Moving Off Campus
So, you're wanting to make the big move from residence to off campus? Off-campus living has its own pros and cons – make sure you know what you’re doing before you sign a lease. This page will provide some questions to ask yourself as well as the landlord before you commit.
First, get to know yourself. Answering some basic questions about where you want to live will help narrow down potential rental locations.
Do you want to live by yourself or with roommates?
Deciding if you are comfortable living by yourself or with someone(s) will influence a lot of the following questions, so it is very important to start here. Living by yourself can have its benefits! Space all to yourself, no negotiations with roommates, you (and only you) have to worry about the contents of the lease. Living with roommates can be great! Aside from people generally being social, roommates will often split costs and responsibilities in the living space.
While there is "data" out there for having roommates or not, it is important to start by reflecting. Can you afford to live by yourself, if that is what you want? Do you have friends who you would want to live with?
Take the time to reflect on you, and you'll be great!
What Can You Afford?
Given that rent can be the most significant expenditure for a student, outside of tuition, establishing a monthly budget with a comfortable rent is crucial. Ideally, your monthly rent and utilities bill should be no more than 30% of your monthly net (after tax) income. Most students will want to pay well below the average, given that your income as a student will likely be limited. Once you've established your monthly rental budget, you need to think about any upfront costs. These costs can include:
- First and Last Month's Rent
- Security Deposit
These lump sums, sometimes refundable at the end of a lease, may set you back so far that you can no longer make rent. This can be especially true of places that ask for the first and last month's rent and a deposit all at once. This could indicate that a property manager is pricing their units in such a way as to keep their student-tenant population low.
Remember, typical recurring costs include:
- Miscellaneous Services Offered Onsite (Internet, Phone, Cable, etc.)
Housing costs will go down the more you share them with roommates. Keep this in mind when considering if a roommate is right for you.
How much will you be earning when you move off-campus? How do your answers to the previous questions impact the amount you will need to spend on housing? Have you considered up-front or one-time costs such as deposits and pet fees in your budgeting?
Would you prefer a studio, full-size apartment or a rental house?
Studios are best suited for those who want to live by themselves but can also work for couples. These can be the cheapest spaces and can also include "efficiency" amenities (bedroom/dining room/kitchen sharing the same space, smaller appliances, etc). These are also, usually, the smallest spaces so it is important to look at how much you own and how much you need to take with you.
"Full-size" apartments means - separate bedroom(s), full-size kitchen, a stand-alone living room, those sort of things. This housing option usually is the middle size and has the middle cost.
Rental houses are either partial- or full-houses with multiple bedrooms, multiple bathrooms, multiple floors, possibly even a basement! Since these are often the largest spaces, they tend to be the most expensive, but they are also the easiest to share with several people, dividing the cost.
How much space do you need? How many people do you expect to be living with? How much are you willing to spend on your living situation? These are the sort of questions to consider when looking at these three major rental styles.
What part of town do you want to live in?
Do you want to live close to campus? Or do you mind (or prefer) a long walk or do you have a bicycle? You might want to try walking from campus to the places you're considering seeing how long it takes you. You may not want to get up half an hour earlier to walk to that 8:15 am class.
- What's the neighbourhood like? Take a walk around the area to check out the vibe. To get an even better sense of what it's like, take a walk on a Friday night. If you prefer quiet nights at home, you want to make sure your neighbours don't throw huge parties every week.
- What feeling do you get from the neighbours? Do they seem friendly and, well, neighbourly? Or are you going to be frightened to walk out your door?
- How far away is the closest grocery store, and other amenities? This is especially important to consider in the winter months when you have to walk in the cold and the snow.
- Do you want to be near a gym? Or be near downtown?
Questions to Ask the Landlord or Property Manager
Now that you have an idea of what your ideal living situation looks like, make sure you are prepared to work with landlords. Every property is different, and leases will be different too. So, take a look at these questions and make sure you know the answers before signing anything.
- How much is the rent? When is the rent due? Is there a penalty/fee if the rent is late?
- How long is the lease? When does the lease end/begin? What is the penalty for breaking the lease?
- How much is the deposit? How and when is the deposit refunded?
- Should all roommates sign the lease?
- Are some or all of the utilities covered by the rent? If not, can you give me an estimate for those costs? Are there installation fees?
- What are the parking options? Is there a cost?
- Are there laundry facilities in the building? How many laundry units are there? Are they on every floor? Are they coin operated? How much does it cost?
- Are pets allowed? Is there an additional charge?
- May the apartment be altered (painted, etc.)? Can you hang pictures on the wall (and how)?
- Under what circumstances may the landlord enter your apartment? How much advance notice must be given prior to entry?
- How are maintenance concerns handled? What is the procedure to report problems or concerns? What is the turn-around time for getting a maintenance problem corrected?
- Is subletting permitted? What are the procedures for subletting? Is there a penalty for subletting?
This is not a comprehensive list of potential questions, and your needs may determine what questions you need to ask. Still, a lease is a binding legal document, and it is important that you know as much as possible before signing.
Tenants' Rights and Insurance
At a minimum, you should understand the following:
- What are your maintenance responsibilities? How are hazardous situations handled?
- Under what conditions can you be evicted and what is the legal process?
- Under what conditions can you legally break your lease without incurring penalties?
- You can find a comprehensive directory of tenant rights at the Nova Scotia Residential Tenancies Program website.
It is wise to consider rental insurance to protect you financially should you experience theft or property damage. Rental insurance policies can be obtained from many companies, including but not limited to AA Munro, Allstate Canada and TD . If you have car insurance, you might want to check with the company to see if renters insurance can be added to an existing policy. Rental insurance costs fluctuate depending on some of these factors:
- Location due to varying crime rates and environmental risks
- The total value of your belongings
- Building age and configuration
- Scope of coverage for specific risks such as theft, flooding, and other natural disasters