This is a column by our resident real estate expert Rachelle.

I have been renting properties in the GTA since about 1997. Here are my hints and tips for selecting the best tenants.

In our current market, if your place isn’t priced properly or is in bad condition you can look forward to bad tenants or periods of vacancy.

Today internet shopping has reached a new level and before people even come to see your apartment they have already shopped it for price, location and appearance. People used to take the first place they could find and now they’ll see many places before they make that buying decision.

As landlords we are competing for the best renters and with tenancy laws being the way they are, it is absolutely crucial to rent to good tenants. A bad decision will cost you 4 month’s rent or more in Ontario, plus any renovations that might be required after they move out. Even more importantly perhaps, the trauma inflicted by the experience of a deadbeat tenant is enough to scar people for life.

What Characteristics Do I Look For?

The selection process is absolutely crucial to weeding out the bad apples and moving the good apples into your place. From the moment I answer the phone I am evaluating the prospect and you should be too.

In my case I often have to “fit” the tenant to the landlord. There is more to a great tenant than paying the rent, especially in homes shared with the owner. Even with multiple tenants evaluating the customs and lifestyle of the building is essential to the landlord’s peace of mind. Tenants with different lifestyles may clash and then expect the landlord to mediate.

Here is my list of desirable characteristics. People who possess these characteristics make superior renters.

  • Organization: I like the people I select to be organized and be able to follow simple instructions. I tell every person I speak to “you must confirm the appointment by calling one hour before, if you don’t call I don’t go”. Believe it or not some people lack the basic skill of calling and showing up on time.
  • Preparedness: I love applicants who ask what they need to bring with them so they can rent the place. Some people bring a nice, neat package. The target market for the property will set the timeline. A family with children will be shopping several months before the move in date. A single guy looking for a basement bachelor might end up shopping the weekend before their move in date. In any case preparedness is an asset.
  • Financial Management: I want tenants to have financial management skills. If you can’t figure out how to get first and last together, I don’t want you renting any space I’m in charge of and I don’t care about your excuses. Please go be someone else’s problem.
  • Honesty: I want honest people renting from me. I affect a very friendly demeanor with potential tenants. This is deliberate. I don’t like being interrogated and I assume other people don’t either. So instead of telling the tenant all my rules and what I want, I am listening to them, asking leading questions, joking and getting them to reveal their character. If they are liars, what else are they hiding?

A common ploy among bad tenants is to manipulate your feelings and try to make you feel sorry for them. Learn to recognize this as a very serious danger signal. First of all it is inappropriate behavior to start divulging very personal information to your landlord. It’s the first time you’ve met and you know everything including the color of their underwear. Don’t rent to someone you feel sorry for or you’ll be the sorry one.

The Application

I have a very simple application form that I use. When I worked for buildings the application forms were often 2 legal pages long. Most of the information was unverifiable and unnecessary. When I developed my own application I wanted just the meat. I get copies of photo ID and SIN card, present landlord, pay stubs or if direct deposited bank statements to verify deposits from work, a few references, and of course on the bottom of the application I get them to sign for permission to do the credit check. The person you cannot believe is the previous landlord. The worse the tenant is the more they lie as their desperation to get rid of the tenant increases. Don’t judge, this may be you one day.

The Credit Check

The purpose of the credit check for renters is not to check their scores. It does reveal their payment history, which is important, but it also verifies all the information that is written on their application. On the credit check it will say who is their employer, their current address as well as any previous addresses. Pay particular attention to the dates of any moves. Moving every four to six months may mean that person is getting evicted or unstable.

Evaluating the Applicant Overall

Do not under dismiss your sixth sense. This may sound very new age but in fact about 60% of communication is non-verbal and our human instincts have been honed over millennia to keep us safe. I am pragmatic about most things, after years of experience, I don’t ignore my intuition. After I meet a tenant the first time I imagine how it would feel if they moved into the house. This is an easy way to get in touch with your gut.


When in doubt, just don’t rent to a potential problem tenant. Here’s my checklist of bad risks.

