Where are you going to live when you study in the Intensive English Language and Culture Program? You have several choices: homestay with a Canadian host family, McGill Residences, private student residences, or your own apartment. All of them have advantages and disadvantages.
Canadian families are all very different, so each student’s homestay will be very different. Many Canadian homes have pets – cats or dogs. Some families have children, some don’t. In many Canadian homes, all the adults have jobs, and people are very busy, so it is possible that no one will be home during the day.
The homestays are not arranged by McGill University. Before you come to Canada, the homestay company will contact you and ask you to complete an online questionnaire so they can match you to the best family for you. This is important for health, so if you have an allergy or special medical conditions, the homestay company needs to know. They will keep your information confidential.
Montreal is a big city, and McGill University is downtown, in the center of the city. Most homestay homes are not near the university. You will have to take a bus or metro to come to school every day, between 20 and 50 minutes, depending on where your home is. Your host family will help show you how to take public transportation to McGill.
Communication is Important
The host family wants to make you feel comfortable. Every family has its own rules and ways of living. They will explain it at the beginning, but it is possible that when you first arrive, you are tired and you may not understand everything. Don’t be shy about asking questions if you don’t understand, and expressing that you like or don’t like something. If you are concerned about something in your homestay, you can also ask your teacher or one of your monitors for advice or an explanation. Sometimes, a homestay host has more than one international student living in the home. This can be a good chance to get to know someone from another country.
Every family has its own rules and ways of living, and Canadians have different personal culture. They will explain everything at the beginning, but it is possible that when you first arrive, you are tired and you may not understand it all. Often, host families have rules about laundry and times you can do things. For example, maybe they will say you can’t take a shower after 10 PM, because it is noisy. Other families don’t care. Just remember, everyone is different, so you experience may be different than the other students on your program.
In general, if you are staying in homestay, you get a private room with a bed and a desk. Normally you have to share a bathroom. You will have internet in your home, but in Canada, many internet services have maximum limits for downloads, so please discuss downloading with the family. Homestay hosts will provide internet, but not a computer or printer – you need your own device. You will be able to use the laundry machines (washer and dryer) to wash your clothes. In Canada, some people hang their clothes to dry, but drying machines are popular.
Most homestay plans are for three meals a day, breakfast, lunch and supper. In the morning, you may have to serve yourself your own breakfast, because sometimes your hosts have to leave the house very early to go to work. You will have a bag lunch every day when you go to school. In Canada, many people have a small lunch at work or school, and often it is cold – maybe just a sandwich and fruit. Supper is usually in the early evening (6 PM or 7 PM) and this is the meal that you will probably eat with your host family.
Remember, if you need help to contact your homestay company about a problem or you have questions, you can ask your teacher or your conversation partner, or the program coordinator.
Image courtesy Paola Samano, McGill University
There are several private student residences near McGill University. They have lots of security, wifi everywhere, and they usually have modern design and special features like gyms, game rooms and even swimming pools in them.
777 rue Robert Bourassa
This large residence used to be a hotel. It is connected Metro stations on the orange line. It is about a 15 minute walk from McGill, and there is also a bus that takes a few minutes. It has single and double rooms. There a common kitchens for residents to use.
420 Sherbrooke West
Campus 1 was also a hotel before. It is only two minutes walk away from McGill. It has single and double rooms and a cafeteria in the building.
3440 Avenue du Parc
Also a former hotel, this is a smaller residence on Parc Avenue, just a few minutes walk from McGill. Single or double, Parc Cité is cheaper than some of the others.
Apartment Rental Ads
Location – classified ads usually start by saying which neighbourhood they are in, or which metro station they are near. They are also listed alphabetically this way. Check the neighbourhoods map for more details.
Size – the ads always mention a size (how many rooms). In Quebec, we use a numbering system with ½ meaning a bathroom.
- 1½ – one room with a bathroom. It will have a kitchenette (small fridge and sink)
- 2½ – like a 1½ but a the room may be double or L-shaped
- 3½ – one bedroom, living room, kitchen and bathroom
- 4½ – two bedrooms (or a double room), living room, kitchen and bathroom
- 5½ – three bedrooms, living room, kitchen and bathroom
- 6½ – add more rooms/bedrooms for each bigger number
In English Canada, they don’t use the ½-numbering system. A 1½ or 2½ is called a Bachelor Apartment, a 3½ is called a 1-bedroom apartment, and 4½ is called a 2-bedroom apartment and so on.
Date – the ad usually says the date the apartment is available. If it is available immediately, it means that the apartment is empty now, and you can move in right away.
Included – usually the ad will mention if the apartment is heated [chauffé] or unheated. This is very important, because if it is heated, the building has a heating system, so your electricity cost will be lower. If it is unheated, it probably has electric heat, and you will have to pay a higher electricity bill for heating in the winter. It is the same thing for air conditioning (AC) Also, hot water [eau chaude]may or may not be included.
The Lease [bail]
A lease is a contract between the tenant [locataire] and the landlord [propriétaire]. The tenant is the person who pays rent, and the landlord is the owner of the building. In Quebec, the lease forms are from the government, so they all look the same. Most leases are for 12 months, but in some buildings where there are many students, they can be for shorter periods of time. Landlords prefer leases that go from July 1st to June 30th, which is why many people say July 1st is “Moving Day”.
