A common lack of knowledge for students regarding real estate processes can leave them vulnerable. Applications, contracts, leases, joint tenancy, and subletting, all make up the whirlwind of real estate jargon that can leave anyone mystified. House hunting for the first time can be overwhelming, stressful, and confusing. While it is true that most housing situations will come to fruition in a safe, legal, and generally decent manner, there are still several things to be aware of before pursuing your first real ‘home.’ There are a few possible routes students can take when starting the hunt for a new house:
Look for leasing opportunities
This is the most popular option for students, because a lease is temporary and much less expensive than purchasing a house, apartment, or condominium. Generally speaking, a leased apartment has usually been previously occupied by several other tenants, so the structure of the unit has the chance to deteriorate. For this reason, one should be inspecting the quality of the appliances, the heating and cooling systems, the alarm or safety systems, and the general state of the house. If something appears to be worn down or broken, it should be addressed before any rental agreement is signed so that the tenant can ensure it will be fixed at some point during the lease.
It is also important to distinguish between Joint Tenancy and Occupancy. Signing a Joint Tenancy lease means that all those who sign are responsible for the terms of the lease. It includes entering into a legal relationship with the landlord as well as with the roommates. If any member of the lease does not fulfill the obligations on the lease, all members will be held partly responsible. For example, if one roommate pays their portion rent in full but another does not for several consecutive weeks, the landlord could cancel the lease and evict all the tenants.
Purchasing a house
Although this is a much more expensive and permanent option, it can be attractive for students hoping to live in Montreal for an extended period of time. Even if staying Montreal may not be permanent plan, purchasing real estate can be a worthwhile investment—buyers can use it to rent out to students in the future. However, there are still some notable differences that anyone interested in this route should be aware of.
Before putting down an offer on the house, students should be cautious in looking over every aspect of the house. It is important to inquire with the previous owners and the real estate agent about information regarding appliances—their model and make—and when they were purchased.
Moreover, there are a few Quebec-specific considerations to be made when purchasing a house. For example, home buyers are required to pay a “Quebec Welcome Tax” —a fee to the provincial government.
Become the nominal owner of a house owned by parents
If a student’s has parents decided to purchase a house in Quebec, there is the supplementary option for the student actually living there to become a nominal owner of the house. By becoming the nominal owner, the house, apartment, or condo that has been purchased will be legally under the student’s name, even if he or she does not handle the finances.
Below are interviews with students in this situation to provide further insight regarding what being a nominal owner entails.
Kira S. is a U1 Arts student, and has been living in a Quebec apartment for one year.
McGill Tribune: Has your landlod upheld all of his obligations?
KS: He has not upheld all of these [obligations of a landlord]. He neglected to fix our front porch, [which was included in the lease]. He neglected to give us 24 hours notice for maintenance people entering the apartment [as per Quebec law]. These two factors contributed to our apartment being robbed once, and having intruders twice.
MT: Have you ever felt unsafe in your apartment because of the lack of action by your landlord?
KS: Yes, we’ve felt unsafe. For approximately six weeks, I slept [roughly] four hours during the night […] because I was afraid of intruders. We then had a security system installed and more locks put on the doors, so after about seven weeks of living in the apartment, I finally felt safe. We have also had mice and broken appliances, which the landlord has not dealt with in a timely manner.
MT: Where did you turn to for help?
KS: We weren’t initially aware, but once we began to have issues, I started doing some research online, and I called the Régie du logement. [Quebec’s website on residential leasing laws.]
MT: What will you do differently before you sign a lease for your next apartment?
KS: We’ll ask specific questions pertaining to rodents [and] infestation. Asking, “Have there been mice, rats, [or] pests?” directly leaves no room for evasion. We will look to live in an apartment in a building [instead of] in a walk-up; this will hopefully reduce heating costs and reduce the possibility of rodents/pests. Also, the enhanced security of an apartment in a building is attractive. Tip for anyone moving into a new place: Skim all of the available information provided online through the Régie du logement, specifically the tenant-landlord relationship [….] Don’t hesitate to call the Régie du logement or see McGill Student Housing if you are unsure of something.
Freddy L. is the nominal owner of his condominium—financially purchased by his parents—and he is a member of the Management Board of the building he lives in. He is originally from Halifax, Nova Scotia, and has been living in his condo for approximately two years.
MT: Can you give a brief explanation of the way the Management Board works?
Freddy L.: The [Management] Board manages many aspects of the building, including general maintenance and upkeep of the condo as well as minor and major works to the interior and exterior, security, and all related finances. Within the residents, we work to improve communication, transparency, and importantly, a sense of community. Currently, I hold the secretarial position on the Board. This role entails overseeing all works pertaining to maintaining the building, organizing general documents, keeping minutes, acting as [a] signing officer, as well as everyday inspection of the building. I was elected to this position by the members of the condo, which include owners and/or their proxies, along with four other dedicated individuals who work to uphold the integrity of the building.
MT: Are there any rules you agree or disagree with? Why?
FL: The Board is entitled to receive compensation for its members’ work even without the approval of all condo members. In other words, the Board may ask for a fee for its work—with the amount up to the Board’s discretion—without an overall agreement. I disagree with giving such a responsibility solely to the Board as it may easily lead to irresponsible demands. From my experience, the Board is usually comprised of voluntary members who want to work to make the building a better place for its residents, but a monetary incentive may influence the type of people attracted to such positions.
Although this information will give students a foundation for expectations and self-protection, there is still much more to be aware of. To discover more about residential leasing, read the Law of the Régie du Logement (http://www.rdl.gouv.qc.ca/fr/accueil/accueil.asp) and the articles of the civil code (Code du civil du Quebec).