As the world's second-largest French-speaking city, with students galore and a vibrant business center, Montreal has a competitive rental market for the most charming of its apartments. Your best bet for hunting is well before July 1 — that's when the vast majority of leases change hands. Another surprising aspect of Montreal renting: it's illegal for landlords to require a security deposit, key deposit, or anything more than the first month's rent (a far cry from the first month, last month, and security I was accustomed to, coming from New York City).
Be ready, though, as the law isn't always enforced and, well, like I said before, the market can be tight when it comes to the real charmers. If you're competing for the place of your dreams, little details like the law can go flying out the original, arched, oversized windows pretty quickly. And one more thing: don't get too excited about that "cheap" 3 1/2 - it's actually a one bedroom. Here's the equation: Living Room + Kitchen + Bedroom + 1/2 for the Bathroom = a 3 1/2 apartment.
Plateau & Mile EndTypes of rentals: Apartments in small-scale buildings with ever-increasing rents, but lower rent the further east (away from universities and downtown) you go.
Known For: An eclectic mix of artists, musicians, writers, and students. Colorful facades, a bohemian vibe, and good nightlife.
Don't miss: Stroll the pedestrian-only Prince Arthur Street and hit the shops, restaurants, and night clubs of Boulevard St-Laurent. Be sure to pick up Montreal's own and very best bagels at Fairmount Bagel. The Jean Talon market is just north in the Rosemont district.
Transit: Metro stations are Laurier, Mont-Royal, and Sherbrooke. The city in general is extremely bike-friendly and these neighborhoods in particular are perfect for bicycle commuters because of their central location. On biking in general in Montreal: Bike lanes are even plowed in the long winter, but you'll need to bundle up many of the months for bicycle commuting. And watch out for cars turning onto side streets across bike lanes - they might not be watching for bike traffic and I know several people who have been hit this way.
Centre-SudTypes of rentals: Good deals are still to be had here, and there are a range of apartment sizes and rent prices. Apartments are mixed with a good deal of street-level commercial activity.
Known for: Home to the Université du Québec à Montréal campus and Montreal's Gay Village. A thriving nightlife and lots of restaurants and bars are part of the area's resurgence in recent years.
Don't miss: All of the bring-your-own-wine restaurants in the neighborhood. Bring a bottle to have with your meal (some places charge a couple of dollars to open and serve it).
Transit: Walking and biking, and metro stations St-Laurent, Berri-UQAM, Sherbrooke, Beaudry. Lots of bus lines converge near UQAM, so that's another good option in the neighborhood.
Downtown & Old MontrealTypes of rentals: Pricey lofts that are hard to come by in the aged stone buildings of Old Montreal and downtown. There are also expensive apartments in new buildings with lots of amenities.
Known for: Old Montreal is full of narrow cobblestone streets. And watch out for tourists! Downtown is home to the museum district and the Anglophone McGill University.
Don't miss: In Old Montreal: the old port, Notre-Dame Basilica and the adjacent seminary (which is the oldest building in Montreal). The northern border of downtown abuts Mont Royal. The underground city beneath downtown is essentially a network of malls connected to one another. It's a good way to get around (there are a few adjacent metro stations) or remedy your cabin fever when the weather's bad.
Transit: The metro's your best bet downtown with the McGill, Peel, and Guy-Concordia stations. Old Montreal metro stops include Champs de Mars, Place d'Armes, and Square Victoria. Walking can be tough for cross-city travel because the neighborhood's at the far southern end of the island, but biking is an option if you can get past the cobblestone roads. With all of the tourist traffic and pricey parking, cars aren't a great option here.
OutremontTypes of rentals: Expensive apartments in beautiful old triplexes are located near historic mansions that are a norm in Outremont.
Known for: Outremont is full of boutique shops and upscale restaurants and is known as a pricey neighborhood. Come here for tree-lined streets, gorgeous parks, and to feel like you're in Paris.
Don't miss: Walk Bernard and Laurier Streets for shopping and fine dining, and wind down in Pratt Park.
Transit: Literally meaning "other side of the mountain," Mont Royal is between you and the city center. Many residents have cars, but there's also the bus or the metro via the Outremont station.
Côte-des-NeigesTypes of rentals: A working-class neighborhood with low-to-medium rent apartments. Many of the available apartments here are in large apartment blocks.
Known for: Its ethnic diversity, reflected in restaurants that simply can't be beat for their authenticity and prices in an otherwise notoriously expensive city in which to eat out.
Don't miss: The Université de Montreal campus, the giant St-Joseph Oratory and the Notre-Dame-des-Neiges cemetary.
Transit: You're across Mont Royal from the city center so, while biking or walking within the neighborhood is do-able, metro stations Côtes-des-Neiges, Université de Montreal and Côte Ste-Catherine will come in handy when heading downtown.
Westmount & Notre-Dame-de-GrâceTypes of rentals: High-priced rentals in detached houses, townhouses, and exclusive, well-maintained apartment buildings (including one designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe).
Known for: Being the most Anglophone neighborhoods of the city, with beautiful prestigious homes. Leonard Cohen was born here. Westmount is the Anglophone counterpart to the Francophone Outremont neighborhood. There aren't great late-night options for entertainment or eating. Make it to the Atwater Market (actually a little south of Westmount in St. Henri) for the best food shopping nearby.
Don't miss: Check out Monkland Avenue for good shopping and restaurants in NDG. Walking Westmount's cross streets and ogling the houses is always lots of fun and Westmount Park is large and gorgeous.
Transit: There are unbeatable bike lanes for biking eastward across the city, as well as the Atwater and Vendome metro stations. Another major bus hub is in the eastern side of Westmout, so buses can be a good option here. Many residents own cars as more off-street parking and garages are available in these neighborhoods.
Montrealers, please share your local apartment-hunting tips in the comments!
(Images: Flickr member Goodnight London licensed for use under Creative Commons; Flickr member La Super Lili licensed for use under Creative Commons; Flickr member Switchstyle licensed for use under Creative Commons; and 4&5: Regina Yunghans)