  1. Last minute renters
  2. Dysfunctional people
  3. People who won’t do a credit check
  4. People who try to manipulate your emotions
  5. People who smell bad
  6. Liars
  7. People who don’t have first and last month’s rent
  8. People who give you bad vibes
  9. People with implausible stories
  10. People with drug/alcohol issues

Do not under any circumstances tell them the reason why their application is being turned down. You don’t have to and telling them why may get you in trouble. You’d be surprised at what constitutes discrimination these days. So be safe and simply say “I’m sorry you didn’t get the space. Best of luck on your search”.

Safety First

When showing an apartment it’s a good idea to let someone know where you are going and call them as soon as the appointment is done. Three times in my years of showing and renting properties I felt like I was in imminent danger. I am a woman and I show apartments at night in questionable areas all the time. If this ever happens to you, do what I do, leave the space immediately and come back the next day to lock the door. Be safe and keep your wits about you. Just leave. No one is going to steal your empty or your applications. I cannot emphasize this enough.

Final thoughts on Tenant Selection

Do the paperwork and trust your intuition. In every single case where I have rented a property to a wrong person, when I look back, I had a “bad” feeling or a sense that “things didn’t add up”. Beware the miracle tenant, the person who shows up two days before the end of the month, who has perfect income who offers to finish your renovation work and pay above market rent.

Happy renting !!!

About the Author: Rachelle specializes in renting property on behalf of landlords. She also works with investors to find good investments in Toronto and surrounding areas. Her passion is bringing multi res properties back from the brink and maximizing profitability.

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Thanks for the interesting advice. The one part that surprised me is asking for a copy of an applicant’s SIN card. I wouldn’t give my SIN to landlord. As a matter of fact, Service Canada specifically says that people should not provide their SINs to a landlord:

I also don’t think that you can ask for a SIN.

I believe intuition is most valuable in this case.

However, I will verify that references are not worth much – just like a resume. These people will never say anything bad about the person.

I don’t care what the government says. I get a photocopy of the SIN card. I will also accept GST stubs and other government documents that show the SIN number.

First of all this is pretty much the only way to get your credit check. Every credit check I make cost me money even if I have your birth day and address. If your address is not updated in the system I will not get a credit profile on you.

Second a SIN number will make it a lot easier to collect money owed. If you skip out, damage the place, or get evicted I will put this on your credit report.

The government says a lot of crap to landlords without respecting their right to turn a profit. Until the government starts putting their own money behind their idiotic policies my job is to protect landlords. The government also says that I shouldn’t even discriminate against tenants based on their income or ability to pay the rent.

Meanwhile their own low income housing is a nightmare of maintenance. I think they might consider cleaning up their own backyard before telling private landlords what to do. They want the poor to pay cheap rent while living in great places. Well guess what ? Good quality housing costs money to maintain, build and pay for.

And furthermore the statistics on the Landlord & Tenant board prove that most of the case brought before the Board are related to non payment of rent. Does anyone care about the trauma of the landlord having to work two jobs or be foreclosed upon because some one wants a free life ?

I’m sorry you’re not approved. :)

Interesting and useful article.
I am particularly interesting in finding a template for a lease agreement. Do you know where I can find templates or are you willing to share yours?
I used a real estate agent the first time I rented my property. I am now renewing the lease, but I find that the language in the original agreement is not very relevant anymore, but I am worried that I will miss crucial provisions if I revise it too much.

I wonder how many people are like me and wouldn’t give my SIN to a landlord. It may be a good business decision to demand a SIN, but that eliminates potential tenants who refuse. Maybe that doesn’t matter much. After all, I would make a great tenant, but I don’t rent — I own my own place.

The government web site said that tenants shouldn’t give out their SIN, but it didn’t say anything about the legality of the landlord asking for it. Is it illegal to ask for someone’s SIN if you don’t have an approved need for it?

I have to agree with Rachelle’s comments. She is spot on. In the end everyone has to look out for themselves in these situations or get stuck with a tenant that doesn’t pay.

People who are derelict with rent payment use the tenant friendly rules in their favor while a property owner subsidies their housing. More often then not if a tenant doesn’t pay it’s not the first time they are doing this.

Great post Rachael. I have a property manager that does my selection. We’ve had one bad tenant over the years and have learned what not to do. You pretty much hit all the points on the head with financial management being key.

