This year, UVic has announced that they cannot guarantee on-campus accommodations for first year students due to high demand. So while students in second year and higher might receive a residence offer from the University sometime in August, they are encouraged to look for off-campus housing in the meantime.
For many students, this will mark their first time looking for rental housing and could be a significant source of stress for those with little to no experience renting. Fortunately, there are many tips and tools available that can make the prospect of renting seem much less overwhelming.
Know where to start your search
Students who are moving to Victoria from elsewhere in the world might have some initial difficulty finding housing if they don’t know the local websites and online groups where listings are posted.
Websites like Craigslist, UsedVictoria, and Places4Students.com — a partner of the University of Victoria — are all viable sites to look for housing. For students that prefer to use social media, there are several Facebook groups like UVIC Off campus housing or Victoria Community Housing Network where roommate requests and listings are regularly posted.
Other websites like Rentals.ca and Zumper.com have options that students can look into as well, however, the listings posted here tend to be less student-oriented compared to other sites.
Do your research
The sheer number of students applying for rentals may lead you to feel like you have to jump on the first offer you get for a place. Although it’s certainly understandable to feel that way, it’s better to be cautious and consider your options while searching for rentals.
If you are considering a listing, spend some time researching the area and making sure everything checks out. Find out if the neighbourhood is safe, quiet, and fits any other specific needs you may have.
Using online resources — particularly the housing Facebook groups recommended above — can help with research into the landlord or property manager of any given building. Talking to neighbours and past or current tenants is also a good idea. It’s important to know if the landlord or building manager you’ll be renting from is reliable and legitimate or not.
Knowing your rights as a tenant will come in handy if any disputes arise between you and your landlord, or other tenants. These rights are laid out in the Residential Tenancy Act. Independent organizations like the Tenant Resource & Advisory Centre and the Victoria Tenant Action Group, for example, can also help tenants with information regarding their rights.
Look out for red flags
Things like a landlord being unwilling to meet with you, being unwilling to schedule a tour, asking for your Social Insurance Number, and requesting a deposit before any tenancy agreement has been signed are all examples of common red flags when it comes to searching for rental housing. If you notice any of these during your search, don’t ignore them. These can be signs of an unreliable landlord at best, or a scam at worst.
The Tenant Resource & Advisory Centre provides additional guidance on how to identify potential rental scams, including: suspiciously low rent, an overly eager landlord, asking for money in cash or via wire transfer, and being unwilling to meet face to face. If COVID-19 is a concern for you or the landlord, you should try to arrange a socially distanced viewing, or take other precautions that would allow you to view the listing in a safe manner.
Another thing to look out for when looking for housing is the number of occupants in a house. In January 2020, the Saanich council voted in favour of increasing the occupancy limit to six people.
“It can be quite dangerous to live in a space where you have more than [six] people,” Jeremy Brind, a volunteer with the Victoria Tenant Action Group, told the Martlet. Having more residents in a house than the occupancy cap permits could lead to eviction.
Brind also recommends that tenants stay on good terms with other tenants in the unit and/or building. Should any issues arise with the landlord, having other tenants that you trust and can look to for support is incredibly important.
Signing a lease
Finally! All the long hours searching through listing after listing have paid off. You’ve been given an offer! Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. When you’ve been given an offer, read through it carefully and make sure you and any potential roommates are in agreement on everything mentioned in the lease agreement. If you’re unsure about anything, it may be wise to have a parent or other adult look over it with you. Both the Tenants Resource & Advisory Centre and the Victoria Tenant Action Group can be contacted online to answer questions about the legality of certain items in an agreement.
The landlord or building manager will likely ask for a security deposit as well. Legally, it can be no more than half a month’s rent in B.C. You should not send the deposit if the landlord asks for more than they are legally entitled to, if they pressure you into sending it early, or if they request it before a tenancy agreement has been officially signed by all parties.
Brind recommends taking extensive and thorough photos of the rental once you have signed a lease in order to document any pre-existing damage or wear. This ensures that you have proof in the event that a landlord implies you are responsible for causing the damage and tries to keep your security deposit.
The provincial government website has a detailed overview of how to do a proper “walk through” of the unit with the landlord. Filling in the inspection checklist is the landlord’s responsibility during the inspection, but it can also serve as a guide for you when looking over the rental during your viewing!
Lastly, be optimistic about the upcoming year! While the stress right now might seem overwhelming, know that you aren’t alone. Plenty of students are experiencing the same things as you right now.
Moving out, whether you’re living with friends or on your own, offers many new experiences and freedoms that are worth being optimistic about!