General, How-to, Student Life

Students On The Hunt: Off-Campus Housing

“Beautiful 1 bedroom, perfect for a tidy, respectful young couple”  

This was the title of the Craigslist ad I responded to last April with high hopes.

Two weeks later I was out of $1300, apartment-less and feeling like the world’s biggest idiot. I had become a victim of the “I’m a [insert very respectful job that only a wonderful person does here] and I am out of the country with my family to work in Europe for the next five years and I need someone really great who will take over my second apartment” scam.

The thing with people who scam for a living is that like most people who are career crime-sters, they are really good at it. If you are unsuspecting (which I completely was) or even worse, a Toronto newbie who has never rented before (hey, I was both) your scammer comes off as a really nice person who is willing to phone you at 3am “England time” to explain to you in great detail about how to money transfer your first and last month of rent. Your scammer will do almost anything to make it easier for you to hand over your money but once that money has been removed from your bank account, your really nice doctor/engineer/teacher family-man landlord gives you literally nothing but radio silence. When I say nothing I am definitely implying that yes; you for sure are not getting that “Beautiful 1 bedroom, perfect for a tidy, respectful young couple”.

Que the tears and the calls to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

The best way to avoid being scammed is to be realistic about the rental places  you find on the internet. Websites like Craigslist, Kijiji, Apartmint, Padmapper, etc can be great resources for a student on the hunt BUT it’s so important to keep in mind the old adage: “if it’s seems too good to be true, it probably is.” Absolutely no one is going to rent out their 1000 square foot, fully furnished King West loft for seven hundred dollars a month. If you do decide to use these websites, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Toronto is an expensive place to live. When you are setting your rent budget, make sure you consider how much money you spend a month on groceries, going out, phone/internet, etc. If you find a place that is far from campus, you will also need to consider paying an extra one hundred and twelve dollars a month for a TTC Metropass. Try to create a budget that gives you a little wiggle room for emergencies.
  • Start looking early. This way you can get an idea of what kind of apartment you can afford with your budget. It also gives you the time to adjust your budget accordingly, if your current budget means you will have to live in a broom closet.
  • Pay attention to detail. When you are reviewing rental postings, look for details like “utilities all inclusive,” “in suite laundry,” “4 piece bath,” (score! this means you get a bathtub!) “junior one-bedroom” AKA a studio apartment with a nook for your bed, etc.
  • Utility payments. Many apartments pay for your heat and water, and make you pay for the gas/hydro you use. If this is the deal, make sure your hydro has a separate meter – you don’t want to be forced into paying more than what you’ve used.
  • Never pay or sign for anything until you’ve met your landlord and seen the apartment in person. This is a big one if you want to avoid scams. Some scams aren’t set up as elaborately as the one I fell for. Sometimes, you are attracted to beautiful clear, crisp photos of an apartment that were taken seven years ago or photos that are of a different suite than the suite that is actually available.
  • ‘Vibes’ are important. Maybe the landlord seems a little sketch, or maybe you leave the apartment feeling like you will not find something better…pay attention to those gut feelings. Since you don’t really get to spend much time with a landlord or inside a potential apartment, those first impressions pick up on things your eyes might not see.

I have done a lot of apartment hunting since my “incident.” Since then I have seen a lot of great apartments and met many wonderful landlords who seem to truly care about their tenants.

A photo of Madeline's apartment, showing her living room.

After my scam-fiasco I was able to land this cute little one-bedroom basement near High Park. There is hope for you yet.

That being said, apartment hunting can be a daunting and exhausting process. It is especially hard for students because quite often our incomes are less than desirable and our young age makes landlords likely to judge us unfairly.
If you feel uncomfortable searching for an apartment on your own or simply do not know where to begin, visit U of T’s off campus housing website. Here, you will be able to access guides and tips on how to find the perfect off-campus housing for you.