Roommates from Hell: The People Upstairs

When I first moved into my dirty old apartment, we didn’t have the two students living above us. For a short time, while the building manager was ill, a property management company came in and helped fill the vacant apartments. This company is well known in this city for not properly vetting their clients, and renting to some pretty shady characters. So, the apartment above mine was rented out by them.

At first, the people there seemed nice, from what I was told. It was supposedly a young mother with her baby son, and her boyfriend would be staying there on and off. They seemed nice enough, and the apartment was rented out to them.

Turns out, that wasn’t who would be living there, really. Yes, she had a baby son living with her, but she also had a daughter there too. And her boyfriend moved in full time. And so did his brother. And their two friends. And two cats and a few Dobermans. Then the Rottweiler. Did I mention these small, two bedroom apartments had a “no pets” clause in the lease?

People started moving in slowly. When the property manager would stop by, the girl would say that her friend was helping her with her kids that day, or that there were so many guys there because they were going to have a guys night and play poker.

What they were really all doing there was growing marijuana.

It turns out, they were growing, drying, and then selling marijuana from the apartment. They also were NOT cleaning, or paying bills, or taking care of the kids living there.

When I went to first look at the apartment, before we rented, the building manager told us that the tenants upstairs were being evicted and would be out before we moved in.

Well that didn’t happen.

They were served with an eviction notice, and ignored it. They had their power shut off, which inadvertently shut down the power to my apartment as well. Didn’t bother them, they brought in noisy, stinky generators. They got served with ANOTHER eviction notice, and ignored it. Finally, the building manager said that he was going to get the police involved, which apparently scared the people with the illegal grow-op in their apartment. They started making arrangements to move.

Until then, they raised hell.

We couldn’t sleep at night because they would be up all night, stomping and screaming and yelling. We still had no power, because when the power company came around to turn it on, they scared them away. The stink from their apartment was starting to waft through the hallways and down the staircases. They started throwing things out their apartment windows, without taking out the screens first: they just ripped them open.

One day, the threw their cats out the second floor windows. One landed and ran away. The other hobbled around, and you could see that it was sick. Some mechanics from the shop across the street took it in, and had a veterinarian friend of their come take a look at it. That vet said he had never seen a more abused, diseased cat before. Its bones had been broken, it was sick with almost a dozen different things, and its eyes were so infected that they crusted shut. They put the poor thing in a shoe box to make it comfortable, and it passed away a few hours later.

Once the poor cat was gone, a group of very large, very angry mechanics showed up on the doorstep upstairs, looking for whomever had hurt that poor thing. I don’t know what was said, but those people moved out a few days later.

The building manager and two of the tenants who had been in the building more than 25 years decided to do a walk-through of the apartment together, to see the damage. I don’t think they were quite expecting what they saw.

The carpeting in the bedrooms was ripped up, and they had let their dogs poop under it. There were garbage bags full of old diapers, rotten food, and cat litter all over the apartment. They had stopped using the toilet once they were told the police would be called on them, and started peeing on the floor, covering the puddles up with the kids’ clothes. In some areas, they had even punched holes in the walls and had shoved garbage in there.

The building manager said it would take at least a week to clean, and that the chemical smell would be pretty bad. Also, we wouldn’t be getting our power turned on until this was cleaned up, because they had to do both apartments at once for some reason, and there was feces shoved in the electrical outlets. Luckily, summer exams had just ended and my parents lived just across town. The roommate and I both packed our bags and bunked out in my old bedroom at my parents’ house.

In the end, they had to replace a few walls, rip out all the carpeting, and use industrial strength cleaners to get that apartment clean again. One of the other tenants who was helping cut his hand while cleaning up the cat litter, and his hand got so infected he wound up in the hospital for almost a week, getting his hand drained and his body pumped full of antibiotics. The doctors had never seen an infection that bad from touching cat poop, and said that the cat that came from as too sick to exist.

That was quite the experience, having to deal with all that. And that is why you check out the neighbours before you move into a new place, sunshine!

