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The ultimate guide to temporary housing

By Nathan Guss|22 min|September 2021

Do you need temporary housing? Here’s everything you should know about medium- and short-term rentals in Canada.

There are many reasons to seek a short- or medium-term rental: travel, moving or a home disaster. If you’re in one of these situations, you’ll need to know what the options are until you find more permanent housing.

This guide will answer your question about temporary rentals. It explains what they are, how to choose the right one, where to find it and how to avoid unpleasant surprises.

What is temporary housing?

Temporary housing is a place to live while you’re on a trip or in a transition period. You stay there from a few days to several months. Such arrangements can last up to two years. There are two types of temporary housing:

  • Short term: stays lasting from just a few days to up to several weeks
  • Medium term: stays lasting from a month to 2 years

You don’t know how long you’ll need your temporary home? No problem! Some types of housing have a flexible departure date.

You can also rent a temporary accommodation without signing a lease. All that’s required is to provide payment information (e.g., credit card number), your address, and in certain cases, a deposit. There’s no need to move your furniture: temporary rentals are furnished. Many come with a fully equipped kitchen, a washer and dryer, and cleaning supplies.

All that’s left for you to do is unpack your suitcases!

Who is temporary housing for?

Temporary housing is for people who need to quickly find housing for a short or unknown period.

Here’s who most often needs this type of accommodation:

1. Tourists

Naturally, tourists often need temporary accommodation when they are away from home. They have many options: hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts, cottages, youth hostels and so on.

Usually travellers only stay in their temporary housing for a few days or weeks. Many would rather eat in restaurants and don’t need an equipped kitchen. Just a bedroom and bathroom can work quite well for them.

That said, the number of fully equipped tourist accommodations is on the rise due to a few popular home-sharing platforms that enable homeowners to rent to tourists. The type of housing provided on these sites has many advantages:

  • Large families can rent multiple bedrooms
  • A kitchen to prepare meals
  • A washer and dryer
  • More space

Despite all these pluses, home-sharing has been the subject of much controversy. Critics have pointed to the negative impacts of these accommodations on the community—noise, damages, littering, skyrocketing rental rates and home prices, and higher crime rates.

For all these reasons, many cities, towns and some provinces across Canada have started regulating short-term rentals. Before you rent, be sure that the unit is fully compliant.

2. Newcomers

Newcomers can be someone who moves to a new town or an immigrant. In either case, they often don’t have housing lined up before they arrive in their new hometown. While looking for long-term housing, they often stay in temporary accommodations. This gives them time to settle in and get to know their way around. They can then choose a permanent home when they are familiar with different neighbourhoods and know where key services are.

3. Foreign students

More than 600,000 foreign students live in Canada. That’s more than twice the number who were here in 2010!

Even if they can be considered a type of newcomer, foreign students come with specific needs. For example, many will never apply for permanent residence, which means they don’t need long-term accommodation. For practical reasons, students often live on campus or near their university. Since they often come alone, many choose to share an apartment with roommates or live in a dorm room. This gives them the chance to save money and socialize.

Foreign students generally stay in their temporary housing for just few months or years. Moreover, many return to their home country during summer breaks. In this case, they often sublet their unit or end their lease and find another place to live for the next school year.

4. People displaced from their homes

Fires, water damage, vandalism, natural disasters, mould, pest infestations—when disaster strikes, it can be dangerous or impractical to stay in your home. Displaced individuals and families must relocate to temporary housing and stay there until their home is ready.

Anyone who has been involved in a construction project is aware of how unpredictable the time frame for completion can be. Displaced families often need to extend their stays. That’s why insurers do business with companies that specialize in relocation. This gives them the flexibility to change departure dates as needed.

5. Workers

Whether they’re on a business trip, attending a training or hired for a short-term contract, many workers need to spend time away from home. During their business travels, they need temporary accommodation.

For short stays, a hotel or motel room does the trick. But for longer periods, fully equipped accommodations are practical and economical. Such housing allows them to cook for themselves and wash their clothes. They also enjoy more storage and living space. Sometimes they can even live there with their families.

6. Young Adults

Many young adults, whether they’re students or already workers, need temporary housing during this transitional life stage. The vast majority are on a limited budget and not yet ready to sign a long-term lease or buy a property.

Some young people are trying to save so they can purchase their own housing. Others need low-cost accommodations during their studies. Either way, it’s a time when they need to make do with less until they find stable employment.

In these circumstances, temporary housing is an appealing, advantageous option. There’s no need to buy furniture or costly appliances: the accommodations are already fully equipped and furnished. And there’s no need to commit to a long-term lease.

7. People in transitional life stages

After a separation, divorce or other life hardship, people often need time to bounce back. They may also need to find new housing quickly. During these periods, they rent a temporary home before finding a permanent solution. This gives them flexibility and peace of mind while finding a way forward.

