Housing Basics: What you need to know

Community housing, apartment buildings

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Shelter is one our most basic needs.  As a newcomer, one of your priorities could be to have a home of your own. You may be looking for ways to start this process, but with the amount of information out there, it can be hard to decide where to start. The following is a guide to help you sift through the clutter.  Here are a few things to know before renting or buying a home in Manitoba (if you are still in your home country, read Arranging temporary housing before you arrive):

Know your options

Newcomers to Canada may avail of several types of housing, among them, temporary/transitional, social/subsidized, privately-owned rental, or a privately-owned house. The best first step for you is to get in touch with the settlement organization nearest you to know about your housing options. A great agency to contact is New Journey Housing. They welcome all newcomers and provide assistance regarding all housing concerns. They have free workshops about renting a home in Canada, buying a home, and even money management. They can also link you to decent and affordable housing options.

Transitional and subsidized housing
Transitional housing is offered to immigrant or refugee families who meet eligibility requirements such as income level. One such organization that offers this is the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba (IRCOM). For application details and to know more about their settlement services, go to their website. Manitoba Housing, on the other hand, offers many social or subsidized housing (housing that reduces rental rates based on a person’s income) throughout the province. Just like transitional housing, it has eligibility requirements. You can download their pamphlet: How to apply for Manitoba Housing to learn more. You may have a long wait, however. The demand is high.

As a general rule, your entire monthly housing costs should be less than 30 per cent of your household income before taxes.

Of course, if you have the financial resources, you can always choose to rent, or buy a house. Canada’s national housing agency, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) has many resources on its website to help you become a well-informed renter or buyer. Its helpful videos explain how to be “house smart”. You can read the information in English, French, Spanish, Tagalog, Punjabi, Mandarin/Simplified Chinese, Urdu and Arabic. Download the Homebuyers checklist when you are ready to buy a house. This guide and workbook will help you organize information and simplify things. Meanwhile, New Journey Housing has an easy to read guide called Buying a Home in Manitoba that you can download for your reference.

. . . avoid living in ethnic enclaves. Get out there so that you’ll be able to integrate into Canadian culture faster.

Be clear about what you need

Decide on the budget, size, and location of your home. As a general rule, CMHC suggests that your entire monthly housing cost should be less than 30 per cent of your household income before taxes. Factor in the cost of utilities such as heat, hydro (electricity), and water when you think of this expense.

At this point, you may realize that you will need to be flexible about certain things on your wish list. For instance, it may be hard to find apartments or houses with more than three bedrooms, so you’ll have to compromise. In terms of location, research about the area to find out schools or places of worship nearby, accessibility to transportation, and other services. It is also suggested that you avoid living in ethnic enclaves. Get out there so that you’ll be able to integrate into Canadian culture faster.

There are many places to look for houses or apartments for rent. Websites such as kijiji, rent mb, and renterboard.ca are popular.  You can also use Navut for a more precise search or the Winnipeg Rental Network.  The classifieds section of newspapers, community bulletin boards, online community groups on social media, friends, relatives, and co-workers, are good sources of leads.

Know your rights and responsibilities

As a renter, you are entitled to services and protections as stated in the law (the Residential Tenancies Act, The Life Leases Act, and the Condominiums Act of Manitoba). For instance, landlords cannot refuse your application based on race, religion or sexual preference and they cannot ask you about these details.  They are, however, entitled to ask for references or conduct credit checks.  The Winnipeg Rental Network has a simplified version of the Residential Tenancies Act you may wish to read.  Make sure that the terms and conditions in your lease do not restrict your rights.  Examine your contract carefully. If possible, have a lawyer go over it before you sign.

Moving out

When the time comes for you to transfer or move into a new house, inform your landlord at least one month before the first day of the month (check your lease agreement for stipulations on this). You can do this through a written notice. However, if you need to move before your lease is over, you can assign your apartment, subject to your landlord’s approval. A lease assignment is a legal arrangement between you and another person who agrees to continue your rental agreement in your place. In this arrangement, you waive your rights as a tenant permanently and have no further responsibilities toward the landlord. In Manitoba, you may have heard people use the term “subletting” to mean lease assignment. Subletting is actually a temporary arrangement in which the original tenant can have the right to return and assume tenancy at end of the sublease.

Before moving out, you and your landlord should inspect the house, and sign the final inspection checklist. If it passes your landlord’s inspection, you are entitled to a refund of your damage deposit (plus interest).

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Community Resources

You can download The Newcomer’s Guide to Canadian Housing pamphlet for more details.

If you need help with your rent, read about the Manitoba Rent Assist Program where you may qualify for up to $300 in shelter benefits.

The Residential Tenancies Branch website is the resource to go to if you have problems or issues as a tenant.

Know more about Manitoba Housing Authority’s Housing and Community Development programs through this site.

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Housing Basics: What you need to know

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