Roommates From Hell: The Break-In Upstairs

I once shared an apartment with a friend of mine. It was a dirty little place, where the hardwood floors never seemed to get clean. I couldn’t wear white socks at home, because they would turn black. This is the same place that had no air conditioning, and most of the windows didn’t open properly, so I was forced to sleep on a busted love seat in the living room. The only good thing about the whole place was the bedroom closet in my bedroom (all I want in life is my own place with a really big closet and a great big bathtub).

And the neighbours were some of the worst.

Now, there were actually worse neighbours living in the apartment upstairs when we first moved in, but they deserve their own entire post. After they left, and the apartment was sanitized, two young business students moved in upstairs. One had his very lovely parents come help him move in, and the other looked like a skinnier Thor in a rock band. The first few weeks, they seemed like very nice people.

Then, they got comfortable.

It started with the late nights. They would wear their heavy boots and clomp around, dancing with friends in high heels, blasting music all night. The staircase separating our apartments from the other two in the building muffled the sounds for them, so we got the brunt of it. They started smoking marijuana in their apartment, which was strictly forbidden in the lease (we had even created a smoking area in the back yard for anyone who smoked anything). Then, they started selling marijuana out of their apartment.

None of us knew about this latest development until one night in January, when whey were out at the bars again. I was curled up on the loveseat, trying to relax before bed, while the roommate sat in his chair watching cat videos on his laptop. Suddenly, we heard the complex doors open and someone come storming in, loudly yelling and stomping up the stairs. They stopped in the landing……. and loudly vomited everywhere. Even with my apartment door shut, I could smell it. Someone had extra garlic that night!

Then, they drudged through the puke and up the rest of the stairs, to the front door of the apartment upstairs. At first, they pounded on the door. Then they yelled and screamed. Then I heard kicking, and wood splintering. I tried to call the guys in the other apartment upstairs, but no answer. Turns out everyone was out that night, and my roommate and I were the only ones in the complex.

When we heard stomping up in the locked and empty apartment upstairs, I grabbed my phone to call the police. The stomping moved from the apartment, to the stairs, and back again, over and over. When I heard someone pound on my door, demanding I find the guys upstairs, I grabbed the biggest knife I own, hid my roommate in the bathroom (he couldn’t fight his way out of a paper bag if you cut the bottom open for him), and told the dispatcher to tell the police to hurry.

The pounding stopped, the stomping upstairs started again, and then there was the sound of glass breaking and a giant thud. When the cops got there not even a minute later, they found a young university student, higher than a giraffe’s nut sack, half passed out on the livingroom floor upstairs, the remnants of a few (very expensive) bongs broken all around him. They arrested him, took a quick statement from me, and left a note on the now splintered and broken front door of the apartment upstairs, all the while trying to avoid the puke all over the hallway floors.

About an hour later, while I was still too wound up to sleep, I heard the guys in that apartment come home with a friend. She refused to walk through the puke, so Thor carried her. They got to their front door, where the note from the police was, and saw the broken glass all over their floor, and did what any concerned, responsible adults would do: they grabbed some of their weed, grabbed some booze, and went to her house.

The next morning, I left a message for the building manager about what happened. He said the cops called him that morning too, telling him what they found. He had called the guys upstairs, who told him that they didn’t come home at all that night, and were with a sick friend all day as well. I called them out on their bull, told the building manager about them coming home the previous night.

When it later came out that this guy broke into their apartment looking for drugs, and that they were selling them out of the apartment, things changed quickly around there. First, those boys had to pay for both the new door and all of the cleaning and repairs to the stairs and hallway. Apparently, the puke was so bad in some places it made the paint on the walls bubble. Then, the building manager called their emergency contacts, which happened to be their parents, to tell them that the apartment had been broken into and could they please double check with their boys to make sure nothing of value was stolen. He played it off as a concerned friend, calling to make sure these poor, shaken boys had someone there to help comfort them and to think clearly about what they own of value. When Thor’s mom showed up at their door, saw large bags of weed on the table, and read the copy of the police report that was left for the boys, she went outside to wait in a damn blizzard for the other boy’s parents.

