Volume 96, Issue 56
Thursday, January 9, 2003

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Ready, set, lease - it's house hunting season

By Kasia Iglinski
Gazette Staff

It's that time of year again. You are only just starting to settle back in after the winter holidays, unpacking your suitcase and putting away the groceries (but only after enduring the grocery store mayhem), when you realize it's hunting season. House hunting, that is.

Before long, you may be moving out of your comfortable residence, house or off your friend's couch (which has become home since the last big fight with your current roommates) to find a new student house. But before you do, there's a lot you should know when looking for a new home fit for another school year.

According to Glenn Matthews, Western's housing mediation officer, the house hunting process starts well before you even step foot in a potential home.

"The first step is to do a budget," Matthews explained. "Find out what you can afford. If you are on OSAP, recognize that the landlord may want the rent on the first of the month and you may not get OSAP for a while." Overall, ensure you have enough money to cover the cost of rent; bouncing a cheque is no way to start a beautiful friendship with your new landlord.

Once you have decided who you want to live with, and what part of London is most convenient for everyone, head to Western's Off Campus Housing Web site (accessed from www. uwo.ca), which has more than 4,500 listings, look through The Gazette classifieds and talk to friends. "Friends usually won't steer friends wrong," Matthews added.

While searching for the ideal student house – or at least one you think will be livable for a few months at a time – Matthews advises checking the house's water pressure, electricity (if the lights are flickering, it's generally not a sign of a quality house), smoke detectors and fire extinguishers. "Are the windows nailed shut?" Matthews questioned. "Sometimes having them nailed shut is good from a theft perspective, but not from a fire and safety perspective."

If a house's rent is not all-inclusive, ask to see an electricity bill, or ask the current tenants how much they pay for utilities, Matthews warned. Just because a property's rent is reasonable, doesn't mean its utilities will be.

Another thing to watch out for is basement apartments. "Sometimes they are OK because they may be cheaper," Matthews said. "But they also may be damp. Look for water stains along the baseboards. Look for mold or mildew. It is really not a good idea for people with asthma or any other breathing related illness to live in [that kind of] environment."

When you think you have found a house you like, the next step is making sure you can get along with the landlord. "A good landlord will do a reference check on a tenant, so a good tenant should also do a reference check on a landlord," Matthews said.

When the landlord is not around, which may involve coming back at a later time, talk to the tenants and ask them what they think of their current landlord. "You are likely to get more honest answers [from the tenants] when the landlord is not there," Matthews explained.

As for those who have already found the perfect place, or manage to within the first couple months of the new year, make sure the current tenants have given written notice to vacate in April. Without written notice, the current tenants can easily change their minds and decide to stay for another year, making the lease you signed in January irrelevant.

"Until the current tenants give the landlord something in writing, he or she cannot legally rent the place to someone else," Matthews said. Bottom line – get it in writing.

So, enjoy the house-hunting season, the trampling through strangers' homes and the countless hours lost searching for a house with bedrooms big enough for everyone's furniture, a good size porch for the beer couch and whatever else is top priority in your student home.

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