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A beginner’s guide to moving off campus

Start the house hunt early – or risk living somewhere like this. Photo by Angela Gzowski

We’re approaching that time of year when those of you living on campus are (hopefully) starting to give some thought to where you’re going to live next year. If you’re planning on living in the university residences again, the decision-making process is pretty straightforward. If, however, you’re planning to move into off-campus housing, there are a number of things you need to consider when picking the perfect place.


Halifax is known for having fairly high rent, even in the student housing markets, so the first thing you need to figure out is what you can realistically afford to spend each month on housing. The traditional way of figuring this out is to calculate 30 per cent of your income, and make that your maximum spending on housing (including rent, heat, water and other utilities). But that calculation can be less effective when you’re a poor student who doesn’t actually have an income to speak of.

The simple student way of looking at it is: what’s the maximum monthly rent I can afford that will still leave me enough to buy groceries and pay tuition, and maybe occasionally see my friends? This decision will have an impact on the type of housing and the number of roommates you’ll end up with, so think it through carefully. Be realistic with your expectations: if you’ve only got $300/month for housing expenses, your dream of a cozy one-bedroom apartment to yourself with a nice view, sweet landlord and a swimming pool in the common area may be a little out of touch with reality. More realistic at that price point? One room in a shared house with a couch on the front porch and four to five possibly questionable roommates, in a possibly even more questionable neighbourhood.

Who Do You Want to Live With?

This is another key question to think about. Even if you can afford to live alone, a lot of people prefer the social atmosphere that comes with having roommates. That being said, choose your roommates carefully. Living with your best friends can be awesome, if you all have fairly similar lifestyles, compatible expectations of cleanliness, and similar sleep/party/noise habits. If you don’t, it can be a disaster, putting serious strain on both your friendships and your stress levels. When choosing your ideal roommates, you’ll want to consider how clean they are, how quiet they are, how often they like to socialize at home and invite people over, and how often you like to study at home. There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. If you’re a noisy person who loves to socialize, you may be happiest in a household with multiple roommates who regularly host mixers in your living room. But if you like a quiet, tidy home, and typically study in your room, you’ll likely be happier with only one or two roommates, and should probably choose people who also like a peaceful, clean house.

Where Do You Want to Live?

This refers to both what neighbourhood, and what specific place. You’re going to find some pretty significant differences in price depending on what neighbourhood you’re looking in. Neighbourhoods that are on the sketchy side, and/or far away from the school and convenient public transit routes will likely be significantly cheaper than neighbourhoods within a short walk of the school that are full of happy children and rose gardens. Your budget will likely play a significant role in deciding which neighbourhood you end up in. Once you’ve picked your neighbourhood, you have to pick the actual place. Some people are totally happy in homes that are a little rough around the edges, but you do want to watch out for damage that extends beyond basic wear and tear. Specifically, stay away from any house or apartment that appears mouldy or water-damaged, infested with any sort of rodent or insect, or appears to have once been a drug den of some kind. Also important, when you do find the perfect place, be sure to make a written record of any existing damage that was already present when you moved in, and have the landlord sign it. Otherwise you may get charged at the end of your lease for damage that already existed.

So there are the basics for your first place: budget realistically, choose your roommates wisely and don’t get scammed into renting a complete dump, and you’ll be just fine!

Happy house hunting!


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