From January to April, almost every conversation you will overhear at McGill will be about finding a place to live in Montreal. Especially when looking for your first apartment, it often feels like you will never find the right place unless you act fast and start early. While the rest of the city is more flexible when it comes to finding and successfully renting an apartment, getting a place in the McGill Ghetto can feel like a rat race—40 people visiting one place at a time; same-day lease signings; forming quick friendships with current tenants in the hope that they will remember your name when it comes time to give up their lease.
Throughout all of this turmoil, the most effective way of securing your “dream apartment” five minutes from school seems to be paying a finder’s fee, or, as some people call it, a “furniture fee.” This practice, once the exception, seems to have become the rule in the area, and has been getting more outrageous by the year. Often, groups of students end up paying huge sums to other students to “secure” an apartment and beat out the large numbers of other students vying for the same place. But while it may seem like a necessity to fork over thousands of dollars, it’s actually possible and probable that you can find an apartment without paying fellow students.
Finder’s fees are an abuse of tenant’s rights in Quebec, where tenants are legally allowed to control the end date of their lease. Landlords are not allowed to evict people, and this is where finder’s fees come in. Without written confirmation of the end date of a lease, landlords cannot legally rent the apartment to another group. This puts great power into the hands of tenants, and while it is necessary and fair for many, these rights can be taken advantage of, and landlords can’t do much about it.
One justification for both charging and paying finder’s fees is that it’s another version of a security deposit that you will presumably get back at the end of your time in the apartment. If you paid a finder’s fee when you moved in, this might seem fair, but the whole point of a security deposit is to get it back from the person you paid it to in the first place. The next person who takes your apartment has no business in your previous business arrangements, and should not be responsible for whatever fees you paid when you moved in. So if the deposit argument is going to be at all valid, you should get your finder’s fee back from the people who charged you for it.
Obviously, this isn’t how things work. Relying on the idea that you will get the money back when you move out, many decide that paying a finder’s fee is “worth it” for the apartment. This might be valid if the apartments in question were well-kept, nicely furnished, and clean. However, the majority of apartments in the Ghetto have seen better days, as landlords often don’t feel the need to keep them in good condition because students will rent them no matter what. In my mind, paying a huge finder’s fee for a mediocre apartment definitely isn’t “worth it.”
Having spent a long time searching for an acceptable five-bedroom apartment in the Ghetto, I can attest to the fact that it’s hard to find something that’s ideal without compromising on a few things. But one of those compromises shouldn’t be a finder’s fee. If you want to rent an apartment, don’t listen to the justification from current tenants that it’s only “fair” that you pay one; you aren’t responsible for someone else’s decision. And yes, while that may mean giving up your dream apartment—like my roommates and I ultimately decided to do to avoid paying $5,000, a price that appears to be on the lower end of the finder’s fee spectrum—you will be able to find another, perhaps better place to live without handing over hard-earned money to another student who did nothing to deserve it.