Searching for housing off campus
Bedbug bites. Absentee landlords. Six a.m. train whistles. Poorly designed leases. Ants. Bedrooms that are over 35 degrees Celcius. Mice infestations.
In my four years of living off-campus in Guelph, I’ve moved five times and experienced my fair share of housing issues. Whether it’s your first time house hunting in Guelph, or you’ve been around the block and are moving for yet another semester, I thought I’d write about what to keep in mind when you decide to rent a house or apartment with friends.
First of all, the biggest issue in house hunting time of the year is the mad rush to sign a lease. Many people do not realize that many places will open up after Mar. 1, which is the deadline tenants have to give a final answer on whether they are staying or going.
“Don’t freak out,” said Galen Fick, restorative practices coordinator at Off-Campus Living, a division of Student Life. “There’s this artificial pressure that is created. Really, we don’t have a housing shortage in Guelph; you’ll find a place.”
Once you’ve taken a breather, the next step in house hunting is to ask yourself those important questions, such as how close do you want to be to campus, a bus route, or grocery stores. Also ask yourself what is your price point, whether you want to find a place with utilities included in your rent, and what kind of neighbourhood you want to live in.
“Make a list of your ideals, so when you go and look at a place you can see how much does it match those,” said Fick. “It’s a good idea to know what your target is before you even look.”
Finally, when going to a viewing, there are important features and warning signs to look out for. For example, basement bedrooms and apartments require adequate windows for fire safety, and you should take a note of insulation and window quality especially if you’re going to be paying for your own heat and/or air conditioning.
“Trust your gut… if you have a funny feeling about the lease, landlord, or building, try to evaluate what that is, and not downplay that,” advised Fick. “You want to have a landlord who is going to be there for you. There are some absentee landlords that do not live nearby or who are not as responsive to issues.”
After seeing a place that you like, the landlord should give you a copy of the lease for you to review. Don’t feel pressured to sign right away, but instead look it over. Check to see if there are some things you need to negotiate with your landlord before signing a lease, such as getting the carpets cleaned, having the walls painted, or taking care of the yard. If there is something you would like changed, put that into the lease or at least get it in writing. Fick points out that although agreements are legal, they are hard to prove if a conflict arises.
“[The lease] is a binding legal agreement,” said Fick. “You are responsible for the terms that are in there, and you are responsible for paying for 12 months. If you sign a lease and decide ‘I don’t want this anymore’ you essentially have to find someone else to take it over, or else you risk paying some or all of that money.”
Upon signing the lease, the landlord can ask for last month’s rent or a key deposit, but nothing more. The tenant does not have to pay first month’s rent until the first day of the lease period, which is usually May 1 or Sept. 1. Post-dated cheques are not a requirement, but may be simply more convenient for the tenants and the landlord.
If you need any help with house hunting, you can visit Off-Campus Living on the first floor UC. The staff provides students with services such as checklists, lease reviews, support during tenancy issues, and peers that help with neighbourhood relations.
“The big message is don’t feel that pressure,” said Fick, on looking for a house or apartment to rent. “Take some time to get a feel for the place, and then get a second opinion. Drop in, get a lease review [or] have a family member look over it.” Relax and get out there and find your dream home, future tenants.