Temporary housing allows them to go through that process at their own pace and stay within their budget. They don’t have to make any major expenditures to furnish their temporary home, which already has all the necessary furniture and appliances. In fact, in some cases, such housing is fully equipped and furnished.

Choosing the right kind of temporary housing

There is no lack of options for short- and long-term housing. Here’s an overview with each type of temporary housing.

1. Hotels

Hotels have long hosted tourists and business travellers. But lately, they have serious competition from other types of tourist accommodations. Are hotels still a worthwhile option?

Yes, if you plan on staying there for just a few days or weeks or have an ample budget.

Pros

Hotels are often in strategic locations near or in downtowns, airports or industrial parks. Many have useful, enjoyable amenities, such as room service, housekeeping, pools, gyms and so on.

Cons

Hotels generally have nightly rates and cost much more than other types of accommodations. That said, you may be able to negotiate a weekly rate. Not having a kitchen also means that you need to spend money in restaurants, which is much more expensive that cooking for yourself. If you’re on a tight budget, look elsewhere.

2. Motels

The word “motel” comes from combining the words “motor” and “hotel.” That tells you a lot about them. Motels are found near major highways or traffic arteries and have parking spots directly in front of the rooms. The classic motel room has cable TV and a bathroom.

Pros

Motels usually are cheaper than hotels. The atmosphere is more laid back. They’re ideal for motorists who want budget-friendly overnight accommodations conveniently located along their route.

Cons

Motels generally offer fewer services and amenities than hotels. They are often located outside downtown areas, which can be an inconvenience, depending on the purposes of your stay. Like hotels, they have nightly or weekly rates, which can make them a costly medium-term option.

3. Bed and breakfasts

Bed and breakfasts provide rooms in private homes. They are usually found in rural areas or on the outskirts of cities.

Pros

Much cozier and more charming than a hotel, they can be a great place for a romantic getaway and to chat with other guests. Hosts are knowledgeable about their region and happily dispense advice about things to do. And of course, as the name suggests, copious breakfasts come with the room.

Cons

Rooms can be hard to come by in summer and other prime tourist seasons. Since you’re the homeowner’s guest, you may need to follow certain rules (e.g., about noise, times when you can come and go, use of common areas, etc.).

4. Cottages

Cottages are generally in scenic natural areas far from major towns and cities. Lakeside cottages are wonderful places for swimming, boating and other aquatic activities. Others are near resorts or ski areas.

Pros

You usually have the whole place to yourself, including an equipped kitchen. Many cottages are big enough to host families or groups. Being close to recreational areas can be a big plus during your free time.

Cons

Cottages are often booked months in advance. It can be tough to find one on short notice. Moreover, rates are higher during peak tourist seasons. Unless you telecommute, a remote location can be impractical.

5. Tourist-oriented home-sharing

With the relatively new home-sharing platforms now available, anyone can rent their home to tourists (subject to local or provincial regulations). These sites feature thousands of hosts across Canada and accommodations to fit all budgets.

Depending on the platform, you can rent either a residence or just a room. If you rent an entire home, you have access to a kitchen and laundry room. Even if you’re just renting a room, some hosts allow you to cook in their kitchen. Available amenities vary widely from one residence to another.

Pros

These platforms give you a wide array of choices. It’s up to you to set the criteria for you search, such as cost, number of bedrooms, location and so on.

Cons

The industry is highly regulated in some areas and completely unregulated in others. Even in places with strict licensing requirements, these accommodations can be too numerous for all of them to be carefully inspected. Another entry in the minus column is that they are often rented far ahead of time. Long, uninterrupted availability can be tough to find.

6. Specialized services

Some businesses offer temporary housing for specific clienteles, such as the following:

  • Displaced homeowners or renters
  • People losing their independence
  • Informal caregivers seeking a reprieve
  • Women in crisis

For example, Sinistar is a home-sharing platform that helps relocate displaced policyholders. It connects homeowners, insurance companies and displaced families to find fully equipped and furnished homes for the latter. The service is designed for the insurance housing industry’s specific needs—short- to medium-term stays, flexible departure dates, handling of legal documents, automated payments and so on.

Pros

These specialized businesses understand their clienteles. That’s why they offer tailor-made accommodations for their specific requirements. Some of these services are free because they are covered by an insurance company or the government.

Cons

Each of these services is different, so there isn’t a specific downside associated with all of them.

7. University dorms and apartments

Student dormitories and apartments are designed to house students at a low cost. Did you know that many universities rent these accommodations to the general public in the summer?

Pros

If you have budget limitations, the price is right! Located on or near campus and often close by downtown areas, they are easy to get to by public transportation. In some cases, you can rent an entire apartment or several dorm rooms for your family.

