Ukrainian newcomers face challenges as some landlords demand months of advance rent

Galyna Durysvt spent months looking for a rental apartment in the Greater Toronto Area after fleeing the war in Ukraine.

She'd view prospective rentals and put in applications but kept hitting a wall in her search when some landlords asked for up to six months' rent in advance – a practice that's prohibited under provincial rules.

"I was frustrated," Durysvt, 45, said in an interview. "They asked me about rent, for example for six months .... You understand for me, I came without money."

Durysvt, who arrived in Canada with her 15-year-old son in March, said she felt her lack of credit history and the fact that she only recently started a job played a role in the challenges she faced.

"I just apply and apply and nobody chooses me," she said. "I am not looking for free ... I will pay."

Durysvt isn't alone. Resettlement organizations say a number of Ukrainian newcomers in Ontario are unable to find apartments because some landlords are demanding rent deposits of between six months and one year, a practice banned under the Residential Tenancies Act.

Nadia Gereliouk, the executive director of the League of Ukrainian Canadians, said newcomers are put in a vulnerable position as they search for apartments without credit history and often without a job when they arrive.

"Without having these two things, what we get into (is) the issue of landlords practising very questionable practices," she said. "Even when it gets to one year in advance, they are still being picky."

Ukrainian newcomers have been arriving under a special federal program that permits them to work or study in Canada for three years. Advocates say some who cannot find apartments during two-week hotel stays offered to them on arrival have to find temporary lodging, and some even end up in shelters. Gereliouk said a small number have also returned to Ukraine.

Durysvt came to Canada with her two sisters and their children. One of those sisters and her son returned to Ukraine in May after worrying they'd never be able to secure an affordable apartment and keep up with the cost of living, she said. The other was able to find a place to stay since both she and her adult daughter had secured jobs, Durysvt said.

After a long search while staying with her sister, Durysvt said she recently found a one-bedroom apartment for herself – with no demands for a huge deposit – and plans to move into it in January.

Effat Ghassemi, the executive director of the Newcomer Centre of Peel, said for some newcomers, coming up with a deposit for even one month's rent is tough. She said new regulations should be proposed to punish landlords who treat newcomers unfairly.

"The landlords are taking advantage of new arrivals," she said. "Asking for six months and one year is ridiculous. It is just inhuman."

Matt Carter, a spokesperson for Ontario's Ministry of Housing, said landlords cannot require a tenant to pre-pay deposits of more than one month under the Residential Tenancies Act.

"The rent deposit must not be more than one month's rent or the rent for one rental period, whichever is less," he said.

Carter said tenants who have paid more than one month in advance can file a complaint with the Landlord and Tenant Board.

Rémi Larivière, a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, said the federal government is doing everything it can to set up newcomers for success, including providing over $500 million in the 2022 budget to help communities address housing challenges newcomers face.

"We will also continue working with settlement organizations and NGOs across the country to support Ukrainians and their family members before, during and after their arrival in Canada," he said.

More than 112,000 Ukrainians arrived in Canada by land and air between Jan. 1 and Oct. 30, according to the federal government. Canada also received more than 660,000 applications for temporary residency from Ukrainians between March 17 and Oct. 30, and approved over 360,000 of them, the government said.

The Ukrainian newcomers are arriving when the rental market is highly competitive, particularly in the Greater Toronto Area.

The Toronto Regional Real Estate Board said last month that the average rent for a one-bedroom condo soared by more than 20 per cent to $2,481 between the third quarter of this year and the same period last year. It said the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment hit $3,184, a 14.5 per cent jump from the same quarter the year before.

Observers have noted that the first waves of Ukrainians, who fled in the early months of war, were largely welcomed with open arms, with Canadians allowing them to live in their basements and empty rooms, sometimes without asking for rent.

But that has been slowly changing as the war drags on and more Ukrainians arrive, said Ghassemi of the Newcomer Centre of Peel.

"At the beginning it was so nice and neat. Everybody opened the door," she said. "It is getting very difficult right now."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 9, 2022.

Sharif Hassan, The Canadian Press