I’m a financial coach outside of the other things that I do, so what I have been doing is working with landlords that have tenants that are constantly late by working with these tenants to get them on a budget. The process works great and in the end we all win. Why should a landlord go rentless for 3 to 4 months, when I can step in for a small fee equal to a fraction of potentially lost income.

This is an utterly fabulous article!

I did quite well as a landlord (six years; unspeakably glad to be done with it) and agree strongly with all the points presented. There are tips I hadn’t known and applied at the time but can absolutely see how they would have made a big difference!

I’ll forward this to friends still in the trenches…

Great post!

I’m a stickler for getting a SIN # also. As Rachelle points out, it’s a must in order to get a credit check on the applicant. It is legal, you do need the applicants approval (authorizing signature), and you should hold onto the signed page for a few years in case anything goes awry.

While I’ve had potential tenants decline giving me their SIN #, many are willing. For me, someone not letting me do a credit check means they don’t get a chance at the rental.

I’ve also had some tenants where instead of giving me their SIN# (although they eventually did anyway) I have asked them to give me a credit report from one of the big two – saves me money, and the report has the SIN# info anyway ;)

One point I would like to add is that landlords MUST be willing to have a unit vacant, and MUST be very selective. Bad tenants grossly outweigh the negatives of losing a few thousand $’s.

Rachell, excellent article! Succint, clear and easy to read. You’ve covered my thoughts exactly, I am immediately forwarding this link on to my other landlord friends.

@Michael J. and Sampson – agreed, I’m never a big fan of giving out my SIN #, for anything. While it might be a good thing to demand as a landlord, I don’t think you need to.

@Rachelle – if you get more SIN #s than declines for it, you must be persuasive. All told, good informative post.

I’d have no problem giving my SIN if it meant checking my credit for the possibility of renting a home I like. I consider it policy and procedure.

@ Financial Cents and others in regards to SIN numbers.

It is actually very rare that people do not give me their SIN numbers. For 99% of places it is part of the process. If you want an apartment in Toronto you pretty much have to be prepared to give it out.

People who do not want me to do a credit check are also on my red flag list.

People also give me postdated checks. I ask for them every time I rent. By law I cannot require it as a prerequisite for the rental but there is no law against asking for it or the SIN number.

“Don’t rent to someone you feel sorry for or you’ll be the sorry one.”

I am 24 and bought my first house lastyear. I rented my ground level suite to someone who gave me a sob story how their wife is taking them to court, and life is hard, need somewhere to live…

I felt very sorry for him.

He turned out to be a drug trafficer, sent people after me to get his money back. Police were involved nightly for about 3 months… Whatever you do, do NOT rent to someone you feel sorry for. I hate to say it, but put whatever compassion bone you have behind you and think about yourself.

@ Rachelle

the article has some great points, but you also come across as very conniving, you push against the law and for that you are also missing out on some great tenants.

As someone who is currently renting, I would not hand you post dated cheques, why you ask? it keeps you on your toes as a landlord..too many landlords are called ‘slumloards’ for a reason. That is one way for a tenant to have a little leverage over a landlord.

I have to believe that there is a reason why the landlord act sways to the defence of the tenant, I think it all comes back to the word ‘slumlord’..not implying that you are one, but I think there are many out there.

Well Morgan,

Speaking of pushing against the law and being conniving…. Tenants may not withhold rents for maintenance issues. EVER. If your landlord doesn’t fix your place file a maintenance claim at the Board.

I’ll make you a deal. One month evictions for people not paying their rent. A database of the people who have been evicted for non payment of rent. And much bigger fines for people renting out substandard housing.

Because about 80% of cases at the Board are not about anything but deadbeats not paying their rent. If you can explain to me how the landlord is supposed to fix the place when people rip them off. You have no idea how huge the losses are. I filed 4 years worth of collections at a 400 unit building and it was over $150,000. That pays for a lot of repairs

Compare that to commercial units. 21 days and the landlord gets to lock your door and keep your stuff. No muss no fuss. Landlords are not charities or social workers. Go steal a steak from a grocery store and you get arrested. Rip off a landlord for months and months and we just have to suck it up. In fact some of these professional renters should be charged with fraud, because that’s what they do.

