10/24/2016 11:41 EDT | Updated 10/25/2016 04:45 EDT

A Background Check On Your Landlord Is Easier Said Than Done

Person handing over house keys.
ilkafranz_com via Getty Images
Person handing over house keys.

By Elisa Krovblit

You want an apartment? You can expect the landlord to ask for a long list of personal information: References, proof of employment, credit check, previous landlord -- and the list goes on. Some want a letter from your bank. Some want T4s, some want even more intimate details.

But what do you know about the landlord?

While you don't get to run credit checks and take a look at bank statements, you should always do your research to see who you're getting into business with before you sign the lease.

It might be your home, but it is most certainly a business.

The landlord owns the property and you're entering into a lease, a legally binding contract to occupy that property – in Ontario it's under the Rental Tenancies Act (RTA) -- but every province and territory has their own legislation to govern residential rentals. The weird thing is, although the legislation is quite clear as to the extent of information a landlord can request, there is no legislation requiring the landlord to provide a prospective tenant with information about who they are.

So how, in fact, do you do your due diligence when nobody is obligated to give you any information?

You'd think that in any business transaction it would be in both parties' best interests to vet each other, but the RTA doesn't legislate it. The landlord is under no obligation to give you their name and information until you sign the lease. In fact, by law the RTA stipulates that the landlord has 21 days to provide the new tenant with a signed copy of the lease including name and address. If there is no written lease, the landlord has to at least provide their name and address within the first 21 days of tenancy.

In Ontario, the Landlord Tenant Board provides mediation and court for issues arising between landlords and tenants. Every province and territory has their own governing body. You might think it would be a good idea to do your due diligence and check what past issues have arisen with your potential new landlord by checking if they'd ever had a claim against them or been through a hearing.

Though it sounds like it would makes sense and be a great way to find out some significant info, the hearings are not public record and you're not allowed to access them. It's a privacy issue. They're off limits. Landlords can't find out about tenants and tenants can't find out about landlords.

So how, in fact, do you do your due diligence when nobody is obligated to give you any information?

Larger property management companies and property owners are easier to investigate on your own. A quick Internet search will pull up vast amounts of information. Bad landlords are like repeat offenders: they tend to have numerous complaints involving the same issues. Good landlords seem to get a lot of good PR.

From Facebook pages to rental forums, you'll find the dirt if it exists -- but it will take some digging. Try searching a property's address and/or a company's name with words like: "review," "issues," "eviction," "bedbugs," "complaint" or "maintenance." If you're on site looking at the building, you can even ask other residents for their observations and impressions of management.

In some cities you'll find websites dedicated to outing the city's worst apartment buildings -- try a quick search of [city]'s worst apartments or [city]'s bedbug registry.

Search the address and see if anything comes up.

Smaller landlords and private apartments are much harder to find out. Search the address and see if anything comes up. Ask for an opinion from the current tenant if they happen to be around during the showing -- you can even ask why they're leaving.

With the proliferation of investment condos in the rental market as well as basement suites, inlaw suites, duplexes, triplexes and investment properties, there are a lot of landlords who maintain rental properties as a secondary stream of income and aren't professional landlords.

Finding a review of them online is very unlikely. They may be very attentive, they may be great landlords, or they may not know the RTA very well because it's not their prime focus -- which may impact on the quality of your rental experience.

If an agent is showing you an apartment, you can ask the last time it was rented out. This may give you a hint as to the rate of turnover, but with an agent you don't even get to meet the prospective landlord until lease signing -- if at all.

So how do you do a background check on your landlord? You're not the only one trying to figure out the answer to that one.

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