Step 2: Before you rent

3 students sitting at a table sitting at a table studying.

Renting for the first time can be confusing and overwhelming. Here are some tips and tricks to help you through the process.

Understanding your needs 

  • It's crucial to prioritize your unique needs and preferences by determining what you want and what you can live with. You can create a budget and narrow your options to what you can afford. 
  • Be sure to separate needs from your wants. For example, your needs are dealbreakers and may include safety and proximity and wants are nice-to-have may include a dishwasher. 

For more questions to ask yourself before starting your housing search download the "understanding your needs" tip sheet. 

Use this sheet from the Region of Waterloo on how to narrow down your housing search and understanding the difference between your wants and needs. 

What is the cost of housing?

Determining the cost of housing involves evaluating several factors like location, unit size, and amenities. 

Types of Rental Options

Types of rental options 


Estimate cost per month



Room in shared home 

Bedroom in a larger living space (home). 


The most affordable option. 

Shared space (kitchen, bathroom) with roommates who could be other renters or the homeowner*. 


Basement units within residential homes. 


Can include separate entrance. 

Limited natural light and ventilation. 

Student housing apartment 

Bedroom in a shared living space (apartment). 


Residence-like feel and likely already furnished. 
Amenities like social spaces, may be included. 

Can include additional fees based on amenities included. 


Living with a local family in their home*. 


Cultural exchange: some meals provided. 

Limited independence and flexibility. 

Co-op Housing 

Student-run cooperative housing arrangements. 


Lower costs; sense of community. 

Shared responsibilities and chores. 

Studio apartment 

One main room (including kitchen) plus a bathroom. 


Privacy, amenities, and independence. 

Cannot be shared as space and privacy would be minimal. Potentially higher rent. 


Private apartments within the city. 


Greater privacy and amenities 

Higher rent cost. 


Renting an entire house within the city. 


More space and privacy. 

Higher rent and maintenance responsibilities. 

*Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) protects most tenants by setting rules and regulations for landlords and tenants (i.e., repairs, rent increases etc.).

RTA does not apply to tenants when they share a kitchen or bathroom with their landlord or their immediate family.  

Additional costs to consider

To plan ahead for unexpected expenses, ask the landlord about additional costs besides the rent. These might include:

Hydro - Electricity bill

  • Your electricity bill, also called the light or power bill, has two parts: the amount of electricity you use (usage) and a delivery fee.

  • Usage fees may go up in winter or summer depending on how much you use.


  • In Waterloo, Bell and Rogers are the top internet providers, but other companies also have competitive prices.
  • All offer similar services, so choose based on your needs. Packages range from $50 to $200 per month.

Tenant’s Insurance

  • Make sure you have tenant insurance while renting.
  • The cost of additional coverage is low, but the cost of replacing all your stuff is high.

Other Amenities

  • Groceries: Costs vary based on what you buy.

  • Parking: Monthly rates range from $50 to $200 or more.
  • Furniture: Check if the unit is furnished or if you need to buy furniture.
  • Coin laundry: Expect to spend $3 to $5 per use.

Note: During your search, keep track of your off-campus housing options using this sheet from the Region of Waterloo. 

Renting for the first time can be confusing and overwhelming. Here are some tips and tricks to help you through the process.


  • Pick your roommates carefully and talk about expectations before you decide to live together.
    • For example, talking about guests, use and cost of shared or personal items, cleaning of shared spaces and noise prior to moving in can help everyone feel comfortable.
  • If you have not met the roommates that you are moving in with, ask if a video call could be arranged or if you can connect on social media.

Considerations when picking a roommate

Finding the right roommate can greatly enhance your off-campus living experience. Here are some questions you and you potential roommate should consider before moving in together.

Lifestyle and habits

  • How do you handle stress & challenging situations?

  • How do you manage personal and shared spaces?
  • What are your expectations about household noise?
  • What are your views about smoking and alcohol consumption?

Personal preferences

  • Are you comfortable with guests or do you prefer a quieter environment?

  • How do you feel about sharing personal belongings?
  • Do you have specific dietary preferences or restrictions?


  • What is your budget for rent and utilities?

  • How would you divide shared expenses such as groceries and cleaning supplies?
  • What is your stances on sharing or splitting costs for common items like furniture or appliances?

Conflict resolution

  • How do you prefer to address disagreements or conflicts in a shared living environment?

  • Are you open to having open and transparent communication to resolve any issues?

Communication style

  • How do you prefer to communicate?

  • What is your approach to resolving conflicts or disagreements in a living space?
  • Are you comfortable expressing your needs and preferences openly?

Respect for privacy

  • Are you comfortable with your roommate having friends over?
  • What are your expectations regarding sharing social spaces within the living arrangements?


  • Are you comfortable living with pets in the house? If so, do you have any allergies or preferences?
  • How do you handle concerns or conflicts related to pets in a shared living space?

Study and work habits

  • What is your typical study or work schedule like?

  • How do you prefer to balance academic and work commitments with household responsibilities?
  • What are your study habits and preferences?

How to find roommates?

  • Utilize websites like Places4Students Roommate Finder to create your profile and connect with fellow users. 
  • For incoming students: Connect with peers by participating in Waterloo Ready. This offers many opportunities to meet and interact with other incoming students.  
  • For current students: Reach out to classmates, or peers met through student groups (WUSA or GSA

Searching for a place

  • Make sure to double check the legitimacy of online ads by searching the rental address on Google Maps, or image search the online photos.
  • You can look up the renter or rental company to ensure that they don't have any red flags or negative reviews

Signing documents and payments

  • Read all documents that you sign. Pay particular attention to your lease and be sure to read the ENTIRE document. The Region of Waterloo Worksheet makes reviewing and summarizing your lease easier.

  • Many landlords ask for a security deposit upon lease signing or moving in. It is illegal for landlords to ask for more than one month's rent as a security deposit. Landlords are also allowed to ask for a key deposit, but only if the deposit is refundable, and the amount of the deposit is not more than the expected cost of replacing the key(s) if they are not returned to the landlord.
  • Ask your landlord for a receipt for any payments that you make to them. If you pay last month's rent upfront, the landlord must give you 2.2% interest on the full amount every 12 months, so don’t forget to ask! The interest amount is set each year by the Ministry of Housing.
  • If you are expected to pay for utilities (water, gas, hydro), ask previous tenants about average costs or call the utility companies. Visit Enova Power for more information.

Check out the Region of Waterloo Worksheet to make reviewing and summarizing your lease easier!

Additional information

  • Trust your instincts: don't be intimidated by a landlord. If you're not comfortable dealing with them, it's better to walk away, think about the situation and even ask for input from someone else.
  • Reference these helpful tips if you have an issue during your tenancy.
  • Understand credit checks: if you are asked about credit or reference checks, find out what is appropriate on the Region of Waterloo Tip Sheet
  • Living arrangements: if you are living with your landlord (sharing a bathroom and/or kitchen) or a member of their immediate family (i.e. child) you are not considered a tenant and so are not protected by the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA).
    • Legal consideration: In this case you will be considered a boarder and any agreement you and your landlord make can only be enforced under contractual law. If problems arise, remember that neither you nor your landlord are protected under the RTA.