You lived in a dorm in your first year, but either you didn't win the residence lottery for second year or you're sick of having to wear flip flops to shower. Either way, you're looking for an apartment for the first time and you're overwhelmed. Who should you live with? How much can you afford to pay in rent? Should you take that amazing place even though the landlord seems a little sketchy?

Here are some things to consider before signing a lease:

1. Your Budget

The first thing you'll need to do is figure out how much you should be spending on rent. This figure can be wildly different depending on where you're going to school, since a basement suite in Grande Prairie, Alberta is going to be much cheaper than a room in a condo in downtown Toronto. Ask other students who live in the area how much they're paying. If the rent is too high, you might have to live in a smaller room or start searching in different areas where the rent is more affordable.

Remember to add in things like gas, electricity, internet, a damage deposit, parking and tenant insurance (if your parent's insurance plan doesn't already cover you while you're in school).

2. Furnishing Your Place

Living in residence made moving into your first year digs easy since you just needed to bring your clothes, books and maybe a mini fridge. But you'll need to invest in furniture for your new apartment unless you luck out and find a furnished place.

While Craigslist and Kijiji have great cheap, used furniture, you will likely need to drive around to get it and that could be a problem if you don't have a car. Getting delivery from Ikea or a local furniture store might be a cheaper and easier option.

How much should you budget? Buying things like sheets, couches, beds, tables, chairs, dressers and other things can set you back even if you find them cheap. Make sure to set aside $1,000 to $2,000 to furnish your place.

3. Your Roommates

You might not have had a lot of say in who you lived with in residence, but when you move into an apartment – you get to choose your roommates. While it might be tempting to get a place with your best friends, you should look for people who have similar lifestyles to you instead.

You'll want to live with people who are considerate and also who have similar ideas as you do as to cleanliness. If you study all the time, you'll want a roommate who won't be playing loud music or having lots of people over at night. You'll also want to live with someone who is easy to talk to so that you can better navigate any disagreements that might come up.

4. Finding the Right Place

When it comes to searching for the perfect place, you'll need to figure out what's most important to you. Do you care most about the apartment's relative proximity to buses or subways that will make commuting to school faster and easier? Or is the size of your room more important? Make a ranked list of things that you would like your place to have.

Finding an apartment can be hard since you'll likely be moving at the same time as a bunch of other students. Asking for help from friends on social media might mean that they'll connect you with places so good that they don't even make it to listings since they're snapped up by friends of the former tenants. You'll also be able to find rooms in homes easier this way if you're looking for a room and not a whole apartment.

If that doesn't work, check out sites like Craigslist or Kijiji. Contact your school to see if there are any other places where people list apartments for rent in your city. If you see something you like, act fast! Call and see if you can have a look at the listing as soon as possible. That will help you beat out other interested renters.

Did you go home for the summer and can't physically check out potential apartments? Have a friend who stayed in town look at the place to make sure that it's like the pictures and that it isn't a scam.

Once you know you want to rent a place, fill out an application on the spot. You don't want to lose it to someone who is faster than you. That means that you should bring or memorize all your important financial and personal information like your SIN number and other details like character references that are asked for on rental applications.

5. Working with Landlords and Signing a Lease

When you find a place you think you might want to rent, you'll want to know things like what's included in the rent, what the damage deposit is, whether there is a move in fee, how long of a lease they want you to sign, and whether pets are allowed and what kind. If you intend to go home and rent out your room for the summer next year, you'll also want to make sure that subletting is allowed.

Most leases are for periods of one year after which you can either sign another year-long lease or the lease goes to month to month after that. Some leases require just one month's notice from either party to terminate the lease while others can require up to 90 days' notice.

What should you look for in a landlord? You want someone who seems responsible and is likely to fix things quickly if there are any problems. Ask them how they handle repairs and what you would do if there was a plumbing emergency. Landlords ask tenants for references, but you could also ask a future landlord for a reference from a former tenant.

Since you've never signed a lease before, you might be afraid that you'll be taken advantage of or that you'll sign a lease that will cause you trouble in the future. If your lease involves things like clauses giving your landlord access to your suite without letting you know, late fees for rent, a clause that allows the landlord to change the lease at any time, or language saying the tenant is responsible for repairs – the lease might be illegal or unethical. You can either try to negotiate to remove those clauses or find a different rental. Also consider getting the lease reviewed by a lawyer if you’re confused about the terms.

Ready to rent?

Living in a dorm can be a lot of fun, but you'll likely enjoy the independence and autonomy of living in a rental off campus, where you'll be able to separate your school and home life.



Legal Disclaimer: This article is provided for information purposes only. It is not to be relied upon as investment advice or guarantees about the future, nor should it be considered a recommendation to buy or sell. Information contained in this article, including information relating to interest rates, market conditions, tax rules, and other investment factors are subject to change without notice and The Bank of Nova Scotia is not responsible to update this information. All third party sources are believed to be accurate and reliable as of the date of publication and The Bank of Nova Scotia does not guarantee its accuracy or reliability. Readers should consult their own professional advisor for specific investment and/or tax advice tailored to their needs to ensure that individual circumstances are considered properly and action is taken based on the latest available information.