House Hunting in London: Tips & Tricks for a Great Lease

Believe it or not, it’s almost that time of year again: figuring out where to live for the next academic year. Although it seems absolutely absurd to be deciding where you’re going to live 10 months from now, London student housing goes fast. If you want to find somewhere great, they’re going to start going on the market now and really pick up steam as we head into the end of first semester. Here are some tips and tricks for making sure you have the best experience possible!

1. Pick your roommates carefully

First and foremost, you need to find some roommates. This can make or break your year, so try and find people you get along with. From personal experience, living with your best friend isn’t always the greatest idea. Try and choose people with whom you share interests, study habits, and standards of cleanliness. Do this BEFORE you start house hunting. Sit down with your group, talk about things like cleanliness, chore distribution, sleep schedules, lifestyle habits, budget, etc. It may be helpful if everyone writes out their pet peeves to see if you’re compatible. This stage is very difficult, especially because you may feel pressure to live with your best friends. However, try to remember that not living with your friends may actually save and strengthen your friendship in the long run!

2. Start Looking!

There are a variety of places you can look to see which houses are on the market. Try Western’s Off-Campus Housing Services website or Exclusive Rental. For a much easier and convenient option, Western also offers two upper year residences: Alumni House and London Hall. They are located on campus and are suite style, complete with a living room, kitchen and washroom.

3. Location is everything

When you’re looking for housing, keep in mind your commute to class. Are you able to walk to class? If not, are you located to a bus route nearby? Will you have a car to commute? For me, I chose to live in the ‘old north’ area (Huron St, Broughdale Ave) because the majority of my classes are in the Health Science building. However, if you’re in Ivey or have a lot of classes in the Spencer Engineering Building, you might want to look at houses in the Western Rd - Sarnia Rd area. You may also want to pay attention to the neighborhood. If you prefer something quiet, avoid townhouses or complexes (such as the ‘redbricks’). And if you choose to live on Broughdale, recognize that your house is probably going to get trashed on homecoming.

4. Set a budget

Budget needs to be a huge priority when it comes to housing. Prices vary, mostly based on location and age. If you choose to live extremely close to school, prices will often be extraordinarily marked up. However, if you want to make the commute and live farther away, your bank account may thank you. Newly renovated buildings may also put you back even more money.  Make sure to check whether utilities are included, or if the landlord is willing to offer utilities included. If the utilities are not included, it can be a huge hassle to set up payment and split the payment amongst your housemates every month. When touring the house, make sure to ask if each room is the same price. In houses where there is a really big room (such as a master bedroom, or a room with its own washroom) or a room that is significantly smaller, it can be a good idea to ask to modify prices to reflect the size. That way, instead of arguing over who gets the big room, the person who wishes to pay more can get it.

5. Included amenities

Before you go house hunting, ask everyone in your group to write a list of ‘must-haves’. Here are some for inspiration: parking spots, air conditioning, dishwasher, extra fridge, storage space, backyard, location, budget, included internet/cable, already furnished, etc. If you’re going to be part of a large group (5+ people), it may be wise to have a dishwasher and extra fridge. Parking is also a major issue—make sure there are enough included parking spots for everyone in your group with a car, as many streets in London do not allow overnight parking. If you have pets, you may also want to ensure that you’re looking at pet-friendly properties.

6. Get to know the landlord

Although it may seem unnecessary, your landlord is a huge part of your experience. If you’re looking at renting a place that is independently owned, you may want to know how close your landlord is in case of emergency, what their policies are, and what responsibilities they are willing to take on. For example, are they responsible for snow removal and property maintenance?

7. Know your rights

This is extremely important—many students are ignorant of their rights and may be taken advantage of by landlords and rental companies. Your landlord may ask for a deposit, however, according to the Residential Tenancies Act s106(2), the amount cannot be more than one month’s rent (typically they will call the deposit “last month’s rent”). Also, according to section 108 of the Act, no landlord or tenancy agreement can force you to give post-dated cheques or to give banking information for automatic debiting/charging a credit card. So please—stop letting landlords and agencies get away with this! Know your rights and be sure to go over the tenancy agreement carefully. The landlord should give you time to look over the agreement, so don’t feel pressured to sign it straight away. Look over it, and if you have someone you trust such as a parent or family member who will look over it as well, it may save you some trouble in the long run.

Although it can be a difficult process, creating a plan and knowing what you want will significantly help your house hunting journey. The student housing market in London moves crazy fast, so make sure to stay on high alert and keep looking for the perfect place