Very good post Rachelle. I’ve enjoyed all your posts thus far. It is clear that you are a no nonsense individual and while some may take this as pushy and aggressive the reality is you have to be very clear in setting expectations right off the bat if you are to enjoy landlording. I whole heartedly agree with the “6th sense” criteria. I love the “you must call one hour before showing” rule which will save me a lot of time in the future!
Thanks again.

I think maybe my post was slightly misinterpreted?

I’m 100% with Rachelle on the SIN #, credit checks AND post-dated cheques. I will not rent my unit out without all of the above.

Also, there is absolutely nothing illegal about both asking and obtaining someone’s SIN #.

And for all those tenants who think the world is full of ‘slumlords’, remember, there’s probably and equal # of bad tenants out there.

Rachelle, again one hell of a post today. I love to read your RE related posts and am looking forward for the next one. Two thumbs up!


Thank you for a fantastic post. Someone else had asked the question, but I thought I would also ask whether you would be interested in sharing your lease application as a template? The one I use is quite outdated and seemingly full of erroneous information that I’m not sure I need. If you’re willing to share a template, or point us in the direction of some good material, I’m sure many would be appreciative.



Great post. Being a prospective landlord myself, you provided great pointers on tenant selection. Could you elaborate on the tenant credit check process a bit? For example, step us through the credit report purchase process after you have got the potential tenant’s info (SIN, etc.). Thanks,

Yes no problem Dan or TLG or anyone else for that matter or people who just need advice or have problems just click on the Forum link above on this page, register and you can ask me whatever questions you like in the real estate forum. You can also PM and give me your email and you can have a copy of my application and lease as a word doc which you can then customize to your heart’s content.

My name there and elsewhere on the web is berubeland.

Or you can email Frugal Trader and he will send on your email on to me.

Fair warning my forms are simple. I like to keep them easy for the tenant to understand their obligations and actually read them.

I also thought this was a good post, especially as a probably renter a few years from now. Some very good things to think about from both sides.

However, I am in the Michael James camp that I would not hand over my SIN card. At least not in the application process. I would be very willing, however, to provide a recent copy of my credit report with my SIN blacked out.

When I did rent in Canada, I always offered post-dated cheques to my landlord. It just made things so much easier.

I enjoyed your 4 points of superior renters. All make perfect sense… it just seems sad that these are things I would consider to be basic elements of adulthood.

Myke, you make into the organized neat little package group :)


It’s actually a pretty involved process to be able to do credit checks. First you need to call Transunion or Equifax, then you pay an annual fee and a deposit. Then you pay for every credit check. It’s a simple form you just fill out, press submit and the computer checks the database and it spits out your credit report. Before being approved for credit checking people, they check your office and your computer for security issues. You have to have a shredder so that you can shred any confidential documentation.

If you only have to do a few then you can go with a tenant verification service such as TVS or Rentcheck. These companies do get reporting from some landlords about bad tenants (but not all) TVS claims they can do criminal checks but the Privacy Act makes these claims very questionable. Even when using these companies keep your wits about you. Last year I got a credit check which was 2 people combined, one good, one horrible.

Thanks Rachelle. – And I may look you up in a couple years if we end up looking for a place in the GTA. I’ll bring a fresh copy of my report ;-)

And thanks, MDJ, for bringing in a guest poster as garnish to your blog.

I understand where Rachelle is coming from. First and foremost you have to remember that it is a business, like any business you want to reduce your loss provisions. Its the same reason my company turned down billable work where we doubted the clients ability / willingness to pay.

That being said in as much as there are bad tenants, there also are bad landlords. Sadly there is little recourse against a bad landlord other than to grin and bear it for a year or dish your apartment off on some poor sod.

I paid my rent in time and kept my unit clean and quiet.

As a tenant, I have had threaten to go to the tribunal to get repairs to my unit. I discovered my oven didn’t work about a month after moving into the unit. As a single guy I only ever used the stovetop until I decided to invite friends over for a roast then suddenly discovered the oven portion did not work. Written requests, unreturned calls to the building manager. Calls to the building owner nothing. One nasty letter from my lawyer threating a suit over breach of contract – brand new stove.

On my lawyers advice, I found a subletter and dished the sucky landlord off on her and moved into a much better building where I lived for 6 years until I bought my house.