This was by far one of the scariest things to happen to me once I moved out for school. I didn’t know why that boy was kicking in the door there, or what he wanted, or if he would try the same thing at my apartment if he didn’t find what he wanted upstairs. I kept a few steak knives on the end table at night, for security, until I accidentally sliced my palm open reaching for my phone one morning.

But that’s the past. After that semester ended, those boys moved out, and I never saw them again. I wish I could say I wonder what happened to them, but the only time I think of them is when I tell this story.

Until next time, sunshine!

Our Microwave Just Broke

So while I was making my dinner, one of my roommates tried to reheat his leftovers in the microwave. It made this awful loud noise that scared the crap out of the cat, and refused to heat anything. I messaged the landlord, and he said he’s look into it tomorrow.

Now, I like this roommate. He keeps to himself, doesn’t leave big messes everywhere, spends a lot of time on campus, is very respectful to everyone here, and the cat loves him. He joked that he was going to have to eat take-out now, and I suggested he reheat his food in the oven when I was done with in. He came back to the kitchen once my food was done, looked at the oven and said, “So how does this work? Do I just put my plate in there?”

I just had to teach a soon-to-be-grown-up how to use an oven.

He didn’t know how to turn it on. He didn’t know you can’t just throw a plate of food in there. He didn’t know how to use a baking pan.

This boy has never had to make anything more complicated than a pot of rice. He has buckets of leftovers in the freezer here that he just reheats and eats over rice.

So once again, I somehow get to be the adult in the house and teach people how an oven works. Is it scary that I’M the adult?

Roommates From Hell: How To Pay Rent

So yesterday, I walked you through some of the stuff you will most likely find in your lease. There was one thing I didn’t mention though, and that’s how to pay your rent.

Now, in our house, the actual home-owners live in another country. They bought this house while their son John was a student here, and their son still lives here now. Both he and his dad are members of the Armed Forces, and can have some pretty erratic schedules because of this. Last fall, John went away for a 10 week training program to complete his basic training for the Reserves. Now, when he is here, he is the acting landlord. It is his responsibility to collect rent, maintain the yard, keep things generally in order, and deal with all of the other tenants. When he left, he didn’t really appoint anyone to do his job. I offered to collect rent from our two newest tenants in the basement, if they had any problems with the options for payment provided in the lease.

Really wish I hadn’t offered that.

Now, our lease is perfectly clear on how we can pay our rent, and actually gives us a few options. Since the actual landlord can’t be here to personally collect rent, he gave us three banking options. One was to write a series of post-dated checks and give them to him. This way, the money could always come out on the date on the check. The second way was to go to the bank (not very far from here), and deposit the money directly to the house’s bank account. He gave the account number and detailed instructions on how to do this. The last option was to use online banking to pay either him or John. With all three of these options, the tenant automatically gets some sort of rent receipt (cancelled check, receipt from the bank deposit, or the printable email confirmation of rent being received).

Now, Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dumbass downstairs couldn’t quite grasp any of this. They insisted on paying their rent in cash, in person, to John every month. Pretty tough to do when John’s gone, right? So before he left, he told them the three options they have, and that they could talk to me if they had any problems. Then I wrote a note, detailing the three options, and put it on the fridge where they could see it. And, coming up on the first of the month, I reminded them of their three options.

First of the month, I wasn’t at home. We had a family crisis at the moment, and I was bedside at the local hospice. Again, I left a note and talked to the Tweedles, saying rent needed to be paid and I wouldn’t be around much for a little while. Instead of doing the sensible thing and paying their rent the way they’re freakin supposed to, they took a fit when I didn’t drop everything to personally collect their money from them. One guy actually pouted, and they gave me hell when I got home.

But wait, it gets better.

Remember how I said the options given automatically give a rent receipt? Well that’s no accident. The landlord chose those options so that when John was not here to collect the rent, the tenants would still be able to have some sort of receipt on demand. This was explained to the guys when they moved in. Yes, John had formal receipts that he could print out and sign if someone wanted them for tax purposes. But for the month-to-month workings of the house, if you wanted a receipt then you had to pay according to the lease.