The lease will say what the price of the rent is, and it will say what is and isn’t included. Leases may include heating, hot water, electricity, cable TV, parking or other things. Make sure you understand exactly what is included, because some of these extras cost a lot of money. If the lease is in French, and you can’t understand it, you can ask for it in English.
Before you sign your name on the lease, check the Rights of Tenants to know what the landlord can and can’t do legally in Quebec.
Leases are automatically renewed. If you are leaving your apartment at the end of the lease, you must give written notice of “non-renewal” in advance. If it is a 12 month lease, the notice must be at least 3 months before the end.
Washing and Drying Clothes
If you live in an apartment building and you don’t have a washing machine and dryer in your apartment, then there is probably a laundry room [buanderie] in your building. If there is no laundry room in your building, then look for a laundromat [buanderette] in your neighborhood. It is a public laundry where you can wash your clothes.
The machines may be coin-operated, which means you have to put 25¢ or $1 coins in it to make it work. At some laundromats you can pay the store to wash your clothes for you, but it is expensive.
If you live in residences, you probably have to buy a laundry card. You can put more money on the card but you probably need a credit card to do it.
If you live in a homestay, you probably don't have to pay extra, but you should ask the family about when you can do laundry. Ask them to show you how to use their machines.
You need to buy laundry detergent (other kinds of soap will not work properly). Don’t put too much soap, if you do, there will be too much foam (too many bubbles). Some kinds of laundry detergent are labelled HE (high efficiency). This means they are for modern front loading washing machines that don’t use much water.
When you wash your clothes, it is important to separate the white colours from the dark colours. If not, the colour from the darks will change the colour of the white clothes. Also, be careful using hot or warm water, they make colours come out, and can cause your clothes to shrink (become smaller). You can buy soap that works well in cold water. Always read the washing instructions label on your clothes. If you aren’t sure what the symbols mean, look at this picture of a laundry guide.
In Canada, most people use dryers to dry their clothes, especially in winter. In summer, if they have a house with a back yard, they sometimes hang their clothes in the sun to dry them (and to save electricity). Dryers are not good for clothes – they don’t last as long if you use the dryer all the time. And when the dryer is hot, it can shrink clothes too. However, in winter, and if you live in an apartment, you don’t have much choice.
Another thing with dryers is static electricity. The clothes stick together because of the static electricity in them. You can buy dryer sheets to put in with each load to reduced static.
Finally, don’t forget to clean the lint trap on the dryer. There is a screen to catch dust and lint from the clothes, to prevent them from blowing in the air. You have to clean it after each load, because if it blocked, the dryer doesn’t work as well and it can cause a fire.
When you rent, you are a tenant, and in Quebec, tenants have rights that are protected by law. In Quebec, tenants’ and landlords’ rights are protected by a government department called the Tribunal administratif du logement. There are rules about how apartments are rented, and they are usually followed. However, it is important to know your rights, because some landlords try to take advantage of tenants who don’t know.
Obligations of Landlords (things the landlord must do)
- make sure the building is clean and well maintained.
- make sure the building is not too noisy.
- make major repairs quickly.
- don’t make major changes to the apartment.
- use an official Quebec government lease form.
Obligations of Tenants (things the renter must do)
- pay your rent every month.
- take care of the apartment (be careful, keep it clean).
- let the landlord show the apartment if he/she wants to sell the building, or to a new tenant or put a sign in the window.
- tell the landlord if there is a major problem.
- let the landlord in to your apartment to make major repairs .
- don’t change the locks without the landlord’s agreement.
- don’t make noise to disturb other people living in the building.
- don’t make changes to the form of the apartment.
- when you move out, take all your things with you, and leave it the same as it was when you moved in.
The landlord can:
- ask for references, your full name, your previous address, and your date of birth (for a credit check).
- ask for a co-signer if you don’t have a job (this means another person signs the lease with you – for example your friend or family member).
- ask for letters from your old landlord and/or from your bank
- ask for the first month’s rent in advance.
- raise the rent once a year, by a controlled amount (the government limits the percent (%) every year).
The landlord cannot:
- ask for a credit card number, a bank account number, social insurance number, passport or visa number, driver’s license number or any other sensitive personal data. It is illegal. (the landlord can ask to see a document like a passport to confirm your identity and age, but should not copy numbers).
- enter the apartment without giving you 24 hours notice, unless it is an emergency, or he/she is showing it to new tenant (you can still say “no”).
- change the locks without your permission.
- ask for a deposit (damage deposit, key deposit, last month’s rent). These are not legal.
- ask for post-dated cheques (cheques for every month of rent in the future).
- refuse to make the lease in English or French if you ask.
- raise the rent more than once a year, or by a large percent (%).
One of the most important laws in Canada protects everyone from discrimination. Discrimination is when someone treats another person unfairly because they are a different sex, race, religion or other factor. In Quebec, it is illegal to refuse to rent an apartment to someone because of his/her gender, nationality, race, religion, ethnic origin or sexual orientation. Additionally, a landlord cannot refuse to rent to someone because they have children, or because she is pregnant (going to have a baby).
If there are problems, talk to the landlord as soon as possible. If there are repairs to make, and the landlord won’t fix them, take photos, and make notes about the dates and times you asked. Write a letter to the landlord to ask. When there are serious problems, you need to have proof (papers and photos) in case you have to go to the https://www.tal.gouv.qc.ca/.