Illustration of houses and apartments
March 1, 2018
5 mins read

Housing in Vancouver: Tips for first-time renters

Residence offer letters started going out last month. Unfortunately, because of the demand, not everyone who wants to live on campus can necessarily do so.

If you don’t land a place in UBC housing, don’t despair! We’ve got some tips to help you tackle Vancouver’s rental scene.

Where to look for housing

Search online listings

One of the best places to find housing is through online listings, and there are lots of sites you can search:

Check Facebook groups

There are also Facebook groups specific to UBC where students can find roommates or learn about available apartments:

Walk around

Another option is the old-fashioned way: put away your computer and walk around the city. Keep your eyes peeled for rental signs posted in windows and on fences outside apartment buildings. Often, the best spots are not listed on Craigslist, and you can sometimes meet the building manager on the spot.

Ask your friends

Ask around to see if any of your friends are moving on from their current places, or if a bedroom is opening up in their apartment. Often, inheriting a place is a good move, if you aren’t super picky.

Students talking and walking at UBC

Tips to help you with the hunt

1. Decide on a budget

First things first: decide how much you can spend per month on rent. This will depend on how much money you have:

  • saved up
  • from student loans
  • from a part-time job (if you have one)

Make sure to factor in additional expenses such as utilities and internet, which can add to your overall monthly rental cost, if they’re not included with a unit.

2. Know what you’re looking for

Once you’ve got a budget, you can start figuring out the kind of place you want to live in.

  • Do you want to live alone?
  • Are you okay living with roommates to save on rent?
  • Do you need a lot of natural light or is a basement suite okay?

Know the kind of place and the general area or neighbourhoods you want to live in before you start your search. This doesn’t mean you can’t be flexible, but it allows you to set parameters and narrow down your search.

Check out UBC Student Housing's guide to living off campus for more information about neighbourhoods.

3. If you’re going to live with a roommate, find a compatible one

While your first instinct may be to live with your best friend, make sure the two of you are compatible. If you’re a night owl and your friend wakes up at 6:00 am every morning, it might not be the best fit.

Often, there are people with an apartment already who are looking for a roommate to join them. In this case, if you see a good fit, reach out to them and tell them why you’d be a suitable roommate.

If you’re looking for a roommate who is not in your existing friend group, remember to:

  • Be nice: When messaging people on Facebook or responding to an online posting, make sure to share a bit about yourself instead of simply saying “I am interested…”
  • Be honest: Tell them what you are like to live with and the kind of roommate you’re looking for so that you can avoid any nasty surprises.

4. Always check the place first

I mean always. Pictures can be deceiving, both in terms of the size of a place and its cleanliness. Also, they likely won’t reveal any damages in a suite. You want to be aware of any problems or issues before you enter into a contract.

Visiting a place first can also give you an idea of how well it’s furnished and help you determine how much furniture you will need to bring in yourself to fill the place up.

Finally, previewing a place gives you a chance to get a feel for the neighbourhood, including how close it is to public transit and other amenities like grocery stores. You can also verify if a “five-minute walk to public transportation” as stated in the listing is actually five minutes.

5. Be prepared to make sacrifices

Everyone has a list in their head of the different qualities that would make the perfect apartment. It needs to be spacious, well-lit, close to school, easy to get to downtown from, etc.

But it’s also true that very few places exist that check all of these boxes. And there is a lot of competition for those that do. So, be prepared to sacrifice some of your desires.

For example, you might want to consider a place that adds 10 or 20 minutes to your daily commute in order to pay lower rent and have a bigger bedroom. Or, if you want to rent downtown, you’ll likely have to live in a smaller space than you’d prefer.

6. Be willing to hustle

Most apartments for rent won’t be listed until a month or two before the move-in day. So be prepared to search long and hard during that period.

Make sure to check rental listings regularly. Send out more emails than you thought you were capable of sending on a daily basis. Make phone calls when people ignore your emails.

Some of the above sites, like Craigslist, allow you to set email reminders. Take five minutes to set these up, so that you can be notified right away when a listing is posted that you might be interested in.

7. Come prepared with a rental deposit

The main way to secure a place is to put down a deposit. In B.C. this is usually one month’s rent—by cheque or cash depending on the landlord’s preference.

Competition for rental housing in Vancouver is fierce. Some apartments can have up to 15 other people checking it out—at the same time. By going to showings with your deposit, you’re more likely to secure the place you really want.

8. Know your rights

Whenever you rent a place, the landlord will most likely require you to sign a tenancy agreement. This is a contract outlining the responsibilities of both the tenant and the landlord. Before signing an agreement, review it carefully to ensure everything within it is both legal and acceptable to you.

If you’re renting for the first time, you might not know all of your rights and responsibilities as a tenant. So it’s important to take the time to familiarize yourself with this info.

The first place to start is the B.C. Residential Tenancy Act website. The “Starting a Tenancy” section is particularly helpful and outlines things like:

  • what a tenancy agreement must include 
  • how much a landlord is allowed to request for a security or pet deposit
  • why inspecting a place with your landlord before moving in (known as a “walk-through") is so important

For more info on your rights as a tenant, check out:

9. Watch out for scams

Rental scams are a fact of life, so always be on the lookout for red flags. Here are some common ones to watch out for:

  • Rental prices that are “too good to be true.” Scammers will often try to attract people by advertising a place with a price that is extremely low.
  • Asking for a deposit without meeting you or showing you the place. Landlords who only want to communicate by email, refuse to meet in person, or don’t allow you to see the place before asking for money are most likely up to no good.
  • Asking for too much personal information. Landlords do not need your bank account, credit card, or Social Insurance Number. Be wary of any who ask for this type of info, which is not legally required.

For more information, check out the Vancouver Police Department’s tips on avoiding rental scams.

Don’t give up

It’s no secret—housing in Vancouver is expensive and finding the right place can be difficult.

But keep the above tips in mind, and with some persistence and hustle, you just might land yourself a pretty sweet place to call home for the next year.

UBC student sitting on bed in dorm room