When the first of the following month was approaching, and my family crisis was over, I approached the Tweedles in the kitchen and reminded them about November’s rent. I thought I would just point out how to pay, remind them to pay on-time. You know, how things should work. Well Tweedle-Dumbass flipped out! Since he paid in cash and I deposited said cash, he did not have a rent receipt from the past month. Apparently he needed one to show his father, who was helping him out financially. I explained to him again that he would have had his receipt if he had paid according to the lease, but that didn’t help. The little turd actually puffed out his chest, flexed his arms, and started crowding my personal space, claiming he was going to have his father call me to get a receipt. Turns out, he somehow wanted me to print out a receipt, and for John to somehow sign it from his military training more than 8 hours away. Logical, isn’t it?

I explained again that if he had paid according to the lease, he would have the receipt, but that did nothing. I told him to read the lease, read all his documents, and then we could try to work something out. I even offered to talk to his father to explain the situation. Well, it turns out the Tweedles never read their lease, and had no clue who the landlord was. Somehow they thought that I, another tenant of the house, was their landlord. I never said anything to them to make them think this, I wasn’t the one who toured the house with them, I wasn’t the one who had them sign the lease, and I wasn’t the one they gave their first month’s rent and security deposit to. Still, they somehow thought that, since John wasn’t here that somehow made me their landlord.

I explained to them again that 1) I rent a room here; 2) John’s parents own this place; 3) John is the acting landlord; and 4) they were already told to pay the rent one of three ways so that they could have receipts in events like this. I then explained further, going into detail about the benefits of each payment method. When I said that post-dated checks meant that rent was always paid on the first, Tweedle-Dee took his turn to flip out at me. He started yelling at me, claiming I was somehow implying that they were going to skip out on rent, or be late with payments, or try to jerk us around to get their rent. In the end, I gave up on talking to them, and messaged both the owner and their good friend across the street. They agreed that the friend would take their payments if they insisted on paying cash, so that they would have no reason flip out on me anymore.

Funnily enough, the first of the month came and went with no sign of Tweedle-Dee. It seems he went to a Halloween party, then downtown to the bars, then to a friend’s house, and didn’t come back until the 4th. When I reminded him that the neighbour still needed rent from him, he acted like I was a nagging parent forcing him to clean his room on a nice day. He stomped his feet, pouted, and actually said “I’ll pay it when I pay it”.

Damn, I really don’t miss those two!

Reading and Understanding Your Lease

A lease is a legal document. Legal document. That means that once you sign it, you are bound by it. So you would think people would read through these things before they sign them, wouldn’t you?

After getting burned by a bad lease once (they sold the house out from under us and forced us to move out with less than one month’s notice, which was perfectly allowable under a clause in the lease), I’m a little pushy when it comes to leases. I think everyone should not only read through their, but have to read through it with their landlord there to answer any questions or concerns. You need to make sure you understand what it is you’re signing, before you go ahead and sign it.

Now, before we get into specifics of your lease, there is one thing you need to know above everything else: you need a copy of your lease. No, I’m not being a smart-ass here. I mean after you read through it and decide to sign it, you legally have to be given a copy of your lease for your own personal records. And you damn well better keep that thing, too! You may need it if things go sour.

Finances: Your Basics

There are a few things you absolutely need to have included in your lease, such as how much you are responsible for paying each month, and when you move in. Most places will have you give them a security deposit, which is usually equal to one month’s rent. Legally, if the place is in good repair when you move out, you get this back. It should state all of that right in the lease.

Now, what you pay each month should be in there. What is your monthly rent? Does it include utilities? Right now, I’m lucky with the lease I have. I am renting a room in a house (currently have 3 other roommates, with room for one more). For around $400 a month, I get my room, all my utilities paid for, basic cable, unlimited internet, on-site laundry, on-site parking, a backyard, and some of the furniture here is also included.  Most places are not this amazingly great, though. Always check your lease to see what, if any, utilities are included in your lease. You may have to pay for your own internet, or electricity, or for all your utilities separately.

