Renting to Students: A Quick Guide

Renting to students

With the new school year around the corner, Toronto’s annual influx of new undergrad and graduate students have hit the streets—and the rental market.  With the limited space in Toronto university residences, you’re likely to get a few calls from full-time students if you’re renting a small-space or studio condo not too far from campus.

So if you’re looking at applications and considering a full-time student, here are some tips and thoughts on renting your condo to a student tenant for the school year.

Don’t believe the stereotypes

The standard sitcom idea of university students is pretty grim: careless, arrogant, and usually drunk.  It’s also brutally off-base.  Student renters can be putting themselves through school on two jobs, soldiers or reservists picking up their education now that they’re back from overseas, scholarship recipients who take that honour seriously, or the first in their family to finish high school (with all the pressure that entails).  I went to school with all of those people—and was one during my undergrad—and none of us were particularly interested in trashing our homes or blowing our GPAs.

Toronto’s host to several top-flight universities—and any student who’s got an admission worked hard to get it, and will be working hard to keep their grades up.  That goes double if they come to your door with a part-time job on top of their classes, and triple if they’ve been admitted into a grad school program.

Yes, the drunk-and-inconsiderate type exists—but that’s a personality type, not an age bracket, and those personalities don’t grow out of partying when they get their degree or diploma.  Use the same rigorous eye and good judgment you’d apply to a professionally-employed potential tenant, and rent to the person, not the stereotype.

Understand why student tenants might go for a condo rental

There’s a lot to appeal to a student tenant when looking at a rental condo.  Smaller condos might lack floor space, but they’re usually big on windows and natural light—a marked improvement over the basement apartment option.

The standard inclusion of utilities in a condo’s fees—and therefore, in a tenant’s rent—can make life much easier for a student renter, who will appreciate skipping the signups and deposits for a double handful of utility services.

As well, small-space condos are well-maintained and private—a huge advantage during weeks of exam studying.  They’re secure, which can be very reassuring to students living in a city for the first time—and their parents, who might well be nervous about sending their child into an unfamiliar area.  What’s more, their solid amenities can really ease the transition from residence or parental living to a new city by giving student tenants a few key foundation stones: a helping hand at the concierge desk if they have a problem, a safe place to park their bike—which many students rely on—and built-in laundry and workout facilities that help that OSAP dollar stretch.

Make room for their inexperience—but don’t take it for granted

Student tenants want the same thing from a home as most other tenants: A place that’s well-maintained, safe, and close to work and school, with a landlord who’s professional and competent.

Especially if your potential tenant is a first-time renter, there are going to be things they don’t know how to do—you can’t tell if anyone’s ever taught them to change a toilet chain or clean a stove—but how you treat the landlord-tenant relationship will set the tone for how they move in that space.

Be clear about your expectations as a landlord, and make sure anything you’re concerned about is explicitly communicated, whether it’s noise, mess, or other factors—but make sure you stay within the bounds of the Residential Tenancies Act.  It’s not off-base to agree to a scheduled maintenance inspection of the property at a certain point in the lease, or to ask for the unit to be professionally cleaned when your tenants move out.  But asking for damage deposits upfront isn’t just inappropriate, it’s illegal.

In short: As always, be professional and you’re most likely to get professional back.

Ask about their plans for a lease

The other standard stereotype about renting to students is that they’ll be in one summer and out by the next, requiring you to find brand new tenants every year as your student tenants’ plans shift.  However, if your potential tenants have multiple years left in their program, they’ll value a good landlord and a stable place to live as much as you value a good, stable tenant.  And depending on their program and their work plans after graduation, they may well be happy to stay on as they transition into their first full-time position.

Even if you don’t keep a tenant for the long term, a good experience with a student tenant can keep you in referrals forever.  If you’re comfortable establishing your investment condo as a property specializing in student rentals, you might be able to save the listing fees when your tenant leaves.  Responsible people often know other responsible people, and student tenants are frequently happy to tip a friend off to a good living situation and pass it on.

Consider co-signing or a guarantor

Asking a parent to co-sign or guarantee your lease has a few advantages, and only some of them are financial.  Yes, you’ll have a solid backstop if your tenant fails to pay rent for whatever reason—and it gets around the fact that most students don’t have a credit rating to check—but the real benefits to a guarantor are in the built-in responsibility.

When your tenant’s accountable to not just you but their parent, there’s an extra layer of responsibility in how they’ll treat your space.  Not in the potential for consequences if they default, but in the potential for parental emotional investment in taking care of the space and growing their child’s skills.  Their name’s on the piece of paper too, and that creates a real stake in how things go during the tenancy.

Co-signing or guarantorship also lets you meet your student’s parents up close, and get a sense of what kind of models they have when it comes to caring for a home.  A potential student tenant likely doesn’t have a fully-formed style of tenancy, but their parent will, and watching a parent’s interactions with your space—and what they advise their child about your space—will let you know whether this is a tenant for you.

Best of luck!

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