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How to look for your first apartment as a student

01 April 2020 by National Bank
How much does student housing cost in Canada?

Thinking of moving into an apartment? You may have a ton of questions. “Where do I start looking? What’s the average housing cost for students in Quebec? Or in Canada? How can I find an affordable apartment? Should I live alone or with roommates? In an apartment or student housing?” Okay. Take a deep breath. We did the research so you won’t have to.

1. How much does an apartment cost for a student?

It depends on plenty of factors, like the city you’re in, the neighbourhood you want to live in, and the kind of apartment you want. As a general rule, the closer you are to the university and to the downtown area, the more expensive it will be. The further you get, the more affordable it gets. Unsurprisingly, a newly renovated studio in a well-maintained building in Montreal will cost much more than a semi-basement in Roberval—hundreds of dollars more.

2. What if I lived in student housing?

Some residences are less expensive than apartments, but even then, the prices vary wildly. The monthly costs vary depending on the university, campus, meal plan, and room or studio size. It’s up to you to decide whether you want simple living arrangements or a palatial apartment. Rooms and studios are an interesting option if you’re unfamiliar with the city and haven’t gotten your bearings yet.

We did some research on university websites (that’s right, we did that for you—click on the links below) and determined that student housing in Montreal should cost between $396 and $1,500 per month. Generally, UQAM (French only) and Université de Montréal (French only) residences cost less than the ones at Concordia and McGill. For student housing in Ottawa, the costs average $1,011 per month. For student housing in Quebec and Sherbrooke (French only), you can expect more modest costs starting at $360 per month.

3. Are private residences for students an option?

Private residences for students are halfway between a hotel and student housing. This type of housing often has additional amenities included in your rent, like a gym, a pool, a café, a reception area and a security system (meaning security cameras—you don’t get a private bodyguard!). These special little extras mean that private residences are often a lot more expensive.

4. What other fees should I keep in mind?

  • Appliances: If you need to buy appliances, it’s worth buying them used from online classified. Those will cost you between $300 and $700 per appliance. Ask if the price includes delivery; otherwise, good luck moving a washing machine in a taxi. Many apartments are semi-furnished (oven and fridge). This important detail is usually included in the apartment ad. If not, talk it over with the landlord. Ask about washer-dryers too. Finding a fully furnished apartment is like going on a perfect first date after meeting on a dating app: it’s rare, but it can happen.
  • Heating and electricity: Ask the landlord if these are included in the rent. Otherwise, it’ll depend on your consumption habits, how well the apartment is insulated, and the size of the place.
  • Telecom costs: Because social media and binge-watching are practically as important as eating and sleeping, you’ll also have to think about the cost of your phone, Internet and streaming platforms. Take the time to shop around for Internet and mobile plans, and don’t be afraid to negotiate.
  • Moving fees: Keep in mind that prices often go up during the busy period (between May and July). You could ask friends to help out and rent a truck to save money… But if you’re paying them in pizza, that goes into your moving fees.
  • Daily expenses: Don’t forget about groceries and public transit or car fees… Not to mention what you spend on outings, clothes, personal care items, activities and gym memberships. Okay, okay, we’ll stop there. But one thing’s for sure: you definitely need to make a budget. Good thing we prepared a student budget survival guide right here.

6. So how do I save on rent?

  • Compare the prices: Feel free to broaden your search beyond the university’s neighbourhood. As long as the apartment is close to public transit, you’ll be surprised by how much you can save by looking (even a little) further away from your university.
  • Start looking early: Highly sought-after places go very fast. Jump at the chance as soon as you find a place you like. 
  • Look on classified ad websites: Some schools also have their own classifieds pages. Pay more attention to ads that include photos; that way, you’ll avoid any nasty surprises. “Too good to be true” doesn’t only apply to dating apps. Then, filter your results according to your budget to avoid falling in love with an apartment that’s outside of your price range.
  • Think carefully about whether you want roommates: “Carefully” being the operative word. Having a roommate has its benefits, but it also has drawbacks. However, living in harmony with another person could help you save, and it might be nice to have some company.

7. Before you sign your lease

Your well-being is important to us, so we suggest you learn about your rights as a tenant. Some landlords ask for security deposits or advance rent payments even though this isn’t legally allowed. Others avoid indicating the lowest rent paid in the previous 12 months to ask you for higher rent. Not cool, but it happens.

Don’t forget that you may be eligible for a government scholarship and student loan. This would help you offset your housing costs. Check your province’s student aid program.

For more advice, take a look at our top financial tips for young adults. Happy hunting!

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