The Challenges and Rewards of Renting to Newcomers

Despite being a hot topic in the media these days, the last thing I want to do is start a political discussion about immigration. The fact is, Canada and the USA are both countries built on immigration, and a steady flow of newcomers to our countries means that property managers have been, and will continue to receive rental applications from people who have just arrived from other parts of the world. Wittingly or unwittingly, a large percentage of property managers have policies in place that are automatically stacked against applications from newcomers, and as a result both the landlord and the would-be tenant are missing out on what could be a great opportunity.

In order for any business to scale, systems need to be put into place so that employees of that business can make decisions without having to consult the boss for every little detail. Property management businesses are no exception. The way for a business to work around this is to establish an operations manual which outlines the procedures to follow when employees are faced with decisions. For a leasing department, this means that often tenant applications need to meet the requirements laid out by a checklist. Common checklist items on tenant applications include employment (present and historic), rental history, character references, social security or social insurance number, etc. A quick scan of your average tenant application and it becomes obvious where someone new to the country might have difficulty qualifying on the basis of a common checklist.

“Manvik” moved from India last year with his young wife to start a new life in Canada. When I met him at our three story walk up in downtown Winnipeg I could tell from his demeanor and enthusiastic handshake that he was excited to start his new adventure. He was looking for an apartment and wanted to move in that day. He had already applied that week for a number of downtown apartments that were managed by some of the other property management companies in the city. Manvik told me that he was getting the same response from all of them; because he had no rental history and no employer, he was not qualified to rent from them.

Whenever I encounter someone in Manvik’s situation, I know that they would not qualify as a tenant based on our own standard tenancy agreement. I also know that someone like Manvik could turn out to be a great tenant despite not being able to qualify. That is why I have an addendum to my application that I use for newcomers which includes some of the following items:

Do you have money saved up to cover the 6 to 12 months of rental fees? If so, please provide a bank account statement showing this. Some property managers are hesitant to ask for this, but there is no reason not to. The applicant can refuse if they want, but if they show you their account balance and there is enough to carry them for the foreseeable future that is big plus towards them being a responsible tenant with the means to afford your suite.

What are your plans during the first year of your residency here? What about after that? Provide details. Most newcomers will have a plan. A well articulated plan reflects forward thinking and responsibility. Sometimes newcomers have jobs lined up or are enrolled in language courses and upgrades to their existing education and training. Details about those items contribute to qualifying application based on the addendum.

Do you have friends or relatives already living here? Is there someone you know that would be willing to co-sign a lease for you? A lot of times, the answer to this question will be “no”, or if they do have someone they know, they may not be comfortable asking that person to co-sign. Many new immigrants are eager to prove they can stand on their own two feet in their new country. They want the lease in their own name and they want the utilities in their own name as well. This is understandable.

Answers to the above three questions have been enough for us to make educated decisions around applicant approvals for newcomers. In addition to this information, we make sure to have scans of passports and any other available contact information. If language is a barrier, we have often worked with an interpreter from the local community to help explain lease terms and other expectations. Communication is perhaps the biggest challenge in renting to someone coming from another country. Doing everything possible to avoid miscommunication is going to go a long way in avoiding a negative circumstance. It may come as a surprise, but our numbers indicate that the percentage of our positive experiences renting to newcomers has often been higher than the average.

Manvik moved recently. He and his wife were offered jobs in another city. He understood his lease obligations and since his term was not up he knew he had to sublet his suite. He was very concerned that he do this correctly since we were his only rental references. We helped him out with the process and gave him a good reference since he never missed a payment and took excellent care of his suite. He qualified for the place in his new city based on our reference. Manvik called me about a week after the move thanking me for giving him a chance when no one else did. He said he would never forget it. I told him, “It was our pleasure.”