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Off-Campus Housing | Ultimate Guide for Student and Landlords

Key Takeaways

Moving out of your parent’s home to attend university or college can be an exciting and enriching experience. But it can also be overwhelming, especially if it’s your first time living independently. You’ll have to juggle school work, household chores, bill payments, and maybe a part-time job.

Published on Jul 14, 2022 | Updated on Jul 5, 2023

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Of course, finding a place to rent in the first place is a challenge in and of itself. There are numerous factors to consider when hunting for a rental property, such as cost, location, amenities, etc. Searching for what you’re looking for can take considerable time and effort.

Here at SingleKey, we understand the challenges of being a student tenant. So, we’ve created this handy guide on finding the perfect place to rent off-campus.

Let’s begin!

What To Do Before You Start Searching For A Rental Property 

Being prepared is half the battle in finding a great place to live. Before you embark on your house-hunting journey, outline the criteria for what you’re looking for in a rental. Here are some factors to consider before you begin your search.


Not surprisingly, your budget will be the primary factor that determines the type of property you can afford to rent.

To create a budget, first, add up all your income sources. These can include:

  •         Part-time job
  •         Scholarships
  •         Grants
  •         Student loans
  •         Student lines of credits
  •         Monthly allowance from parents

Second, tally all up your expenses. Knowing how much you expect to spend each month on recurring costs is crucial, as it will determine how much you have left to cover rent payments.

Here are some items to account for: 

  •         Food
  •         Utilities
  •         Phone
  •         Internet
  •         Transportation
  •         Tenant’s insurance
  •         Textbooks and school supplies

If you’re unsure of what to estimate for costs, try visiting the website of the post-secondary institute you’ll be attending. They usually provide a rundown of how much to budget for basic expenses. A great example is this list provided by the University of Toronto.  

Tracking expenses can be tedious, so you may wish to use a budgeting app like Mint to streamline the task.


Living close to your college or university is beneficial. It’ll take you less time to travel to the campus; you may even be able to walk, thus saving money on transportation costs. However, you may need to pay a daily parking fee if you plan on driving to school.

Unfortunately, rental units close to schools are typically pricier than those far from the campus. If you’re on a tight budget, you’ll need to prioritize the latter despite the convenience of living right next to your school.

Also, consider how much you value living nearby restaurants, malls, parks, grocery stores, public transportation hubs, etc. The more amenities you have nearby, the easier it’ll be to run errands, go shopping, and enjoy a night out with friends.


Deciding whether you wish to have a roommate or two while attending school is worth pondering. Some students prefer a solitary lifestyle, while others value daily social interaction.

However, the latter option will allow you to split the cost of rent and other expenses, leaving you with more disposable income. You can also share household chores, which will provide you with more free time for yourself.

If you opt for a roommate, ensure you have an honest and open discussion with them about expectations and boundaries. Few things are worse than living with someone whose personality and lifestyle clash with yours. Be patient and take the time to find a compatible roommate. 

Accommodation Type

What type of living arrangement do you prefer? Are you looking for a sizable house or a tiny studio apartment? Or something in between?

Are you keen on living in a house with other students? If so, consider how much space you need and what areas you’re willing to share with roommates. Generally, each student will occupy a room and share the kitchen, living room, and bathrooms.

While you’ll have less privacy living in a house with other students, you’ll have access to more amenities. And, of course, you can save money by splitting the monthly rent and other household expenses.

If you plan on living independently, an apartment will usually prove a more financially feasible option. The downside is that you’ll be responsible for 100% of the rent and chores. Not to mention, you may have to contend with noisy and disrespectful neighbours living in adjacent units.

There are also notable differences between an apartment and a condo, so ensure you do your research before making your choice.

Starting your Search – How to Locate a Great Rental Property

Now that you’ve put together your wish list and know your budget, it’s time to scour the city for the best rental properties available.

Here’s the first piece of advice: start early!

