Last edited March 2, 2015.

Housing in Waterloo is very unique because we (and Laurier) have the co-op program, meaning students are around during the spring term (May-Aug). This has allowed housing companies like KW4Rent, Atlas, Domus, and Luxe to take advantage of 1 year leases. You see, other university towns like London (UWO) have 8-month leases as the norm because summer is pretty empty.

Many houses near the universities (especially on Lester and Sunview) are being knocked down to build huge apartments by the big corps. This is due to demand. There is an increase in the number of students each year. The other reason is that many students will tend not to stick with on-campus residence since it is much more expensive in comparison, and there isn't a huge amount of availability for upper years for residence, anyway. Plus, living off-campus is a great experience. You make your own rules and you will (hopefully) have made friends that you want to live with. I'm not encouraging weekly parties, but it's a step up towards gaining independence.

Housing situations will differ depending on your year of study and whether you are on co-op. Subletting is extremely common for Waterloo due to the co-op program, and it's usually a lot cheaper to go for sublets than yearly leases since subletters usually combine utilities and internet into the price and offer furnished rooms. Usually what you lose out on is the ability to live with your friends (unless you are able to sublet the whole unit). Winter and Spring sublets are very common, but it's more difficult to find Fall sublets simply because very few people will sign a lease and immediately sublet (leases are usually Sept-Aug).

1 year leases are more of a commitment, and more of a hassle if you have a co-op term somewhere in the middle (meaning you have to find a sublet). When finding a sublet, you will usually end up lowering the price due to competition. Summer sublet prices drop by 30-40% of original price most of the time. I have seen $550/month places go for $250/month. Definitely start posting up ads early in the term instead of waiting until end-of-term, near exams, when everyone is busy.

So what path should you take? This will depend on your willingness to live with random people or your hopes to stay together in a group of friends.

Some general tips..

  • If you are looking for roommates or sublets, use the Waterloo Housing group (you need a verified @uwaterloo.ca email to access this). It is probably way better than Kijiji or the official Waterloo board, since people will more likely (and more quickly) respond to you in comparison to email. Although, if there's a phone number, then that's definitely the quickest :)
  • Another useful tool is Padmapper, if you care about location. The ads are pulled from Kijji and Craigslist for better viewing.
  • Make sure you do a little research before you sign. Do you want to be able to walk to school, or don't mind depending on the bus? It makes a huge difference when you need to depend on a bus to get to school. Do you plan to cook often? If so.. do you mind living 20 min away from the closest supermarket?

Tips for finding a sublet..

  • Wait 1-2 months before the term starts if you are looking for a cheap sublet. The closer the term is, the cheaper the prices go down (people become desperate to get rid of their place). This tip does not necessarily apply for Fall term sublets (due to the lack of supply).
  • Ask about the roommates/suitemates. If you have a pet peeve, you better bring it up or you may have to deal with it for 4 months.
  • Don't trust people on their time estimates to/from campus. The walkable < 15 minutes (square) block is probably anywhere between University/Keats to Columbia/Hazel. Anywhere beyond that will probably require some bus or biking, especially if you want to survive the winter.
  • As a followup to the above, the closest you can be from the UW campus is Lester St or Phillip St between Columbia and University if most of your classes are on the east side of campus.

Tips/Notes for 1-Year leases..

  • If you are searching, the official UW board is usually a great source to find landlords. Otherwise, the major rental companies in Waterloo are KW4Rent, Domus, Atlas, and Luxe. More on these later.
  • Start looking in the winter, especially if you don't plan to be in Waterloo for the summer. Many people renew leases, so don't think that new, unfilled places are widely available.
  • Many landlords require (or at least prefer) you to find your own roommates, but if not, they will find remaining people to fill up your suite for you. 5 is the norm for all of the apartments. Houses are usually multi-level (7-10 people), so smaller groups are usually fine.
  • If you don’t care about who you live with, then you should be fine with directly contacting the rental company any time up to July or even as late as early September because often the suites are not filled up completely (especially with the exponential increase in new buildings being built, I see a very large supply for a normal demand).
  • Some landlords do NOT allow subletting and do NOT allow pets, so make sure you go over all the details before you sign the lease!
  • When choosing internet provider, it may be wise to choose a large company like Rogers/Bell, but small companies like Teksaavy have the best prices (just a longer line up for setup, so call ahead!)
  • Consider all of the amenities when comparing your choices. Don't think about the money, but also think about convenience. Some have free on-site laundry, some include internet, some include utilities. The newer apartments usually have on-floor garbage chutes, so you don't have to deal with waiting a week to take out your smelly garbage.
  • It is possible to do a lease takeover, which is exactly what it sounds like. You take over another tenant's lease because they no longer plan to live at the place anymore. Housing prices increase by about 10% each year by law, so the benefit of a lease takeover is that you will pay the same rate that they do (although there are usually lease transfer fees of about $100).

There's always residence :)

Residence is still an option in your upper years. There are upper-year specific apartments at UWP, and usually a lot of room over at the V1, MKV, and CLV during the winter and summer terms (lots during summer, limited in the winter, and very limited in the fall). The rent for residence tends to be cheaper compared to subletting in the winter, but more expensive if we're looking at fall and summer.