Also, you need to know any and all penalties in the lease. Some landlords throw in a charge for bounced checks, late payments, damages above and beyond the security deposit, or other such things. I knew one person whose roommate got hit with a heavy fine for smoking in his room, when the lease clearly said there was to be no smoking in the house.

Length

So just how long is this lease for? In college and university areas, many landlords have an 8 month option and a 12 month option. If you’re only going to be around during the regular school year, make sure you’re not signing a 12 month lease! Even if you move off site before the lease is done, you are responsible for the payments.

You should also see if the lease mentions what happens after the lease is up. Some landlords make you sign a new lease for a full term. I’ve known others who automatically transition the lease to a month-by-month lease, meaning you can move out any time you want with only one full month’s notice.  Know which one your landlord requires, in case you like the place enough to stay there multiple terms.

Boundaries

This is one part of the lease a lot of people don’t pay enough attention to. After getting burned by our previous landlord, my then-roommate and I made sure to go through our lease with a fine toothed comb. There were some things in there that made me laugh, which apparently had to be included after bad experiences with former tenants. No storing tanks of butaine, propane, or any other highly explosive or flammable gases in the apartment. No waterbeds. No keeping of fireworks on site. No creating compost piles in the livingroom. I shudder to think of the reasons why they had these rules!

There were also a few things in there that were really, really important to know. If we wanted to leave before our lease was up, we were not allowed to sublet the apartment to anyone else, and would be held responsible for all payments. We were not allowed to have any pets at all, not even a goldfish in a bowl. There was even a clause about the number and frequency of overnight guests (which is a long story you will probably hear about involving our upstairs neighbour and the grow-op).

When Things Go Wrong

Sometimes, things go wrong. Pipes clog. Stoves catch on fire. Homes get vandalized or broken into. I can remember a few years back, on my damn birthday, I was living in a basement room in a house. I could hear something hitting the back window, and young voices outside. It turned out to be two local teens (15 years old), who decided to draw all over the back of the house with a giant Sharpie and dig random holes in the backyard. I called the police, and listened while the boys were questioned (“Why were you drawing on the house?” “Duh, we were bored. And like, we didn’t know people live here.” “What about the car in the driveway, and the for rent signs, and the lights on in the house?” “We didn’t see any of that. Can’t we just go?” It was comedy gold). Afterwards, I had to contact the landlord. Thankfully, it said right in our lease what to do if something like this happened, since our landlord lived a few hours away. I took pictures of the damages (why do young boys like to draw dicks on everything?), and sent an email to the landlord, telling her what happened, showing her the pictures, and giving her the information from the police that I was asked to pass along. We were able to get the house cleaned up and everything taken care of in a matter of days.

Your landlord should include some sort of contact information in your lease. In larger apartment buildings or dorms, you might have on-site management who can take care of things right away. In other situations, you may have to make a few phone calls or send a few emails. Either way, how to take care of things like this should be in your lease.

Now that you know all of this, go take a quick read-through of your current lease, if you have one (and you kept a copy of it). And the next time you rent or lease some place new, you’ll know a little of what to look for in that document.

Things to Look For/Do When Looking to Rent, Pt.2

Last night, I went over some of the things you should be doing before you start actually checking out places to rent. Once you’ve gone through all of that, you can start actually going on walk-throughs of rooms/houses/apartments. When I started doing this years ago, I basically just walked into the place, checked to see if the walls were still standing and the windows were intacts. I, admittedly, did not do any of these things.

I also have a long list of horror stories about my past living arrangements. Someday, I’ll tell you about the night I had to call the cops and guard my apartment door with a giant butcher knife because some drunk guy was puking in the stairwell and trying to kick in my upstairs neighbours’ door. Yes, it’s something funny to tell now, but it was not fun then. And most of the things that I came across in those places, while they make for great stories now, were just hell to live through in their own little ways.