Cons

You can only rent them during the summer (unless you’re a student at the university in question). Amenities vary. You may not have a kitchen or share one. You may also have to share a bathroom and laundry room.

8. Co-living

More and more people are choosing to live with roommates—and not just young people! This can be a great option if you’re looking for housing for the medium term, especially if you have a limited budget.

Pros

You share costs with your housemates (rent, electricity, cable, internet, etc.). Keeping up a home is also much easier when the tasks are shared (as long as the group is well organized and respectful).

Cons

Co-living often involves signing a lease. That’s why it’s not an option for short stays. And remember the parenthetical caveat about dividing up tasks? That’s sometimes more easily said than done. Discuss how chores are divvied up with prospective roommates and whether household tasks ever engender any tension or conflict.

9. Youth Hostels

Youth hostels are a go-to for backpackers. You generally sleep in a dormitory or semi-private room. Lockers are usually available for luggage.

Pros

This type of accommodation is an economical choice. They are often easily reached on foot or by public transportation. Plus, you can often make a last-minute reservation. The social atmosphere can be a fun part of the experience. Some are impeccably clean and boast excellent facilities.

Cons

This is not the best option for those seeking privacy. You’ll likely be sharing a room and bathroom. Another drawback is that they often don’t have much secure storage space available. Youth hostels aren’t practical for anything beyond a short stay.

10. Campgrounds

Do you have fond memories of camping as a child? Whether you enjoy being outdoors or want to save on housing, camping can be an appealing option during the warmer months.

Pros

Campground rates vary, but they’re often very affordable. They provide basic amenities: hot water, bathrooms, showers and electric hookups. Some rent large, furnished canvas tents equipped with everything you need (burner, kitchenware, utensils, etc.). And how about being greeted in the morning with mellifluous birdsong?

Cons

You need the right gear for camping: a car, a tent or RV, cooler, burner and so on. And with shared, barebones amenities, you need to be ready to rough it a bit. Many people find this unappealing for longer stays. Campsites also tend to be reserved well in advance, so camping may not work as a last-minute option. Check to see if there are quiet hours if humming generators and all-night karaoke are not your thing. And remember that sweet birdsong? The sun rises early during Canadian summers; consider bringing earplugs if you want to sleep past the crack of dawn.

How to find temporary housing?

You now have an idea of what kinds of temporary housing you’re looking for. Here are some examples of websites to consult during your search:

Specialized services

Tourist-oriented home-sharing

Rentals with a lease

When to start looking?

It’s hard to know ahead of time when you’re going to need temporary housing. Sometimes you’ll need to come up with something fast. But if you have the luxury of getting started in advance, do so. You’ll have more choices and be under less stress.

1. Newcomers

If you’re moving abroad or to another town, start your search before you leave. You’ll avoid many hassles, especially if you’re arriving in peak tourist season.

2. Students

If you need housing for the fall semester, start looking at the end of spring.

Are you short on time? No worries! Many accommodations are posted at the beginning of the school year. And many fellow students will be looking for roommates during the summer.

What pitfalls should you look out for when seeking temporary housing?

Unfortunately, many landlords are neither responsible nor looking out for what’s best for you. Renting housing for any length of time can be risky. To avoid trouble, listen to your intuition and be on the look out for red flags. Here are some to watch out for.

1. Fraud

Scams are not uncommon in temporary rentals. Here’s how to protect yourself against them:

  • Wait until you’re on site before paying or signing a lease. Photos can be misleading, and the unit many not even exist.
  • Never make a deposit after your first visit. You may never see your money again.
  • Be careful when photos seem too professional. They may have been taken from a real estate website to create a fake ad.
  • **Never rent from a landlord who says he or she is abroad. **Meet him or her in person before you come to an agreement.
  • Beware of offerings that are too good to be true. Usually, they are.

2. Unsanitary conditions

When seeking a temporary home, be on the lookout for sanitary issues. Unsanitary housing can not only be uncomfortable but also cause health problems, such as asthma, infections and skin conditions, to name a few.

Signs of mould

  • Cracked, warped or bubbled paint
  • Warped flooring
  • Spots on the ceiling
  • A musty smell
  • Outside the building: white splotches under the windows, cracked bricks or missing caulking

Signs of pests

  • The presence of insects
  • Rodent droppings
  • Gnawed items

Find the right temporary housing for your family

To find the right housing, take stock of your needs. The perfect home is somewhere out there. You just need to do some research.

For short stays, you have a broad array of choices among the thousands of offerings aimed at tourists, including hotels, motels, youth hostels and cottages. Just browse short-term rental platforms.

For longer stays or if you have specific needs, consider specialized services. Many even provide free housing.

In any case, be cautious and keep your eyes open; this could spare you a lot of aggravation.

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