There are definitely benefits to being friends with a lawyer for 30+ years and sharing the same hillbilly tastes in alcohol.


Believe me I know about bad landlords too. In the past most of my work involved working for these characters bringing back their buildings to a profitable state. Since the last time I have resolved never to work for this kind of landlord again. I would much rather work for investors that are willing to buy something that’s unloved and bring it back to life.

Quite frankly being this type of landlord is bad for business. It’s also bad for your good tenants leaving you with a building full of trouble. You are also correct in the assumption that the Landlord & Tenant board really doesn’t deal with these repeat offenders in a proper manner. The abatements given out are really minor $. I’d much rather see larger fines for unhabitable space and slum lords and much faster evictions for non payment. I’d also like to see a brochure out for tenants on how to properly make their claims. Pictures, videos and proof of what they claim rather than anecdotes and personal testimony.

This was a really interesting article. I’m not a landlord or a renter but as a financial planner, I thought I would add the fact that for those of you who are obtaining personal and financial information about your renters (especially if they agree to provide you with the SIN#), you’d better have a pretty good Privacy Policy Statement and Consent document to give that person in exchange, in addition to proper locked storage for the documents that list that information. The SIN number is a key that opens the door to all kinds of fraud and identity theft in Canada. If one of your renters ever has an issue with fraud or identity theft, you can bet that they’ll be telling the police who they gave their information to, and you’ll become part of the investigation. In my industry we have compliance officers that not only ensure that I have this document and provide it to my clients, but also that my records are kept in a secure location. I doubt if there is any type of provincially regulated “landlord compliance officer” or any standard of privacy protection.

Personally, I NEVER give anyone my SIN# unless it is required by law. It’s free for me to obtain my own credit report, which I would be happy to provide to a landlord (with the SIN and any other sensitive info blocked out, of course).

You list some great points here. Nowadays, choosing a tenant has become an almost impossible task especially if you want a trustworthy and reliable tenant. I also wouldn’t like a really loud and party-animal tenant. I’d like to party with them but I certainly wouldn’t like to rent to them.

@ Highlandjen: thanks for that pointer! I’ll keep that in mind.

I’ve been a landlord for more than 10 years in Canada and here are some advice that may prove to be even more useful.

Don’t bother renting to locals. If they are not financially capable of owning a house then you don’t want to deal with them at all, especially if they’re living pay cheque to pay cheque. New immigrants and university students are by far the best tenants, and that’s all I will ever rent to now.

Majority of new immigrants are wealthy and educated, with properties and businesses back home, and they’re just looking for temporary cheap housing here for their occasional use or for their kids. They will have no problem writing up post-dated cheques or even paying you up to a year’s worth of rent in cash at signing. The downside is that they will generally want to deal with people who speak their language.
Well educated students are usually disciplined at managing their finances, or at least they will have rich parents who can easily afford to pay the rent from them.

The simple rule would be to look for tenants who rent because they need a second residence for whatever purposes, and not because they can’t afford to own. Finding tenants in these categories will easily increase cash flow, reduce expenses and time spent dealing with rental issues, and even benefit from their referral of classmates or immigrant friends to reduce vacancy periods. I’ve never had the need to do credit/reference checks…in fact I don’t even know the names to some of my tenants, but I know I always get my rent on time.


I would never buy a stock. People who buy stocks are all stressed out due to buying REITS like Lanesborough REIT and Huntington REIT. They spend all day stuck to their computer screens looking at how much money they lost. :) They will have to take an additional job instead of retiring. I’m sure your advice will be comforting to them as they ask everyone if they would like ketchup with their happy meal.


Your method is probably illegal according to the Human Rights Commission. I’m sure you will adjust your methods now that you are informed and NEVER SPEAK OF THIS AGAIN.

As an aside in my years of doing collections and evictions I don’t recall ever evicting an immigrant. Not even people “visiting” Canada for over 6 months.

Great post and thank you for sharing. I am preparing to start in real estate and this is great information to have.


I may not agree totally with what David said but why do you think his method is illegal / against HRC?

You are not allowed to discriminate based on ethnicity, race, gender, disability, children, age, income, source of income.

