Being in first year, I wasn’t exactly a seasoned renter when I started looking for places and neither were any of my soon-to-be housemates. The place we ended up with wasn’t all that bad, but the issues we ran into were enough to warrant some regrets.
The utility bill
At 17-years-old, I wasn’t even sure what a utility bill was, let alone that it can fluctuate a lot throughout the year and changing temperatures — all on top of rent! My second-year home had reasonable bills in the summer, fall, and spring, but when it came to the winter, the rates shot up. Our building was heated by an old-school furnace instead of natural gas, which is why it got to be so expensive. Figuring out how your prospective home is heated and whether the price is included in your rent could impact your decision.
Reading the lease and all of its clauses before signing
My lease — which was upwards of thirty pages long — was pretty much impossible to take in and research before signing at the end of our hour-long meeting. The lease-signing meeting we had with our landlord was the first time we would see the document, which means that we had to either sign it, or back out of the lease. While some made sense, some were downright weird. No parties, or rather, no persons other than the tenants exceeding a total of four after 9 p.m. Oh, and no composting, or playing guitar. Since we signed it, it’s legally binding. But, if you can see your lease and ruminate on it before, you may be able to secure yourself some freedom.
Always look at other houses and meet other landlords
I started looking for places in November, long before most rentals are even posted in Kingston. I had this fear that I would wait too long and suddenly be stuck with somewhere terrible, or worse, no place at all. I didn’t realize that students don’t actually have to declare whether they’re renewing a lease until the end of November. That means that the majority of the places that would become available, many of them much nicer than the one I ended up with, after I had already signed a lease. Despite what you may have heard, the good ones don’t always go first. Exactly what my landlord was going to be like.
My landlord, who shall remain nameless, is on the intrusive side. By on the intrusive side, I mean that her properties are patrolled by rent-a-cops, and conduct semi-regular cleanliness inspections. No matter how much you scrub, it’s impossible to get an A on them. Yes, she does grade them, and the highest we’ve ever gotten is 75 per cent. Being in university, I really don’t need another number scale to be disappointed with. Ergo, my next point. Meet with the previous tenants to get unbiased opinion.
I met my apartment’s previous tenants in the span of about 45 seconds while we were being shown the house by the landlord. They smiled and said it was a good place, but it would’ve been a good idea to go back and talk to them about any problems they’d had without the landlord breathing down their necks.
There are a lot of services offered at Queen’s that I wish I’d taken advantage of before and during searching for a house.
Queen’s Student Community Relations provides a lease review service to go over your lease with you and help make sense of the legal jargon. They have open office hours in the JDUC for students that need help with landlord relations, housing safety review, tenant rights and responsibilities, and any other off-campus housing issue that may crop up.
Some things you can deal with, some are deal breakers, and others are just good to know beforehand. No place is perfect, but taking your time, doing your research, and evaluating the landlord along with the property is the only way to make a safe bet.
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