Post-secondary students are flocking to universities and colleges across the country in pursuit of higher education. Thousands of students also need a place to live if they have no accommodations on their campuses.

It’s the busy season for rental property landlords with apartments, basements, homes, and rooms to rent to students in towns and cities with universities and colleges. 

Though opportunity knocks for landlords, there are also liability and financial risks to be reckoned with; additionally, for first-time landlords, there’s a learning curve involved with setting yourself up for success.

Our landlord guide can help new and experienced landlords ensure they’ve got all the bases covered. Let’s dig in:

Student moving into apartment

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Understanding the Student Housing Market

Understanding the student housing market starts with knowing the demand and supply dynamics of student rental housing in your community. There are several steps landlords can take to learn about them, including:

  • Researching local universities, colleges, and institutions to gauge potential student tenant numbers. Know the enrollment numbers of the institutions in your community, how many international students they welcome, and the overall student population. That will provide a view of the potential demand for student housing. Try contacting the post-secondary institutions in your community for this information and to see if you can list your property on their campuses. You can also research Universities Canada (formerly the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada) for enrollment data.
  • Analyzing enrollment data. Once you have the data you need, identify patterns in the student numbers, growth rates, and programs that attract the most students. Doing so can help you identify peak rental periods, such as the start of academic semesters, and predict the demand for student housing in upcoming semesters.
  • Talk to students and parents. Talk to students and their parents to understand their housing preferences, challenges, and concerns. Contact local student unions and university or college housing offices at the schools in your area to determine on-campus housing capacities and inquire about conducting surveys with students to gather insights into what they look for in rental housing and what amenities or features they want.
  • Watch local real estate listings. Routinely check your local real estate listings and online rental platforms to see how many student rental housing options are available in your community.
  • Know the vacancy rates. Vacancy rates for student rental housing can fluctuate throughout the year. Low vacancy rates suggest there is a high demand for student housing.
  • Talk to other landlords. Contact other landlords in your municipality who offer student rental housing. Collaborating and sharing information with them helps get a better understanding of the market dynamics in your region.

Legal and Regulatory Considerations

Before listing your property, talk to an experienced lawyer, municipal authorities, and property management companies in your region to ensure you know all the legal and regulatory requirements for renting a property or apartment to students. Among the steps for landlords to take include:

  • Local rental regulations. Familiarize yourself with local landlord-tenant laws and regulations for student rentals in your jurisdiction. Municipal regulations and zoning laws can impact student housing, and some areas may have restrictions on occupancy limits and safety standards for unrelated individuals who can live together.
  • Licensing and permits. Your municipality may require your rental property to be registered and licensed. Check with local authorities to determine whether you need student rent permits.
  • Know the code. Ensure your rental property complies with local building codes, health and safety regulations, and fire safety standards. Regular maintenance and inspections are vital for ensuring the safety of student tenants.

Preparing Your Rental Property

There are several steps to prepare your property to rent to students or tenants. Among the steps you need to take are:

  • Thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting the unit and appliances. Repair any damages, such as leaky faucets, broken electrical fixtures, loose stair handrails, cabinets, and drawers.
  • Installing adequate fire safety measures, including battery-backup smoke and fire alarms and a carbon monoxide alarm. Ensure there’s a working fire extinguisher on hand and an emergency exit. Additionally, make sure there is adequate lighting inside and outside the property.
  • Providing basic amenities like furniture, appliances, and password-protected Wi-Fi or internet connectivity.
  • Ensuring all utilities, such as water, electricity, and natural gas, are working correctly.
  • For multi-student or shared rental properties, install locks on each bedroom door.
  • If you can, provide on-site laundry facilities for your student tenants and ensure the washer and dryer are working and up to code. 
  • Have a move-in checklist for each student and do a walkthrough of the apartment or property together, document the living space’s condition and any pre-existing damages and sign it together.
  • Create a tenant handbook for each student containing the rules you set for your property, what the maintenance procedures are, and include your contact information and local emergency contact information. That handbook should also have safety instructions for the safe use of the appliances and cleaning guidelines for any common areas and bedrooms. It’s also nice to include information on nearby amenities, public transportation options, grocery stores, and medical walk-in clinics and pharmacies.

Formulating Lease and Rental Terms

Consult a legal professional to help draft lease agreements outlining the terms and conditions of your rental property, including details on monthly rent, maintenance responsibilities, and rules specific to student behaviour. Other steps to take include:

  • Ask for a security deposit from each student tenant, but ensure you comply with your municipality’s rules about the maximum amount you can collect and the legal timeline for returning the deposits after students move out.
  • Consistently screen your student tenant applicants to ensure you follow fair and legal practices and avoid discriminating against students.
  • Many student tenants have limited or no credit history or income. Asking a parent or legal guardian to co-sign the lease can help ensure you receive all your monthly rent payments.
  • Require each student to carry renter or tenant insurance to cover damage and loss to their personal belongings. Your landlord insurance policy does not cover your tenants’ personal possessions.
  • In the unfortunate event of an eviction of a student for not paying rent, creating disturbances, or violating the terms of your lease, follow your local eviction laws to avoid legal challenges.

Property Management Responsibilities

If you’re not going to hire a property manager to maintain the upkeep of your property and address student inquiries and concerns, there are many steps you will need to take regularly to keep your property and tenants safe, including:

  • Making necessary property upgrades and repairs to ensure safety and comfort for student tenants.
  • In winter, clear all snow and ice from and de-ice the driveway, entrances, and walkways to and around your property. In warmer months, ensure the lawn is mowed, shrubs and trees trimmed, and downspouts are clear of debris to prevent flooding, water damage, or the risk of slip-and-fall accidents.
  • Establish effective communication channels with student tenants for maintenance requests, inquiries, and emergencies.
  • Have a plan to manage turnover during summer and winter breaks. Also, conduct move-out inspections and walkthroughs with your student tenants, documenting the property’s condition before they leave and have them sign the document.
  • If there are disputes between your tenants or between your tenants and neighbours, address and resolve them quickly and fairly.
  • Having an adequate budget ready to manage property-related repairs comfortably. Keep accurate financial records of all income and expenses to help ensure you correctly report your earnings to the Canada Revenue Agency (and take advantage of available tax deductions).

Protecting Your Student Rental Apartment

A comprehensive landlord insurance policy that’s customized to suit your property’s specific requirements is vital. A typical homeowner’s insurance policy differs from landlord insurance, as renting a property is considered a business.

Protecting yourself from the liability risks every landlord faces also requires taking proactive measures to prevent damages and losses from occurring. Furthermore, reducing your student housing liability risks also involves taking action to minimize the chances of minor issues becoming large, expensive ones and can help keep your annual premium low.

Fill out our online application for a free landlord insurance quote. Our knowledgeable brokers can advise you on the coverage you need. They will shop our partner network of over 50 Canadian insurance providers to get low-cost coverage to address your liability risks and customize it to suit your requirements. 

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About the Author: Alexandria Anthony

Alexandria Anthony is the Team Lead, Property & Hospitality, at Zensurance.