Velocity is another great option, a hub for entrepreneurship and tech innovation. They have limited availability though, so you need to apply early to avoid the wait list.

The Big 4
Edit Mar 2/2015: So the nice thing about these larger rental companies is that they usually have convenient things like response to maintenance requests, customer service, on-floor garbage chutes (this is HUGE), elevators, and cool amenities like ensuite bathrooms, gyms, food courts, and study spaces. Unfortunately, companies are charging more each year for apartments that are far and don’t even have the extra amenities. Do your research and remember that if you’re not getting an ensuite bathroom and you’re paying $700, then the company has probably overpriced the rent.

Experiences vary for everybody. In general, people do not have problems with getting service requests fulfilled, and people tend to get their key deposits back in a timely manner. There also tends to be bad circulation in apartments, meaning one room can be very hot as it is closer to the heating, while one room that faces the wind can be very cold (esp. in the winter). In cases like these, make sure to agree with your roommates on a preferred temperature and remember that each rooms draft can be closed off so that the cold or hot air does not blow into that room.

Domus was known in the past for not fixing heat issues during brutal winter months, Atlas is known for slow provided internet, Luxe was the first ensuite washroom per room apartment (but now there are many other options like 295 Lester, 110 Columbia, RezOne, and more that offer that same amenity for a reasonable price), KW4Rent forgets to return key deposits once in awhile (can usually be fixed by a phone call) but sometimes double leases units (anecdote from a friend).

There are a fair number of other housing companies coming into the picture including Schembri, RezOne, OffCampusRez, etc. The famous Schembri at 1 Columbia case gives everyone an important lesson: be skeptical on signing leases on brand new buildings. It is likely that the building will NOT be completely finished by the time your lease starts, this includes amenities like so called food court areas, study spaces, and other non essential amenities for one’s normal living. The 1 Columbia case was a very extreme case where students could not even move in until late October or early November, which was unheard of in Waterloo housing history.

Facts & Figures

  • An apartment room is usually $500-$600/mo without utilities and internet
  • Living at a house is usually $50-$100 cheaper than living at an apartment
  • Summer sublets drop as low as $200/mo (quite a few people end up not finding a sublet at all)
  • Internet, if split among 5 people should usually come out to $10/mo.
  • Utilities usually comes to $15/20 a month if split among 5 people.

Note: These are based on what I have heard by word of mouth and seen on various housing websites and boards.

My Own Experience

I did residence at UWP in first year. I decided to sign a lease at a 4-story apartment with my UWP roommates near King/Columbia for second year. It was a newer building so we didn't have to face too much maintenance. Unfortunately, the landlord didn't allow people to store garbage outside, and we would have to keep our smelly garbage indoors until garbage day.

We also had neighbors stealing our recycling bin often. This is typical of living at a house / small apartment, I presume. We had to take care of internet ourselves. We called in early September to Teksaavy, but we were on hold for about 3 weeks. No internet for 3 weeks was pretty painful, considering that it was an 8-10 min bus ride to get to campus. I stayed on campus and visited my friends often during those weeks. We didn't have to pay for utilities or laundry at all.

In 3rd year, I decided to sublet off of a friend of a friend at a KW4Rent apartment on Lester. I just wanted to be close to campus. It makes a huge difference IMO. The deal was an all-inclusive from my subletter, so I didn't need to pay extra for anything. It was different living with people I didn't really know. It just meant I had more alone time, but this didn't matter much as I was always studying or out at a friend's. I had the joy of an on-floor garbage chute and laundry facilities.

For next fall, I plan to sublet again, this time in an old house on Sunview. I was pleasantly surprised by the cheap price (low $400s). Also, as I noted above, fall sublets are very difficult to find, and this was literally the only suitable sublet I could find (as I wanted to be close to campus again for my next school term). We'll see how it is. It'll definitely be a different experience as I have never lived in a house full of students.

Edit Mar 2/2015:
In my Fall 3B term (2013), I ended up signing a year lease at KW4Rent with my friends at 201 Lester, instead, and resubletted my fall sublet to another friend. The monthly rates had gone up a bit since they first started renting. Overall we had no problems while renting, and by that year, KW4rent had already started providing free blazing fast internet.

I’m currently finishing up my 4B term (W2015), subletting at 295 Lester (owned by Domus). I was skeptical of trying out a different company but heard good things about this building - its apparent thick walls and fast internet and ensuite washrooms sounded like a good deal. Unfortunately, all of this depends on your suite layout. Ours is long and skinny, with my room at the very corner of the suite, farthest away from the router. I’ve actually experienced very slow internet when everyone is using it at once. Basically the router sucks but since everyone in my suite are subletters, there really isn’t a point in chipping in for a new one, especially since I’m the only one with the issue. The walls are actually not that thick, either, and I unfortunately hear everything that’s being said in the kitchen that’s louder than a normal conversation speaking voice. I actually feel like I got better noise cancellation when I lived at 201 Lester (KW4Rent), but then again, this isn’t Domus’ fault, it’s whoever constructed the building to begin with. This building also (despite being so new) for some reason does not have deadlock doors and door codes for each room, everything uses a key. The ensuite washrooms are great, no complaints.

Overall, housing shouldn't be too difficult to find in this university town. Just do it in a timely manner and research carefully. Good luck to all.