Along with the day-to-day difficulties, many students must also consider how to find suitable accommodations in a city plagued with rising rent rates and a deepening housing crisis. Although finding an adequate unit — not to mention ideal roommates, amenities, and flexible rent rates — might seem like an uphill battle. The Varsity broke down some tips and insights to help the novice student better understand the world of student accommodation.

Chart out your needs

Before beginning your search, narrow down your basic needs and specifications. Are you looking for student accommodations in an on-campus residence or off-campus housing such as an apartment building, greek life house, or co-op? What is your monthly budget, and how will rent factor in? 

Adding to this, it is also important to determine what type of floor plan you would like — for example, would you prefer a one-bed, one-den unit; a studio; or another type? You might also want to consider location and distance, factoring in the time it might take to commute to and from campus. 

Considering these factors, one option for students is to seek on-campus housing that they can view through the StarRez portal or to live in private residences primarily catering to students, such as Parkside, Tartu College, or Avant Toronto. These types of residences tend to advertise greater safety and security, offer shorter-term rental periods, and may provide other amenities such as meal services, study rooms, and social events. 

Another option is co-operative housing. Co-operative housing tends to be more affordable, and has the advantage of being run by those living there, giving every tenant responsibility for maintaining the building unit. 

If you find it difficult to narrow down your specifications, consider making a comparative list of the different types of accommodations that might interest you. Considering how limited options in the market can be especially as you near the start of the academic year, determine which areas you can possibly compromise on in exchange for more important factors.

After you’ve determined your broad goals, U of T’s Off-Campus Housing online tool can be a great place to start looking if you decide an off-campus option might be right for you. All current U of T students, faculty, and staff can access the website using their UTORid or JOINid to access the directory of off-campus housing. Your choice of options will be specifically catered to specifications you can set on your profile.

URent — a program run by U of T Student Life — also provides access to modules and workshops that will help coach you through the process of finding accommodation.

Another resource you can refer to is the U of T Students’ Union Housing Guide, which provides essential information ranging from student rental tips to information about financial aid.

Finding roommates and reviewing rent

Unless you wish to live alone in a studio, roommates can be ideal for those who wish to reduce expenses by sharing rent. Finding a roommate or roommates who share your specifications can help expand your search for housing options. Having roommates also ensures a sense of shared responsibility when signing the lease agreement for the unit’s upkeep.

To find the ideal roommate, use tests such as the Roommate Compatibility Checklist created by Student Life to determine if your respective lifestyles match.

U of T has an online roommate finder tool on the U of T off-campus housing website, which students can use to connect with others interested in renting together.

Rent rates in the city, especially in downtown Toronto, have risen since the pandemic. The rent you pay will likely depend on various factors, including the location and your preferred floor plan. You can use the comparative report by the City of Toronto on average rent rates and monthly occupancy costs when determining if the prices for accommodation downtown line up with market rates. 

Reviewing a lease and signing tenancy agreements

Before signing a lease, ensure that you are completely up to date with the Ontario legal tenancy regulations and requirements under the Residential Tenancies Act of 2006 and are not only aware of your rights as a tenant, but also the rights of your landlord. An important aspect of this is reviewing and agreeing upon any changes in the rent rate itself, especially if you are reviewing your lease. 

For the most part, Ontario is a rent-controlled province. Currently, landlords legally are only allowed to raise the rent by 2.5 per cent; in most cases, landlords have to make a suitable appeal to Ontario’s Landlord and Tenant Board with good reason as to why rent should be increased above the 2.5 per cent marker. Landlords, by law, are required to inform tenants of any change in their given rent 90 days in advance, regardless of whether or not your unit is rent-controlled. 

However, these rent control regulations only apply to residents of any condos, apartments, or houses who have lived there before November 5, 2018. This means that in newer buildings and units that aren’t fully under the purview of provincial regulation, landlords have greater freedom in determining the extent of rent charges. 

Ensure that you have viewed the unit and thoroughly inspected it for property damages before signing any written agreement. Furthermore, looking into getting tenancy insurance that provides complete coverage for all your belongings is a good idea. In the event of an accident, such coverages insure you from damages and help lessen overall liability.

Moreover, be wary of potential housing scams, especially on housing websites. Be sure to double-check that the unit listed is verified, look up online reviews, and follow up on any conflicting information you find. While the U of T Off-Campus Housing website regularly screens and checks posted listings, you should immediately report any red flags or potential rental scams.Keep in mind that in the event of any disagreement between you and your landlord, you are completely within your rights to file a case with the Landlord and Tenant Board of Ontario. However, considering the massive backlog of tenancy disputes, the experience may be less than satisfactory and will be time-consuming.