Off-campus housing guide for university students

By Bianca McKeown and Olivia Grandy, Carleton University B.J.’25


So, you didn’t get into residence. What are your housing options now?


After the first year of university, many students choose to live off campus.


For off campus living, there are four main options that students consider: getting a place together with friends, living with someone you don’t know who already has a place rented, renting on your own, or renting a room in someone’s home.


It’s important to look specifically at your university and their off-campus housing page as housing varies greatly from city to city.  Consider this comparison between UBC and McGill.


Before making a decision about which housing option suits your needs, it is important to consider the upsides and downsides of each option.


  1. Living with friends

After first year, most people end up living with their friends.


Most students either rent a house, condo, or apartment with friends depending on their budget and what they want included in their rent. You should know that often, utilities such as heating, water, and hydro are not included in the rent. Internet is another extra cost that you’ll have to split. Ensuring everyone is clear about their budget limits from the outset is very important.


You also should consider compatibility when living with friends. Just because you’re friends, doesn’t mean you’ll be good roommates. Often, living with friends can put additional strain and pressure on a friendship, so setting boundaries and having clear communication can make living together easier. UBC Okanagan Campus Transition Advisor, Lindsay Farrugia advises students to be specific with boundaries. “Clean” means different things to different people.


You’ll need to get ahead of the game when looking for housing. Often, there is an advantage in being the first group to tour a house. This means deciding on your housemates early, and establishing your collective wish list for the ideal rental.  If you’re looking for a May 1st lease, get a group together in January as listings start appearing as early as February and they go quickly. This varies by city though, so scroll through Reddit to find out what lease timing is most common in your city.


  1. Living with people you don’t know 

With Facebook Marketplace, this housing option is now increasingly popular among students.


Often, people will join a Facebook group for student housing in their area. For example, for students in Kingston there is a Queen’s University Off-Campus Housing group you can join. This way, you can find people who are also seeking the perfect roommate match.


Before moving in, meet up in-person to test your compatibility. Often, someone may seem perfect online, but once you meet up you may see there are huge lifestyle differences you didn’t notice before.


An advantage of living with someone you don’t know is it’ less awkward to ask the hard-hitting questions from the get-go. Have a list of questions ready to probe how they feel about the living conditions most important to you. Questions can be regarding cleanliness, noise, finances, kitchen and food items, and hosting guests. Farrugia says this is already awkward, so don’t shy away from bringing forward any concerns in a respectful way.


Before signing any lease, make sure you view the place and meet all the roommates you’d be living with. Though you don’t have to be best friends with the people you live with, compatibility and clear communications goes a long way.


It’s also important to manage your expectations of the experience. Consider peacefully co-existing with someone a success, anything else, such as friendship, is an added bonus says advice columnist and influencer, Harlan Cohen.


Ultimately, use your judgment and gut instincts when deciding to live with someone you don’t know. If something feels off, or you notice a red flag, then it’s best to keep looking.


  1. Living on your own

If living with other people doesn’t strike your fancy, then you may want to consider living on your own.


This option may work best if you’re introverted, or have a busy social life and want a break from the hustle and bustle of student life.


When living alone, the most important aspect to consider is finances. Not sharing a rent and paying the full cost of utilities can be expensive, so making sure you’re financially stable and can afford to live alone is priority #1.


Safety is another aspect to consider. Make sure doors and windows are locked at all times and consider adding safety measures like a chain lock or bolt lock. It may be a good idea to have a close friend or family member have your location in case anything happens.


The upside of living alone is that you don’t have to deal with roommates! You have the luxury to do whatever you want, whenever you want. Want to binge watch a movie at 3 am in the living room? Go for it! Want to have friends over? There is nobody to stop you!


That being said, living alone can get lonely. Make sure you have a good support system of family and friends to keep you company. Things such as getting a plant, picking up a new hobby, or getting a pet can also help ease the lonely blues.


  1. Rent a room in a house

Maybe the above options don’t feel right, so you’re looking to rent a room in someone’s house. This option may come with a few sacrifices, but if you can get on the homeowner’s good side and show you’re willing to pitch in, your wallet and sleep schedule may thank you.


For many students, renting a room means their roommates are often at a different life stage than them — you may find yourself sharing a space with an older couple or in a young family’s basement.  It’s essential you respect the homeowner’s boundaries and keep a low profile noise-wise, especially if you don’t have a private entry. In these situations, you should think of yourself as a guest in the house, hopefully in exchange for peace, quiet and a sense of home away from home.


Before moving in, have a clear conversation about the owner’s policies on having guests over. When is it appropriate for you to blast your Spotify playlist? Hopefully, the homeowner will consider your need for a healthy level of social interaction. Still, some trust-building may be required before you volunteer to host weekly hangouts with your pals.


Finally, ensure the room feels genuinely comfortable to you and that it’s actually legal. Every province and city has specific rules about what constitutes a bedroom — often around windows and square footage.


Additionally, make sure you can imagine yourself feeling safe in the room — the low ceilings don’t make you feel claustrophobic, or you don’t feel like you’re living in a gloried closet. The room is all you’ve got, especially since you’re sharing a space with someone who may not fully understand the student lifestyle.


International students 


If you’re from out of Canada and looking for a place to stay, then these four options still apply to you! However, it’s worth doing some extra research to get a feel for the rental market since you might be unfamiliar with what a fair rate looks like. As a transition advisor, Farrugia suggests using Place4Students to get a feel for rental rates in your city. The site is likely partnered with your destination university. Even if you don’t end up finding your dream rental on this site, it’s helpful to navigate shopping within your budget on Facebook Marketplace and Kijiji, she said.


On the same note, it’s important you’re aware of what a standard lease in your province looks like. For example, in Ontario, there is a standard lease agreement that everyone signs by law. Take a look at what leases look like in your city before signing one!


If any clause in your lease contradicts the law, it’s technically void. But you still have to pay your rent even if you find a void clause in your lease!


A dispute between you and your landlord can be tricky to navigate, especially if you want to remain on friendly terms. Farrugia advises students to use the resources available to them. For instance, UBC’s student union offers students support and information for off-campus tenancy, and similar law-student-run support services exist on campuses across the country.


The main websites and resources students use to find housing are:

Other great places to look:


Off-campus housing guides by universities:

West coast


East coast