5 things students should know about renting that first apartment

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Aug 21, 2014 by Shelby Wye  Simcoe.com

You never forget your first apartment.

For post-secondary students, that first apartment holds the promise of fun and freedom nagging parents. But living the dream can quickly turn into a nightmare.

Rob Schussler, sales manager at Century 21, says that students who are looking to rent near campus need to educate themselves on their rights, and know how to protect themselves if things go sour.

Before you even start looking

Schussler says learning the ins-and-outs of renting can and should happen long before students even check out a house. He encourages families to look at the Residential Tenancies Act, also known as the landlord-tenant act, and related forms.

“They make it really easy for renters to understand their rights, and in Ontario, the law favours the tenants,” said Schussler. “But, they need to know the laws before they start signing paperwork.”

After a thorough read, students can start hunting through apartment ads. Online forums often list ‘rooms for rent’, and Schussler says that these are the sorts of ads to avoid entirely.

Insurance policies for landlords who rent-by-room aren’t well-defined, and in some cases, rent-by-room rentals can be illegal. This means no protections for the tenants inside if something goes wrong.

Schussler suggests avoiding any apartments that say ‘rent by room, with shared common area’ for the safest bets. For those who are alone in their student house hunt, it’s recommended they try to find some people to go in on a house with for everybody’s best interest.

Look in every nook and cranny…literally

Once students start viewing possible apartments, Schussler says they should be asking questions about almost every inch of the house.

“There’s the obvious things, like what’s really included in the rent – whether you’re paying for hydro, heat or water, or if it’s all included,” said Schussler. “But there’s less obvious things, like checking the age of the electrical wiring.”

This part is about knowing how to ask the right questions. A student house should have 100 amp electrical service. Anything less won’t be able to supply all the electricity a student house needs.

“Those laptops, flat screens, microwaves, phones, video games…make sure the house can handle that kind of technology, otherwise they might all get fried after one electrical outage,” said Schussler.

Other problem areas can include windows. Make sure they’re reasonably new, and functional. Windows are meant to be opened, in case of emergency, but beware of drafts that will cost you later in hydro charges trying to keep the house warm. Basements can also be a hot spot for a variety of more serious concerns, such as asbestos.

“Students tend to think it’s just a place to store some boxes and run down and do laundry, but they could be a host to dangerous mold, and later when the tenants find themselves feeling sick all the time or having headaches, that could definitely be the cause.”

Landlords, landlords, landlords

Usually location is considered the number one priority when it comes to finding somewhere to live. But in the case of a rental agreement, a landlord can make or break your lifestyle.

Students need to establish a relationship with the landlord early, and know that before they sign that lease, they have all the power in the contract.

“Do not be afraid of offending the landlord by asking questions,” said Schussler. “They owe you those answers, and if they do get offended, then you know they might be hiding something and know that it’s time to move on.”

Look into the landlord’s history. With a wealth of online resources, there’s rarely an apartment or student house that hasn’t been reviewed. Ask for previous tenant’s contacts, and get a good sense of what sort of landlord you can expect.

Find out the details on the landlord policies, such as their liability insurance. Most people will have a million dollar policy, but a respectable student house should have around a five million dollar policy.

Signing the contract

You’ve found the dream apartment with some great room mates, and now it’s a matter of putting pen to paper.

Don’t be too quick to take what the landlord has said at face value. Contract terms should be in print, and not communicated through verbal promises. The best course is for students to meet with the landlord equipped with a well thought out negotiation strategy.

”As a tenant, you have every right to ask for wiggle room in a contact,” said Schussler.

However, make sure anything that is changed in the contract is done physically right in front of you. If there is a clause being removed (for example, tenants required to pay hydro bill), scratching out that specific clause and having both the tenants and landlord sign there indicates it was an approved change.

Conversely, if a clause is added (for example, landlord is responsible for snow removal), a separate piece of paper should be attached to the front of the contract with that new clause on it, again initialed.

Everyone involved should have a signed copy of the contract that documents all approved changes, especially since students need to have proof if a dispute arises over the negotiations. If a second copy doesn’t exist, make sure to photocopy or take a picture of the final negotiations contract.

To further protect yourself

Schussler said that families can also invest in renter’s insurance policies for their kids when they go off to their first off-campus homes. The Landlord-Tenant act is also full of resources and print-outs that might come in handy if troubles arise out of a rental home.

Students and their families are recommended to choose their battles wisely. Don’t demand a dishwasher or free internet access if everything else is perfect. One crucial lesson students should heed is that they can’t get everything they want, but they should feel comfortable knowing they have everything they need.

Find the original article here.