Student Renters, Study Up On These Tips!

Friday Aug 06th, 2021




Alex Derry


As Canadians make the most of the dog days of summer, university students—many of whom have spent the last year learning from home—are already preparing for a back-to-school housing hunt.

Following an unprecedented period of online learning and no international student travel, a wave of students returning to in-person learning on campuses following the COVID-19 pandemic means people are once again searching for residence spaces at post-secondary schools across the country.

“People coming back,” said Tadiwanashe Mangwengwende, Senior Analyst at Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, in an interview with CTV Atlantic. “A return to a more normal world and with it, the pressures on the rental market start coming back.”

For instance, at Dalhousie University in HalifaxNova Scotia, residence capacity is being reduced by 80%, and a residence room assignment policy is being observed giving priority to new, direct-from-high school students. The University of Ottawa has changed all double occupancy rooms to single occupancy rooms based on public health guidelines. The university also says they “may need to decrease the number of residences [they] open depending on how the situation evolves and the number of applications for rooms in residence.” 

For returning students, this means the pressure is on to find off-campus housing options. With so many considerations making an already-challenging search even more difficult to navigate, here’s what you need to know before you start looking for your first apartment or other off-campus housing option.

Location, location, location

Living off-campus offers several benefits compared to living in residence, including more flexibility around housing styles and locations, more personal freedom and independence, and choosing your own roommates (if any!). One-bedroom apartments, shared apartments, and houses may be plentiful closer to campus, but proximity to the school may come at a premium. You can search for rentals on, which will offer comprehensive neighbourhood data, including walk scores, transit scores, proximity to amenities, local demographics, and more. Be sure to study up on the local transit network if you need to commute, too! 

Consider the amenities

Take a moment to consider what amenities you want nearby. If you don’t have a car, being close to a transit station may be high on your list. Or perhaps you want to be able to walk everywhere, in which case look for a place that’s closer to grocery stores and other frequent stops.

On-campus residences can come with all sorts of built-in perks, including meal plans, common areas, gyms, and laundry facilities. Off-campus housing amenities are not as visible upon first viewing, so develop your own checklist of amenities that are non-negotiable before you sign a lease.

Are utilities included?

Utilities are often extra costs not always included in the advertised rental price. Before signing a lease, check to see if any utilities like water, heating, hydro, Wi-Fi and parking are included. While having all your utilities included may make things easier when it comes to budgeting, it also means you may not get the level of service you require. For example, you may want a faster internet connection than what’s offered by your landlord, but it’s not under your control. There’s no right or wrong way to go when it comes to utilities, it all depends on what makes the most sense for you.

Understand your lease terms

Off-campus student housing tends to be leased around May (so student renters know where they’ll live before the academic year begins) or in September following the initial renting rush when the market begins to settle down. Depending on which province you’re going to school in, you may have to put down the first month’s and/or last month’s rent as well as a security deposit—typically half a month’s rent which you’ll get back at the end of the lease (assuming the property hasn’t been damaged). Go over the terms provided in your lease carefully and don’t be afraid to ask questions—or to say no and choose not to sign. 

Lease terms can be overwhelming, especially if it’s your first time seeing them! That’s why it’s a good idea to work with a REALTOR® when looking for a place to rent. They can help explain what you’re signing and let you know if something seems off or unfair. 

Image via Andrew Neel

What’s in a roommate?

If you’ve decided to move in with one or more roommates, it’s important to remember that you’re all in this together. You don’t have to be best friends, but you should be able to meet as a household semi-regularly to discuss finances, splitting costs, or delegate household chores. If your utilities aren’t included, you’ll want to divide costs among the tenants evenly or according to who relies most on a particular utility.

When it comes to a roommate, some things to ask yourself include:

  • Does this person have the same schedule as me? You don’t want someone who’s up all night if you’re trying to sleep. 
  • Can I trust them to pay their share? The last thing you want is to be stuck footing their part of the bill. 
  • Do they share the same ideas when it comes to cleanliness? If they want to let the dishes pile up, but you’d rather they be done every day, things might get a little tense. 
  • What happens if you’re not a good fit? Be sure you’re all on the same page and have a plan if it turns out you can’t make things work together.

Get to know your landlord

Aside from your roommates, your landlord is the person you’ll be dealing with most over the course of your lease. Most landlords want to meet their new tenants in person, so take this opportunity to ask them as many questions as you can—how long have you been renting this space? What utilities are included? When were the windows replaced? Are the neighbours noisy? Your landlord doesn’t have to be your best friend, but you want to be in good standing with them if you ever need something fixed. 

Finding a rental property can be a big undertaking, especially on top of the stress of back-to-school. Figuring out what you want before starting your search as well as enlisting the help of a local REALTOR® can help make the process easier.

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