So, here’s a few things you can do to try and find the best quality place for your money.

FROM THE OUTSIDE

First, take a look at the property itself. Is it well maintained? Are the neighbouring properties maintained? What is the parking situation like? You can tell a lot about a place from the first impression you get before you walk in the door. A well maintained property outside means that the owners are more likely to maintain the inside as well. If the grass is overgrown, there’s weeds everywhere, the bricks are cracked and pieces are falling into the parking lot, and the windows are all cracked, they really don’t care about the place. These may be the types of landlords who will wait months to fix leaky pipes, or a leaky roof, or busted appliances.

Also, are the neighbouring properties looking the same? If all the buildings in the area are looking a mess, then maybe this isn’t the best place to be moving into. If no one cares, then there might be worse problems they have to deal with than long grass and weeds, like crime or neglect.

Parking is another thing you should be looking at. I got rid of my car the beginning of my second year of university, and have just never replaced it. So when I looked at places, the parking situation wasn’t high on my list of priorities. Even if you don’t drive, though, your friends and family might. You should know the parking rules for the area, whether it’s a parking lot or street parking. Some areas only allow street parking with a permit. Other places are strictly parking meters. Some lots only allow a certain number of visitor parking spots, or will not allow visitors to park in a resident’s spot (even if that resident has no car). It’s best to know what the situation is before you decide to go signing any documents.

FROM THE INSIDE

Once inside, you need to get your sleuth on. First,,,,,,,check for obvious signs of damage and neglect. This includes mould, cracks in the walls and floor, stains, water marks on the ceiling, peeling wallpaper or paint, peeling floor tiles, burn marks, rodent droppings, bugs, and random people who have taken up residence in a vacant apartment (don’t laugh, I’ve seen it). If a landlord can’t even cover up the bloodstains on the wall from the previous tenant (knife accident in the kitchen, blood sprayed the wall, I later found out), then they’re probably not going to come take care of the roaches or mice or mould you find later.

Next, you’ll want to start looking for the electrical outlets. Make sure there are a bunch of them, and they are conveniently placed. I’ll never forget the apartment that had more than half a dozen plugs in the hallway, but not a single one in the bathroom. Make sure every room has outlets, and make sure they work. It’s best to bring along a cheap night-light (you can get them at the dollar store), and use it to check each and every outlet you can find. You would be amazed at how many non-working outlets my old apartment had (hint: it was more than half of them in the whole place!).

Next, go take a look at the windows. Check for signs of damage (water damage, warping, peeling wood, mould) and, if possible, feel for drafts coming in from outside. In the summer, this may be pretty damn hard to do, but those signs of damage can usually indicate some sort of draft. Next, see if the windows open. I once had a place that had no A/C, in probably the most humid city in Canada, and most of the windows were painted shut. I could not sleep in my bedroom, and instead had to sleep on an old broken loveseat in the livingroom under one of the few working windows.

Now, you’ll need to start opening things. Check in the kitchen and bathroom cupboards for anything wonky. Often times, landlords will put the roach and ant traps there, so they’re effective but not obvious to potential renters. You’ll also be looking for signs of damage. A landlord may replace the cupboard doors after a kitchen fire, but won’t repair the damage inside the cupboards. Also, doors that fall off them you try to open them are a huge red flag.

Closets are the next check. Open all the closets, not just to check the size (but definitely DO check the size). Again, landlords may neglect to fix or cover-up the damage in these areas, and would just close the doors instead. Also, make sure the closets are as big as they seem. My current closet looked pretty darn big when I first looked at this room. I can’t possibly fir all my clothes in there (and I’m not a huge clothes-horse or anything) and have to have two dressers to keep most of it in. The problem here is with the set-up of the space. You’ll want to check the rods and hooks (which are oddly placed in mine, giving me less space to work with), and look at any shelving. Also, if it’s a large closet, check for lighting. And if the ceiling is high, check out the top corners with a flashlight. This is where bugs will sometimes hide, and it’s best to catch them early.

