The vacancy rate in Montreal is at two per cent this year, for the third year in a row.

The price for a three-bedroom, family sized-apartment generally starts at $1,500 a month.

While the average price for a two-bedroom apartment is roughly $1,050 a month, according to the Canadian Housing and Mortgage Corporation, units under $1,000 are disappearing fast.

"We have a housing shortage. We always had a housing shortage. Especially for families, it's worse this year," explains former city councillor and longtime housing activist Arnold Bennett.

"And we have a situation where the rent increases are compounded by inflation, with the government allowing the biggest increases since the 1980s. Gouging by unscrupulous landlords, especially on people moving in."

The city, meanwhile, says Quebec still hasn't provided new funding for subsidized housing for low-income families, even if it keeps announcing initiatives.

"It's been three years in a row (with) no new money for social housing," said Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante.

Montreal has already assembled a team made up of city departments and social activist groups to assist those who don't find a place by July 1, explains Executive Council Vice-Chair Benoit Dorais.

"About 30 partners with the City of Montreal are ready to help every household on the Island of Montreal to make sure they are accompanied," he said, adding more than 200 families have requested assistance.

Short of getting funding for subsidized housing, the city is purchasing older buildings using a pre-emption clause that allows it to buy a building before it's listed for sale to private investors.

It spent eight million dollars to buy a former school on Gordon Street in Verdun.

The city says it will sell the building back to a non-profit group, which will then rent up to 90 units below market value, with clauses that will prevent speculation.

But it won't be ready for this year. Arnold Bennett says those who have to move should prepare in advance, to avoid a crisis on moving day.

Landlords, he says, are obligated to provide units that are up to building code. They cannot just say, "rented as is." Tenants also have a right to take their landlord to the rental board to get repairs done.

Bennett also advises people to leave their former apartment in good shape and take pictures, so their former landlord can't claim the place was wrecked. Quebec does not allow landlords to request security deposits.

He also strongly advises making arrangements with your new landlord about when you can arrive with your belongings.

Contrary to popular belief, noon is not the cut-off hour for the former tenant to leave and the new one to arrive.

"The guy leaving has got to be out by midnight, and the guy coming in has the right to be in at midnight plus one minute," said Bennett.

If the new tenant suffers prejudice as a result, they can sue the new landlord for the extra hours needed for a truck or even nights spent in a hotel waiting for the apartment to be ready.

His final advice: follow the rules, and you won't lose your apartment.

"Pay your rent, don't get into fights with your neighbours, and you're protected."