Deciding Where to Live

Just like picking your program or school of choice, the same process of elimination should also apply when deciding where to live and what situation is ideal in order to meet your goals.

Here are some questions you might want to think about before making a decision:

  • What type of environment will contribute to my academic success?
  • What do I want to gain personally from my experience at McMaster?
  • What kind of encounters do I need in order to grow from my time at school?
  • What type of financial situation do I want to be in while in school?
  • To what extent am I prepared to accept debt in order to accomplish these goals?

When assessing housing options, the following criteria can be used to help make the right choice: finances, time and personal reasons. We have created a breakdown of your options based on this model.

Remember, all of these options have pros and cons. What’s important is that you choose the option that best meets your needs at the time. Decisions you make in first-year about where you choose to live may change as you continue in your academic studies and that’s okay. We’re here to support you as you make your choices.

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Living Off-Campus

Rent and utilities are among the most important considerations to take into account when moving away from home. Typically, rent is paid monthly to your landlord for a period of 12 months. Lease lengths can vary depending on the property or if you are sub-letting from another tenant.

Generally, first and last month’s rent is required up front. This means you should save up for at least 2 months of rent prior to signing a lease.

Many landlords require post-dated cheques, which will be deposited according to the month they are dated. This means that you have to have enough money in your bank account each month to cover your rent. Many banks have an automatic transfer feature, which will transfer the specified amount into your account on the first day of the month. This is a hassle free way to ensure your cheque never bounces. It is also a great way to avoid those additional fees if it does!

Different landlords may prefer different methods of payment so be sure to ask before committing to a lease agreement to ensure you are comfortable with the payment method. Be sure to always read the lease fully and carefully before signing. Remember to keep your landlord’s phone number and email in an accessible place so that anyone can contact him/her if a problem arises.

Once you have signed a lease and confirmed how you will pay rent, you can begin to set up your utilities if they are not already included in your rent.

Be sure to have available proof of rent (lease, cheques, e-transfers). If you rent, you will be eligible to apply for the Trillium rebate.


Be sure to visit the Off-Campus Resource Centre (OCRC) for more information

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Association (CMHC) offers help on what to look for when evaluating potential accommodations and some of your rights and responsibilities. Be sure to view the Rental Agreement: What to Expect page to see what you should take notice of in your agreement before you sign it (i.e. Will you be responsible to replace broken items? Are pets/smoking allowed?)

Utilities include services such as hydro, internet, water, and cable. Often, lease agreements will include one or more utilities in the price. For example, your monthly rent may also have hydro and water prices included. This can help reduce some of the stress associated with paying for bills. However, if no utilities are included in your rent, you will need to set up an account with a provider. Your approach to setting up an account will depend on whether you live alone or with others.

If you live alone, you will have to set up utilities under your name. Many companies offer bills in electronic form, which can be sent directly to your email address. These bills can then be paid by setting up the company as a personal payee through online banking.

If you live with roommates, it is important to establish early on who will be responsible for paying the bills. Once this is established, there are a number of ways to deal with payments in a multi-person household.

Joint accounts allow everyone to contribute a set amount and then the designated individual pays the bills with that money.
Another option is to pay a designated individual on a monthly basis using banking services such as e-transfer. If you prefer a more traditional route, your roommate can be paid with cash or cheque.

Before setting up your utilities, however, you will need to do some research. This will help you find a utility provider that is right for you, especially in regards to internet and cable where packages and prices can vary greatly.

Note: Alectra is the sole company that services Hamilton’s water and hydro.

After setting up your accounts, you may notice that your utility bills are higher than you expected. Certain factors will play into how much you pay for utilities. Homes with older windows are liable to let heat escape during the winter months, which will cost you more money to heat your home during the winter. The time of day you have your lights on or when you do your laundry can also affect your utility costs. The amount of every individual that uses the internet can affect the prices if you don’t have unlimited data. Finally, it may be a good idea to authorize your roommates on your utility accounts so that they can contact the company should there be an issue in your absence.

Now that you have the fundamentals about rent and utilities you can move on to completing some chores.

Additional Resources:

Horizon Utilities shows the best times to use utilities (and save money!)

Groceries, laundry and cleaning your home are all important parts of establishing your home-away-from-home.

There are a number of grocery stores surrounding the student communities in Hamilton. These include No Frills, Fortinos, Metro, Food Basics etc. Each store will have weekly flyers and specials to help you stay under budget. It can be beneficial to designate one day a week for grocery shopping to eliminate multiple, unnecessary, and costly trips to the grocery store during the week. Look for grocery stores that offer discounts to students (Fortinos and Food Basics offer 10% off on Tuesdays while Shoppers offers 20% off on Thursdays).