And finally, talk to the landlord about the appliances in the apartment. Here in my area, appliances are usually included with the place. I’ve seen times when this is not the case though (Jenna Marbles talked about having to buy her kitchen and laundry room appliances in her last newest HouseTour vlog). If they are included, make sure they work. Like, the whole appliance. I’ve seen fridge/freezer combos with only a working freezer, stoves with only one working burner, and dryers that take three full drying cycles to dry a small load. Ask the landlord about all the appliances, and check them personally whenever possible.

ON THE WAY OUT

After you’ve taken your tour of the place, see if there are any neighbours around you can talk to. I don’t mean go knocking on people’s doors trying to talk to them. Maybe walk around the immediate neighbourhood a little bit, see if anyone is outside. Introduce yourself, tell them you’re thinking of renting in the area, and see what they have to see about it. Not only will this give you a bit of an idea of what the area is like, but it also means you’ll know a few neighbour if you choose to take the place.

So these are just some of the things you should be doing when looking at a place to rent.  While it’s not an exhaustive list, it’s the things I most regret not doing before moving into some of the places I’ve lived. There are a tonne more lists and resources out there for anyone who feels like playing with the Googles. One great resource I found was the blog How To Grow The Fuck Up. They have a four part series on how to rent an apartment, but this post here has a great list of things to look into when you’re doing your walk-throughs and tours.

So, I hope this helps a bit. See you all again tomorrow, Sunshine!

Things to Look For/Do When Looking to Rent; Pt. 1

Not that I have actually done most of these things. No woman in my family had ever moved out of the house until they were married, so no one was really forthcoming with advice for me when I announced I was going to move out. So, I basically thought it was going to be easy. I looked at a few places with different friends, and then decided to move into a place with my best friend (and her fiancée, and her mother, and their 6 cats, and their ferret). I moved a few more times in the years after that while in school, and am currently starting the long journey to FINALLY moving into a place that is just mine (no roommates other than my cat). With each new place, I learned from my mistakes. And damn, were there ever a tonne of mistakes.

So, before you actually start physically looking at places, or touring places, here’s a few things you should be considering (which I probably did not):

1 ) What is your budget?

Now, this will be different to figure out, depending on your income. For people who work a set amount of hours every day/week/month, this is simply figuring out how much money you make, and how much you can spend on rent. Many experts recommend looking at your budget as a whole, and working from there. Gal Vaz Oxlade (from tv show Till Debt Do Us Part, and the infuriating to watch yet amazing to gather tips from tv show Princess), has some great worksheets in her Resources section of her website ( http://www.gailvazoxlade.com/resources.html ) to help you do different types of budget and budget analysis.

One of the sheets in this resource section deals specifically with students (the Student Lump Sum Money Worksheet). For many students, the majority of your money for each semester is given to you in one lump sum through your student loans, bursaries, scholarships, and grants. This worksheet can help you work out your total budget for the semester, and break it down into a monthly budget.

Basically, you need to look at your money situation to make sure you can afford the place you want to live in. What would happen if you rented an apartment for $600 a month, but only had enough in your budget to afford $380? That’s $220 each and every month that you would have to make up for in some way, or risk being evicted.

2 ) Pick you basic location

This doesn’t mean “find an apartment building”. This means “look at the area you want to move into, that is most convenient for you”. For students, this is most likely in the immediate area of their school. Take a look through this area and take a good look at the housing situation. Are there more apartments, or private homes being rented? Are things run mostly by rental agencies? Is the area safe? What is around this area?

I know some of this sounds stupid, but hear me out. In apartment buildings, you’re more likely to be able to find a one bedroom or bachelor place, where you can live totally by yourself without any roommates. There’s also the option of a two bedroom place, that you can share with a close friend. House rental could mean renting an entire house with a group of people, or renting a room in a random house that has other random people living there. Also, there are more likely to be things like house parties at houses (obviously) than apartments, meaning there are more likely to be loud nights at your neighbour’s place.

