This year marks my fourth year at McGill, and my fourth different living situation: One year in residence and three years in three different apartments. As someone who has made many avoidable mistakes when it comes to housing, I feel it is my duty to pass on the wisdom I’ve acquired over multiple years of bad apartments and unreliable landlords. Perhaps the following are mistakes that you will only learn from if you make them yourself, but if I can prevent at least one person from living in a creaky basement bedroom with no windows and a landlord who is ‘on business’ for two months, then I feel I have made the world a somewhat better place.
Tip #1: Be patient. If you haven’t signed a lease yet, you’re likely already doing something right. Often the leases that come up in January and February are the more expensive ones, which may lead to regret once you see all the apartments that become available in March and April. While it can seem that everyone has already figured out accommodations for the following year, don’t feel pressured to sign the first apartment you see just for the sake of keeping up with your peers. In fact, if you don’t feel like finding a summer subletter, the nicest apartment I’ve lived in was one I found in August with a September lease, and many nice apartments’ leases don’t start until June or July.
Tip #2: Do not settle for a ‘less-than’ apartment. If you feel iffy about an apartment the first or second time you see it, chances are you’re going to be even more disappointed when you move in, and its novelty has worn off. If you’re bitter about bedroom sizes, this will likely fester. If the rooms are dark and dingy, it will only become more noticeable come winter. If it feels damp when the dryer is on, keep looking. There are better options out there.
Tip #3: Think about the practicalities. When I was first house hunting, my only criteria was that I wanted my apartment to have a big living room and to be relatively close to campus. This kind of tunnel vision led me to gloss over all the aspects of a place that actually make it liveable. For example, do the toilets flush properly? Does your bedroom have a window to let sunlight in? Does the sink’s drain get clogged? Tiny annoyances like these can add up, and make daily life a pain.
Tip #4: Use your resources to choose a suitable landlord. Importantly, this means knowing how to weed out the bad ones. Did you know McGill actually has a ‘burn-book’ of bad landlords? The complaints binder, which can be found in McGill’s Off-Campus Housing Office, lists landlords with whom students have had bad experiences. A landlord who is too busy to respond to calls or texts is a landlord you should skip. It’s useful to consult both former tenants about their opinions, as well as meet the landlord yourself in order to make an informed decision. Keep this in mind as there is nothing worse than the combination of a broken toilet and a landlord who is ‘extremely busy’ for weeks at a time.
Tip #5: Be informed about the finders fee. You’ve probably heard by now that if the landlord asks you to pay an extra fee for the apartment, or if the former tenants require you to buy their furniture in order to secure the lease, that this is illegal. But myself and many people I know have bought the furniture because we thought it was a good deal for getting furnishing quickly and cheaply. In fact, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Often, former tenants will try to make a profit by getting rid of their old, tarnished furniture to eager students. But remember that you can get nice furniture for way cheaper by using McGill’s classified ads, the McGill Free & For Sale group, or Craigslist. Come the end of April or the end of August, many people are in the process of moving out and are trying to get of their furniture in a hurry and will sell it for almost nothing. This is your best bet for furnishing your apartment quickly and easily—don’t be fooled by the seeming ease of other options.