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Beyond residence: A place that fits your lifestyle

Globe and Mail Update

There's more to university living than the standard on-campus residence.

For some students, there's a plethora of alternatives if they're willing to open their minds a bit.

"Figure out what type of housing fits your lifestyle, and then base your search from there, using all the resources you can," advises Brad Clarke, off-campus housing officer at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont.

But you need enduring patience to suss out a spot where you can set up shop in comfort and affordability. Here are some of the options:

Off-campus apartments

If you really need a kitchen to play chef in or if the idea of sharing a room gives you pause, consider getting an apartment, either alone or with friends.

However, with great power comes great responsibility, so before becoming the master or mistress of your own domain, you also have to put in the hard time finding a place to fit in your price range and quality people to share it with.

Once you've got a locale, you also have to furnish it and set up numerous accounts to stay well-lit, well-watered and well-connected. So, before taking on the challenge, make sure it's something you're capable of keeping up.

Fraternity and sorority houses

If you decide to go Greek, living in a house with other sorority or fraternity recruits can be a cost-effective alternative to finding independent housing.

But be prepared to be embedded with your pals, since joining a house is a lifestyle commitment that means you'll be waking up, studying, hanging out with the same people day in and day out.

If you find a good fit with a community, and the facilities are up to par, then having a place that's festivity friendly and camaraderie oriented can be a hit, as long as you're prepared for a party you can't always close your door to.

Student co-operatives

Co-operatives have been in Canada since 1913, and have become a favoured option for students who want a communitarian type of living.

In co-ops, students often take out rooms or apartments and then split overall household responsibilities among the group. Each resident becomes a member of the co-op, and not only bed down door-to-door to each other but break bread together — as in many co-ops meal service is included in the cost.

Advantages include the fact there's an immediate community atmosphere and that leases can go month-to-month, not annually. But for some potential co-op converts, mandatory chore time or sitting on a house committee may not be so appealing, a standard feature of co-op living.

On-campus apartments

Getting your own place doesn't necessarily mean moving off campus, as some universities offer on-site apartments. These are often generously subsidized and can be more than a little difficult to land a spot in as they often require applications early in the year. Making a decision quickly is key.

Not everybody's eligible: Often there's an age or degree level requirement, so occupants have to be on their second course of study or in the senior stages of their academic career to qualify. It can be a great choice however, if you're looking for a rent-controlled environment surrounded by peers in the same life stage — like family dorms, for instance.

Rooms

If the idea of moving out on your own is a little intimidating or you want to pocket a little extra spending money, living with an individual or family or in a rooming house can be an alternative.

Often, homeowners with a lot of extra space will let out extra rooms for ultra-low prices — meaning that renting can be a bargain for those prepared to deal with expectations that are stricter than you would in a place of your own, like lower noise levels and existing house rules.

There are two options in this area: either you get use of the kitchen or you also pay for meals. The upside of the latter is home-cooked meals, a distant dream for students in off-campus housing.

If you like a lot of private areas to lounge in, then this option may be a bit snug — but if you spend a lot of time away from home and just need a place to crash, renting a room in a home or a rooming house can be an inexpensive option.

Places to check

  • Start with your campus housing directory, many of which are on-line.

    But also check local newspapers and property management groups. If you call a local real estate agency, they'll be able to give you a head start on who might be able to help you or well-known landlords, as well.

  • Also, there are many national websites that can help you find a place to live. For example:
  • www.homes4students.ca
  • toronto.craigslist.org
  • vancouver.craigslist.org/
  • montreal.craigslist.org/
  • ca.roommates.com

  • To learn more about student co-operatives: www.chfc.ca/ (click on co-ops for students)

    Tips for living off campus

    If you're looking for an off-campus spot, here are some tips from experts across the country:

  • Start looking early if you live in a smaller town where month-to-month leases aren't an option, as prime off-campus spots are snapped up early in the year. Since many students sign one-year leases that extend from May to May, they must sign a lease before they leave for the summer.

    Don't just rely on the campus listing service, chat with local property companies listed in the yellow pages and agents at real estate firms. By looking at off-campus sources there's a better shot of finding a property treasure, instead of the same old-same old that everybody else sees.

    Choose who you will live with very carefully and make sure all of the parties pick the location together. Everyone signing the lease should be comfortable with the entire house, as someone is going to get the smallest or least-lit bedroom.

    Ask to speak to current or previous tenants to get the lowdown on how high the landlord scores on the maintenance and repair charts. Make sure to check how much is needed for utilities and heat as cost can vary wildly from house to house.

    Examine the facilities carefully: Turn on faucets and light switches, look at floor boards, check cupboards and appliances like the stove or fridge, and flush toilets. Also, ask about painting — landlords should either paint between tenants or at least make sure there's no cracked or peeling walls.

    Find out how long it will take to commute to frequent destinations like the best library, the campus gym and the buildings where classes are. Try to walk to the initial apartment viewing, factoring how long it will take to do the to-and-fro from campus and to insure the walking routes are safe.

    Have someone experienced, such as parents, campus legal aid or a university ombudsman, look over the lease and have every roommate signing it read it cover to cover before scrawling their name. Often, student leases can limit parties, pets and property use, and no one wants the plug pulled mid-fiesta by an angry landlord who laid out rules in advance.

    Make sure you set up a house billing system so responsibility for getting utilities and telephone hooked up and cable/Internet installed is taken care of. It's lame to be sitting in the dark for your first week of class. Also, set up a system to ensure bills get paid on time — instead of wreaking havoc on young credit ratings.

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