always ask

According to the OIPC, landlords can always ask for the following information:

  • name and proof of identity;
  • contact information;
  • name of current and previous landlords;
  • eviction history;
  • addresses of previous residences and how long you lived there;
  • reason(s) for leaving previous residences;
  • pet information;
  • expected length of tenancy;
  • consent for a criminal record check; and
  • number of occupants.

Information landlords can sometimes ask

According to the OIPC, landlords can sometimes ask for the following information:

  • birth date;
  • age of unit occupants;
  • social insurance number (SIN);
  • non-landlord (personal) references;
  • amount of current or previous rent;
  • current employment and salary information;
  • consent for a credit check;
  • bank statements; and
  • federal tax assessments.

Whether or not a landlord can ask for this information will depend on the situation. For example, a landlord may be allowed to ask you for pay stubs, bank statements, income tax assessments or consent for a credit check, but only if you are unable to provide satisfactory references or employment and income verification.

Social Insurance Number (SIN): If a landlord has grounds to ask for a credit check, they will probably ask for your birth date and SIN. To avoid having to provide your SIN, consider obtaining a free credit check on yourself and distributing copies to potential landlords. Contact Equifax or TransUnion for more information.

Information landlords can (almost) never ask

According to the OIPC, landlords can almost never ask for the following information:

  • consent to collect personal information “from other sources”;
  • proof of insurance;
  • driver’s licence number;
  • whether any intended occupants smoke;
  • vehicle information;
  • banking history;
  • marital status;
  • credit card number; and
  • emergency contact info.


According to section 10 of the BC Human Rights Code, a landlord may not refuse to rent to you because of your:

  • race;
  • colour;
  • ancestry;
  • place of origin;
  • religion;
  • marital status;
  • family status;
  • physical or mental disability;
  • sex;
  • sexual orientation;
  • age (if 19 or older); or
  • lawful source of income.

If you think you may have been discriminated against, contact the Human Rights Clinic at 1-855-685-6222.

A closer look

Family status: Landlords can restrict the number of occupants in your rental unit, but they are not allowed to refuse to rent to you because you have children. If you are searching for housing with a boyfriend or girlfriend, a landlord cannot refuse to rent to you because you are unmarried.

Lawful source of income: Landlords are not allowed to discriminate based on your source of income, as long as it is legal. For example, you cannot be refused a tenancy because you receive income from welfare, disability benefits, or student loans.

Age: Section 3 of the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) allows landlords to rent to minors (under age 19). If you are a minor who has entered into a tenancy agreement with a landlord, you have all the same rights and responsibilities as any other tenant protected by the RTA. However, if you are under age 19, landlords are allowed to lawfully discriminate and not rent to you because of your age.


There are a few exceptions to the protected grounds listed in section 10 of the BC Human Rights Code. The laws about discrimination may not apply if:

  • the applicant will be sharing sleeping, bathroom, or cooking facilities with another person;
  • the building is designated for adults age 55 and older; or
  • the unit has the required permits to be designated for people with disabilities.

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada LicenceTenant Survival Guide © TRAC Tenant Resource & Advisory Centre is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada Licence.
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