Every 4 months, cities with universities, like Kelowna, press the reset button and students all over start trying to look for a new place to live. If you are lucky, this only happens every 8 months or so. Still, the effort that goes into moving every single year can take a lot out of someone when you have to worry about finding the right place with the right people for the right price while also considering a myriad of other factors.
I lived in Kelowna for a little over 3 years, moving every 8 months, each time with new roommates and far too many hours of intense research before moving to a new place. With all this gathered experience, I would like to help anyone who needs it, and give you this guide to renting in Kelowna as a student. Because, as my last building manager put it, you should live in a basement suite if you want to, but not because you have to.
Knowing what you want
The benefit of renting in Kelowna as a student is that you will never be short on choices. There is always something out there for everybody. So it may be idealistic, but make a preliminary list of everything you would like to have in an ideal living space. Mine, for example, includes the following:
- Single bedroom or studio without a shared bathroom
- Internet and utilities included in rent along with an 8 month lease
- Laundry within the building
- South facing windows
- Near bus stops with reasonable commute to UBCO (not currently applicable)
- Walking distance to a grocery store, and if possible restaurants
- Quiet, relatively safe neighbourhood
There is a lot more to it than just this but it helps to get a general idea. Of course, keep in mind that there will be compromise. A place that is perfect with all these amenities may not be affordable or within your budget, which is why you need to make a note of what features you are least attached to. For example, I understand that single bedroom apartments are uncommon in Kelowna and usually cost at least $1500 to begin with, especially if I want to be closer to the university, and therefore that is a detail I am willing to compromise on for much cheaper rent.
Knowing what is possible
Although it is true that you can have your pick while renting as a student in this city, the caveat is that there is also a high demand for off-campus housing around late August and early September. This lets landlords hike up their prices, since they know you will need a place to live (and soon). This also means that if they can go just $20 lower than the most expensive place in the area, they automatically become a viable option. This is why it is important to get realistic about your search. You can start by looking into off-campus apartment buildings that are catered towards students. Some popular ones far away from the university include Robson Mews and The Artium.
In my opinion, as convenient as off-campus student buildings are, they also tend to be a lot more expensive than it would be to sublet off someone else's lease for limited periods of time. If you find the right person, it is also easier to deal with an individual than it is to deal with a corporation that owns your building when you have a problem. If you have lived on campus in the past and paid for housing at the beginning of each academic term, make sure you understand how the change to monthly payments will affect your finances.
The location in a car-centric city like Kelowna is especially significant. With some in-person classes returning in the fall, it becomes more crucial everyday to start considering your commute. If you own a car that is your primary mode of transportation, you can live pretty much anywhere in Kelowna. But for most international students, like me, the buses determine where we live, as flawed as the system is. Although it is currently a renter's market and prices are lowering, with the COVID-19 pandemic, this added factor becomes a burden. So remember to take into account how much time you are willing to spend just walking to a bus stop.
If you have to take on an extra roommate or two to share a bathroom with, but can then get a place with a small patio, maybe it is worth the sacrifice. A perfect apartment might turn out to be a nightmare commute to anywhere in the winter. It is all about finding the right balance.
Doing the work
Start the hunt early. Begin your research approximately a month before your move-in date. Sooner, if possible, because you want to be able to take your time and not panic when you realise you are getting closer to the start of the term and still have nowhere to live. Let friends, and friends of friends, know that you need a place to live. You may not realise it but somebody may know someone who has the perfect home for you.
It comes as no surprise that social media is the best way to find a place today. Yes, Kijiji and Castanet have listings, but joining Facebook groups for off-campus housing may be the best way to make sure you get details efficiently, meet peers who can become roommates, and most importantly, to not get scammed, since admins make sure to flag and remove any suspicious listings (this group is well loved by students and this one is catered more towards the general public). Make sure to try and negotiate the rent if possible. In these groups, you will most likely be interacting with current or former students who understand that money is difficult and are much more likely to be more flexible with the price. You may spend weeks looking for a place but you can also make sure that all the work you put in is worth it in the end.
In pre-pandemic times, a part of apartment hunting that I immensely enjoyed was the experience of seeing a place for the first time and trying to sense if I can imagine myself in it. This may seem like getting ahead of yourself, especially if you are only subletting someone else's home, but it is still important that the place where you rest, recharge and nowadays, spend all your time in, is a special sanctuary. So make sure you can take a look at the place, either with a socially distanced, completely masked and sanitised tour, or a virtual tour. Some landlords may also provide a video of the place to give you a better visual.
Looking for a place to live is a stressful period of time with very real threat of homelessness or general displacement. But being prepared can help alleviate some of this stress. It should be a time of great excitement and new beginnings, so just know that although it may be a lot of work, you will end up with a place to call home at the end of it.
Good luck on your search!