For instance you are not allowed to discriminate against the one eyed, one legged, transgender bipolar schizophrenic mother with 5 children on Ontario Works who wants to rent your two bedroom apartment in your professional building even though the rent is $1500 per month and her check is only $1400 per month.

That is a big no-no because she has a human right to housing.

You must consider her application and hold it in equal regard to the single stockbroker who makes $110,000/year and has awesome credit.

Personally I think people who are too selective really pass by a lot of great tenants. I get calls from people who want to rent to a senior female or single male or female. I get people who want absolutely no pets. Problem with this is that if the tenants have a pet they can lie about it and move in anyways. Responsible people take care of their pets very well but will not lie about having a pet. Remember what I said about liars? So the great tenants who happen to have pets are weeded out and the liars are left.

It also come down to statistics. 25% of people smoke, another 30% have pets, 50% are male/female, many applicants will be couples (not sure what the stats are on that) plus they have to have the ability to pay the rent and want to live in your area. So… unless you are prepared to have the unit vacant for a long period of time you have to widen your search as much as possible. Other people want to rent only to their own ethnicity and religious affiliation. My number 1 criteria is the tenants must pay the rent. Almost anything else is forgivable.

Except for the guy who kept flashing the landlord and the other tenant. It is perfectly legal to be naked in your own apartment and if you open your door and people look at you what can you do? True story. I’m probably discriminating against him based on his mental illness which I’m not supposed to do.

Which is why I say you don’t have to give a reason for turning down an application and shouldn’t give a reason.

I have rented in Canada and USA while attending higher education. I have had no problems submitting to credit checks and references, until I met the worst landlord in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He not only unlocks my place and drops in unaccounced (he walked into MY BEDROOM at 6AM to “repair a window” — I’m a young girl studying school here!), he also cashed one of my post-dated cheques one month early, leaving me with a bounced rental cheque of $2,000+ USD. When I left after a year he tried to say I never paid him first & last because I only gave him one cheque (of twice the amount = first & last) at the beginning of my lease; he also tried to say that it was a two-year lease when it was clearly written to be one. Hellish fury, he was a nightmare in a place where I had no family (GTA!!!)
Because of THAT pervy old scheming fart, I never do post-dated cheques now. I have a steady job and am happy to show you my pay stubs. I don’t do cash because one landlady did not write me a receipt for a month. I do personal cheques. Currently still saving for a deposit on a house (so close!)

I’m a tenant in BC and have never been asked for a SIN # . If they share their SIN # with me I might reconsider. I’m also a landlord (with amazing tenants). I do like the other suggestions. The first post by M James has a decent link to check out. Here is one section

When should you not provide your SIN?

In some situations, private-sector organizations may ask you to provide your SIN. Please note that, although this practice is strongly discouraged, it is not illegal.

Here are examples of when you do not have to provide your Social Insurance Number or show your card:

* proving your identity (except for specific government programs)
* completing a job application (before you get the job)
* completing an application to rent a property
* negotiating a lease with a landlord
* completing a credit-card application
* cashing a cheque
* applying for a video-club membership
* completing some banking transactions (mortgage, line of credit, loan)
* completing a medical questionnaire
* renting a car
* subscribing to a long-distance or cellular telephone service
* writing a will
* applying to a university or college

…..mind you most people share so much these days but frankly I am tired of handing out by birth date, my mom’s name and my first born, and on and on – for things I pay for.

Hi, I never handed out and would never hand out my SIN to landlord, ever. Landlords who told me otherwise did not receive my business.

After becoming a landlord, I have been relying on intuition and observations to pick tenants, I am still learning it, and the results so far have been promising.

I’ve been a landlord in Alberta for 25 years. Once I have selected a potential tenant I do credit checks based on SIN, call current employer for employment verification, the current landlord and most importantly the previous landlord. As Rachelle states, the current landlord will say anything to get rid of a tenant but the previous is usually more candid. In addition to Rachelle’s Organization Package, I’d like to add: rent to tenants who apply at the beginning of the month. They have given notice, are prepared to move and know when the choice rentals are available. Deadbeats wait till the last minute hoping you will be desperate enough to take anyone. Be prepared not to rent the place after about middle of the month and suck up the lost rent. But continue to advertise the unit for the following month to get those super organized renters who want a place before they give notice. (30 days in AB)