Before you sign your lease, check if you have access to laundry facilities within your house or apartment. If not, laundromats are often nearby but are an additional expense to living alone (about $2.50 per wash and roughly about the same amount to dry).

No one wants to living in a messy home. Cleaning is an important part of homeownership and plays a critical role in your mental and physical health and well-being. Whether you live alone or with others, it is helpful to establish a weekly or bi-weekly cleaning schedule. Individuals can rotate jobs so that cleaning never seems tedious and it prevents someone from getting stuck doing their least favourite chore. You can keep a monthly calendar in a common area to track which chores have been done.

While chores, rent and utilities are important, they are not an expression of your individuality – this where decorating comes in!

Furnishing your new home can be one of the most exciting things about moving away from home but also can be one of the most expensive. There are a number of ways to decorate your new apartment under budget.

Beware of “Don’t Pay a Cent” events, as these deals are not as good as they sound. Furniture companies allow you to skip the bill for an extended period of time (usually a year) when you agree to purchase a product. The problem with these deals is sometimes individuals forget when they need to start paying for the furniture or just don’t have the money they thought they would a year later. Therefore, not only will you be charged the price of the product you bought a year ago, you will also have to pay all the interest that accumulated since your purchase date.

You can also look for more affordable pieces. You may be able to find properties that are already furnished, which would eliminate the cost of buying furniture. Another viable option is buying second-hand furniture on websites like Kijiji, Facebook or Craigslist. Asking your parents, family, or friends for their old furniture is another way to furnish your home under budget. Check out second hand or antique stores, they may yield some hidden treasures.

Now that we have covered rent, utilities, groceries, laundry, cleaning and furniture you are just about ready to start your life outside of your parent’s home! Check out final tips on the last tab.

For more information on your rights while renting, please visit the link here!

What is subletting?

Subletting involves a tenant with a lease (usually 12 months in length) moving out temporarily of the rental unit, and allowing another person to move in for a specific period of time (typically a 4 month term over the summer months). Subletting is a good way to save money for the months that you are not attending school and are not planning on living in your rental. Prior to making the decision to get a sublet for the unit you are renting you must connect with your landlord and get permission to do so.

When I get a sublet, do I need a lease agreement with them as well?

Ensure you have a lease agreement between you and your new sublet with your signature, the sublet’s signature and your landlord’s signature. It is also good practice to attach your original agreement with your landlord so your sublet knows what he/she is responsible for and what is included.

If you were the individual responsible for paying any extra utilities, be sure to transfer this responsibility to another roommate with the utility company. Ensure you discuss and outline these additional utility charges in your lease agreement with your sublet, as they will be responsible for them in your absence.

When I get a sublet, does the sublet pay rent directly to my landlord?

You become the landlord to your sublet. Normally, this means that you still pay your landlord and your sublet pays you. If this is too much of a hassle for you, check with your landlord to see if they are ok with a direct payment from your sublet. If your landlord agrees to this process, ensure it is included in the lease agreement you have with your sublet, and include the landlord’s signature.

What if I cannot pay my rent?

If you cannot pay your rent for whatever reason, we recommend that you connect with the landlord immediately to discuss the situation. Perhaps the landlord can provide you with some leeway for the week you are late on your rent payment if you are struggling. If no resolution is made, refer to the rental agreement you signed. It should state the course of action for missed and/or late payments.

Does a landlord have to give me receipts when I pay for rent?

A landlord has to give a tenant receipts for rent or any payment or deposit if the tenant asks for them. The landlord cannot charge for this receipt. Keep these receipts stored somewhere safe, as this is another form of proof that you paid your landlord in case any issues arise.

What information should be included on my rent receipt?

The address of the rental unit

The name of the tenant

The amount and date for each payment and what it was for (e.g. March rent, April rent etc.)

The name of the landlord

The signature of the landlord or the landlord’s agent

Will a landlord check my credit report before I am able to sign a lease agreement?

Oftentimes, but not always, a landlord will ask to do a credit check on a potential tenant. A credit check will show all of the tenant’s credit history, including payments made on time and those that have been late. A landlord does a credit check to protect themselves and ensure they will be paid for their property. A bad credit rating could result in the landlord rejecting a potential tenant.

For those tenants that do not have credit yet (i.e. new college students that may have never paid utilities and phone bills on their own and don’t have a credit card), you may be required to get a guarantor’s letter from a parent/guardian/friend stating that the guarantor will assume all responsibility if you fail to make the arranged payments.