While there’s usually an ample supply of rental units available for students (given the steady demand), the best ones get nabbed pretty quickly, especially near the beginning of the school year. Be sure to act right away if you find a desirable rental property.

Step 1: Browse For Available Rental Units Online

While various print publications still advertise rental units, conducting your search online is a far more efficient option. 

There is a wide range of websites available that list off-campus rental units. To help you get started, we’ve compiled a list of the best rental websites that landlords use to list their properties in Canada. Here, you can browse through vacant rentals and easily filter your options to those that meet your criteria.

Remember that some rental websites are more prone to rental scams than others, so stay vigilant. Usually, these are the ones that primarily allow free ads. Sites that charge fees and verify ads before allowing users to post them are more likely to be genuine and trustworthy.

Step 2: Contact The Landlord

Once you’ve found a rental unit that appeals to you, it’s time to contact the landlord to arrange for a viewing. Introduce yourself and explain that you’re interested in becoming a tenant.

You can also inquire further about details of the rental unit. Here are some questions you may want to ask:

  •         When is the unit available?
  •         When is rent due each month?
  •         What time period are you looking to rent out the unit for (short-term vs long-term)
  •         Are utilities included in the rent? If so, which ones?
  •         Is there an on-site laundry room?
  •         Is there additional storage space outside the unit?
  •         Where can tenants park their cars?

The landlord will also have some questions for you, so be ready. Some landlords are apprehensive about renting to students, so ensure you’re prepared and do your best to make a great first impression. Here are some questions you can expect:

  • How many people will be living in the unit?
  • When do you plan on moving in?
  • How long do you intend to stay?
  • What is your source of income?
  • How much do you earn per month?
  • Can you provide a reference from a previous landlord?
  • Will you consent to a credit check?
  • Are you able to provide a security deposit after signing the lease agreement?
Step 3: Attend A Viewing Of The Property

Visiting the rental property in person is crucial before you express interest in signing the lease. You want to confirm that the unit offers everything promised in the ad, including how it looks in the photos.

Take photos and notes of anything that needs repairs or maintenance, even if it’s a wall that needs a fresh coat of paint. Check all the appliances to ensure they’re in working order. Test the lights, showers, sinks, smoke alarms, toilets, and outlets. And don’t forget to verify that all security devices, such as deadbolt locks, function correctly.

As mentioned earlier, property listings can be deceiving, so be sure not to skip viewing the unit up close and personal – you may regret it later.

Signing the Lease – The Final Step to Becoming a Tenant 

Once you’re satisfied that the rental unit offers everything you’re looking for, the next step is applying for tenancy. 

Contact the landlord again and inform them of your decision to sign the lease agreement. Unless you’ve done so earlier, they’ll ask you to fill out an application form. Here’s some of the following information you’ll need to provide:

  • Full legal name (and the names of any other occupants)
  • Current physical address
  • Social insurance number (SIN)
  • Phone number
  • Rental history (including references from previous landlords)
  • Proof of income
  • Current employer

The landlords will likely ask your permission to perform a credit check on you. Should you lack a credit history, they may require another individual with a solid credit profile to co-sign the lease agreement with you.

When it comes time to sign off on the lease, take your time and examine each section to ensure you understand the terms and conditions. Double-check to ensure there are no hidden fees or unlawful obligations. 

If you are going to be living with roommates, ensure they understand the terms of the contract, too. You may also wish to create a list of house rules that all occupants must abide by to prevent future conflict. 

Not sure what a lease agreement looks like and what it includes? Visit our rental agreements templates page and download a free copy.

Once you are happy with the lease terms and conditions, sign your name and send it back to the landlord. It’s official – you now have a place to call home away from home!

Since you’ll be super busy as a student, it helps if your landlord makes it easy and convenient to pay your rent each month. Check out SingleKey’s Rent Collection service, which allows you to pay your rent through pre-authorized debit. That way, you don’t need to fumble around with cheques – and you’ll never make a late payment.

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