Nine Tips to Help Secure a Rental near Campus

By Sheila O’Hearn, Zoocasa

Your goal of a near-perfect test score at university or college should be applied with the same ambition when looking for a rental near campus. If you fall asleep at your desk in preparation for this competition, you’ll no doubt awaken only to find yourself still at your parents’ in your childhood room. So, roll up your sleeves and be prepared to exercise your left brain to find your best independent-living solution, while attending school.

Be aware of your prospective real estate market


Different cities will have their own market dynamics, some harder to break into than others. But before recommending a number of common prescriptions to help your rental application stand out, you need to identify the fighter’s ring into which you’re stepping.


Edmonton: the renter’s perfect storm


The good news is, if you’re looking to rent in Edmonton, now's the time, with industry experts describing the market as the perfect storm for renters.


A combination of low oil prices and an increased number of new building projects on the market has created some good deals for Edmonton renters, in order to fill the higher-than-usual vacancy rates that are currently sitting at 4.2 per cent, almost double the 2.4- per cent rate in the spring.


Due to the economic slow-down and over-supply of rental housing, some landlords are reducing the prices on rental properties, while others are offering incentives, such as small deposits or free cable TV and internet packages. Even with these incentives, landlords and property managers say it’s still taking them weeks to fill a vacancy. That’s good news for active rental hunters!


A Better Deal Than Other Student Rental Markets


Toronto real estate, for example, is especially challenging, given its astronomical housing prices, scant supply and fierce competition. The result is that rentals are now a red-hot purchase market, and they too have much higher demand than available listings. The real estate board reports that the average rent for a one-bedroom rose 7.4 per cent to $1,776, and the average two-bedroom bumped up to 8 per cent to $2,415. Ouch!


If your hope is to get an apartment or Toronto townhouse near campus, you can increase your chances by looking much earlier for a place to live – as in, months before school enrollment − or buddy up with other students to split on the hefty rent.


For those going to McMaster University or one of the city’s colleges, your chances of finding an apartment or Hamilton condo close to your campus is better than in Toronto. The steady increase in the house-price gap between Hamilton and the GTA is attracting an exodus of first-time and repeat homebuyers from Toronto for more affordable single-detached homes and townhouses. Be cautioned, however, that for 2017, the vacancy rate is expected to tighten to 2.9 per cent, and to 2.5 per cent in 2018. So, invest the time you need to look for what you want.


Nine tips to help you nail that rental


Even though the real estate tales of three cities offer distinct rental footprints, the following nine tips should be adopted no matter where you’re living, to help successfully wow a prospective landlord.


1.     Cut your debt:

You’re wise to eliminate/decrease outstanding debt FIRST, from student loan to credit card. Living without some frills, such as a car, and applying those costs to shrink your debt load, will make your life easier to manage, plus you’ll be amazed at how quickly it can decrease. Once hefty arrears are reduced, the time to rent is opportune.

2.     Polish up the paperwork before approaching a landlord

In today’s rental climate, it’s a snooze-you-lose scenario. Would-be tenants need to arrive with their completed application, including credit score; record of employment; approved school grants, loans or monetary education awards; and easy-to-get-hold-of personal references (A glittering reference from the last landlord, if applicable, can’t hurt!).

The idea is for you to make it as easy as possible for landlords to find the information they need. Delays could cost you the unit.

3.     Apartment-hunt when gainfully employed

Even if you’re going to school, landlords, including those who’ve invested in student housing, need proof you can pay the rent. It’s critical, therefore, to be able to prove you have a steady source of income and a concrete employment history, or equivalent if self-employed, and backed by a willing co-signer, if necessary. A lack of employment stability will be a red flag for landlords.

4.     Broadcast your good credit

Your credit score (ideally above 600) – and your ability to pay bills – will be one of the biggest deciding factors for landlords, and a pristine one can put you at the head of the line.

If you’ve been in some financial hot water before, but have since made amends, get your financial institution to draft a letter of explanation to that effect.

5.     Cash-to-go

If your score is less than stellar, you’re not necessarily pushed to the ditch, but you’ll need to come with more cash in hand. Offering more than just first and last month’s rent can improve your standing, including the security deposit that many landlords want. Some potential renters will actually offer to pay a bit more monthly rent, and they’ve brought the cash with them to prove it.

6.     What does your social media reveal about you?

Did you know your prospective landlord might just seek out your social media platform? You’re well-advised to curb your tell-all preference for wild parties and change up that half-naked photo, in lieu of details that showcase you as a responsible and serious-minded person. Often, little white lies, such as denying a pet or taste for weed or tobacco on an application, are revealed through social media, possibly decreasing your chances for the unit you want. Why take the risk?

7.     Look the part


Do look presentable and make a good first impression. Remember, you’ve got strong competition out there.


8.     Have your answers ready


Make sure you have reasonable answers for these key questions:


·       Why do you want to rent this unit?

·       Where did you live before, and why are you leaving?

·       Do you have any pets?

·       Are you a quiet person?


Ideally, you’ll want to ramp up your desirability as a prospective tenant and, then, honour what you say.


9.     Ask questions


The interview process works both ways. Don’t be afraid to ask about the building, other tenants, the management company, and if the owner personally takes care of the building. You can also ask about parking, laundry, amenities and utilities. If a landlord is less than forthcoming in their answers, you, in turn, may want to rethink living at that address. 


Zoocasa is a real estate brokerage based in Toronto.


Sheila O’Hearn is a freelance and creative writer, and has worn many hats throughout her career, from general staff reporter to magazine editor. She has a keen interest in business entrepreneurship and currently writes for several outlets. Visit her at LinkedIn for more info.