Safety should be a huge concern for you when looking for a place. I don’t care if you’re not even 90lbs soaking wet, or the 350lbs linebacker for the school’s football team: you need to worry about your safety. Many local police websites have a section where you can look at crimes and crime rates throughout the city. Now, no area will ever bee 100% free of crime. It is always a good idea, though, to look at what you may be getting yourself into. Is that nice apartment building you saw surrounded by drug busts in the recent past? 27 murders in the building last year? Or is the worse you would likely see around there probably a loud party, or bike thief? It’s always better to know these things ahead of time, than to just take a place and find out the hard way.

And what is around this area is a HUGE thing you should be looking at. Obviously, if you’re trying to stay close to school or work, they will be near your chosen area. But what else is there? Things you should look for are grocery stores, laundromats, bus stops, restaurants, shopping centres, hair salons, banks, and any other type of business you would need in your life.

3 ) Know what you want.

Now that you know what’s in the area, and the types of places around, and the amount of money you can spend each month on rent, you can start looking at what you want in the area. I suggest looking at ads for a variety of types of places first (rooms for rent, bachelor, one bedroom, two bedroom), just to see what the prices are like. Sites like Kijiji often times have pictures of the properties, so you can see the size and condition of the places you are looking at. Also, they tell you if things like utilities (water, electricity, gas) are included in the rent, or if they are extra. This is SUPER important to know before renting a place, because it impacts your budget hugely.

Now, you can decide what it is you want. What do you want more: privacy, or a cheap place to live. I always went the cheaper route, and didn’t look into things that I now know are essential to me. I would rather give up a little bit of my privacy, for example, and have a roommate if that means I can have A/C in my place. I live in one of the most humid cities in all of Canada, and suffer from eczema that is made worse by sweating in the humidity. I spent one horrible summer in a dingy little apartment with no A/C, because it was an apartment and I only had to have one roommate while I was living there. After that, I moved into a house with 6 other random people just to escape the heat and to live in a basement room with no A/C controls (meaning it was absolutely freezing all year). Right now, I have my A/C and I’m down to 3 roommates (all males) in my current house, plus my cat. While this is not ideal for me right now (I miss being able to watch TV in my underpants and sing in the shower), there are certain benefits to it (A/C, utilities included, everyone loves that cat, house is in good condition, no infestations of any sort, no mould, and I get my own private bar fridge in my room for my wine, cheese strings, and candy bars). I know that I cannot afford all of these things if I were to move into an apartment right now. You need to know your necessities, and where you are willing to compromise. Some people don’t need A/C, or are so frugal with their utilities that they don’t mind paying them separately (many places offer cheaper rent if you will pay your own utilities).

And remember, if you decide you don’t need something, make sure you are really ok without it. If you opt for a place that does not have on-site laundry facilities, for example, you damn well better make sure you have a laundromat nearby that you can easily get to. There is nothing fun about carrying a month’s worth of laundry and sheets on the bus to get to the laundromat that’s too far to walk to.

4 ) Start looking

Now that you know more about the area, what you can afford, and what you are willing to compromise on, you can start seriously looking at places. I’ll have a whole other post on what to do when you’re inside the place, checking it out. Right now, you’re just looking at a bunch of possible places.

You’ll want to look at places that fit your budget (obviously), meet your standards of privacy, are clean and infestation-free, and are in the general area you’re looking in. Don’t get too narrow of a focus (can only look at one-bedroom apartments on the 5th floor or above with a balcony, A/C, and in-suite laundry, for example), but don’t make it too broad either (somewhere, anywhere, where there isn’t a tonne of mould and the neighbours aren’t running a house of ill repute, for example).

Also, you’ll want to look at some rather specific things. If you have a pet, make sure the place is pet-friendly before you decide to go see it. If you have issues with mobility, you would want to make sure the building and apartment/room are accessible to you. Basically, you need to make sure you can actually live in a place before you try to live in a place.

So that’s the basics for part one of Things to Look For/Do When Looking to Rent.  In my next post, I will be going into what you should be doing once you actually pick a few places to look at (yes, you should look at more than one, just in case the one you have your heart set on turns out to be a bust).