Where Should I Live While Going to School?
5 tips to find the right housing fit, no matter what school you attend.
Written by Michael Witcomb, VIU's Off-Campus Housing Coordinator.
Are you relocating to take courses this fall? Now that you've registered for classes, the next step is finding accommodation. The housing market these days can be a challenge. Right now, for example, there is a very low vacancy rate in many cities and towns. The sooner you start your search, the better.
On top of that, there are various accommodation types to choose from, like single-unit apartments, secondary suites, condos or even private homestay. While it takes time and work looking for housing, checking lots of listings will help you focus your priorities. Here are some tips to help you secure a place that's right for you.
(Please note that off-campus accommodation options are not verified by Vancouver Island University for quality or legitimacy, and that any private accommodation is solely the renter's responsibility. VIU is not a party in any off-campus housing agreement. Students must read the agreement carefully, understand the terms and be fully responsible for the terms of the agreement before they sign any documentation.)
1. Take an inventory of your needs
The first thing to do is consider your unique needs. Do you plan to use public transit, or will you have a car? If you have a car, where are you going to park it? How important is it to you that you are close to campus? Do you have a pet?
For more on needs and preferences, check out the Off-Campus Housing resources. These will help you either restrict your search or expand it. For example, if you know you will be using public transit, you will probably want to look for housing options near a bus route.
2. What type of housing suits you best?
Different housing types have their various pros and cons. Some of your unique needs that you identified in your inventory will help you determine which options are better for you. Do you want roommates to keep costs down, or do you want a place of your own? Is living in a house with a yard important to you, or do you prefer a condo?
Do you want to try living on campus and getting the full residence life experience? If you are an international student, there's also the option of a homestay program, where you live with a Canadian family.
3. Figure out how much you can afford
Your budget may rule out some of the options listed above, but it is important to ensure you're not getting into a rental situation that's unsustainable.
To figure out how much you can afford to pay per month, you need to have a budget. Fill out a monthly budget worksheet (PDF) (courtesy of RentingitRight.ca) to get started. Ideally, you'll want to spend no more than about 33% on rent out of your total per-month income.
Review what's included with the rental property. Does it include things like utilities (heat, hot water, electricity bill — which in BC and Ontario is called your "hydro" bill — etc.)? If it doesn't, then you'll need to budget for these expenses in addition to your rent.
4. Avoid rental ad scams
Rental ad scams are not uncommon. Signs include things like a poorly written ad with bad grammar and spelling mistakes, or excuses about why the landlord isn't available or why you can't view the unit.
You should also be careful if someone asks for money in advance, or other personal information like your Social Insurance Number or bank account details. Trust your gut feeling and stay away from something that doesn't feel right. It's hard to determine the legitimacy of a property listing without actually viewing the property and meeting with the landlord or property manager in person.
A good rule of thumb is to never send money to someone you have yet to meet, and never pay a deposit before you've viewed the rental unit. More tips, including a list of questions you should ask yourself before committing to renting a place, are available on the Off-Campus Housing page.
5. Begin your search
Armed with knowledge about your personal needs, budget, the types of housing you are looking for and how to be wary of scams, the next step is looking for a place.
Again, while many may be legitimate, you need to be wary of the scams. Some platforms to get you started on your housing hunt journey include:
- Places4Students – a reputable online listing service that specializes in providing student rental housing options
- Community boards at your school and online apps connected with your school.
- Facebook groups, Craigslist, Kijiji, or similar platforms also have rental listings
All of this info is a lot to take in! If you need extra help and you attend VIU, the Off-Campus Housing Coordinator can assist you. Just email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Download the budgeting worksheet (PDF)