Excess of summer sublets leaves out-of-town students paying the bills

Students like Tanis Smither, who are on their way out of town for the summer, are having problems finding tenants to sublet their apartments.

Several universities bring more than 17,000 off-campus students to the Halifax area each fall, making this a “student city.” But the population of Halifax changes drastically from mid-April until the end of August, when many students pack their bags to return to their hometowns. Although many of these students live on-campus in residence, a great number rent apartments and rooms from local landlords or homeowners.

When the winter term ends in April, these students are often signed to yearlong contracts and obligated to pay rent for the summer months, even when they don’t plan on staying in Halifax. This creates a problem: there are many more people leaving than arriving, and summer sublets become plentiful, not to mention cheaper than usual.

Tanis Smither is a second-year contemporary studies student at the University of King’s College. She is having trouble finding someone to rent her Halifax apartment for the summer, when she’ll be returning to her native Toronto.

“I started looking mid-February. I put a couple initial ads out just to see what happened, and I didn’t get a lot of responses back,” says Smither.

Smither’s apartment on Pepperell Street is close to downtown and several amenities and is only a five-minute walk from Dalhousie’s main campus.

Many students have resorted to what Dalhousie Off-Campus Housing supervisor Sherri Slate calls “rent incentives,” or small discounts and add-ins for subletters.

“Those rental incentives may be that they’ll charge, let’s say $400 a month, and they don’t have to pay heat and hot water, or cable and Internet are included, or they may offer actual rent discounts. The more of those incentives that are included, the quicker the place is rented,” Slate says.

Smither has decided her $530 rent per month is negotiable. Her apartment includes utilities and comes furnished. Several of her nine other roommates are also looking for subletters and have had similar problems. Smither says she is getting desperate.

“Hopefully, it’s a student because I’m sure they would fit with the demographic of the house better, but at this point if anybody in the world wants to sublet my apartment it would be fantastic, I’d be open to it,” says Smither.

Smither says several people have inquired about or even come to look at her place, but they have all found other apartments in the end. She has begun to advertise the room online, on websites like Kijiji and Craigslist, through Facebook groups, and EasyRoommate.com.

photo 2
Several students are advertising by hanging posters around Dalhousie’s campus. (Photo: Victoria Walton)

The Dalhousie Off-Campus Living website uses a third-party service, Places4Students, to help students find housing opportunities. Dalhousie’s is free, and Smither says she would use other private services if not for the fees.

“The only reason I haven’t been considering them is because I can’t afford it, I just can’t on my student budget,” she says.

Yasch Neufeld is a rental manager and co-founder of SubletSeeker.com, a similar housing service specifically targeting student sublets. The Halifax startup launched last year and Neufeld says they are seeing even more business in 2015.

“A lot of people, especially at the time you’re looking for subletters, you end up being busy with exams or sometimes you just get unlucky,” Neufeld says, “so we offer a premium service as well where we’ll actually do the work for you.”

SubletSeeker will do everything from photographing your apartment and listing it online, to finding people who are interested and performing reference checks. The fee to use these services is a commission, usually between five to ten percent of the cost of rent. SubletSeeker also has a free section for anyone to use to advertise independently.

Although there are no guarantees, Neufeld says his service has already set up about 10 renters with apartments this season. Neufeld suggests students “get as much information on who you’re subletting to as possible,” to prevent them backing out or not paying rent.

“Call previous landlords of anyone who’s looking to sublet, collect a security deposit, and get them to sign the sublease right away. Those three things will generally lock somebody in,” Neufeld says.

Slate warns that landlords still have the final say on anyone looking to sublet, and that the sublease agreements must be the same as the original lease.

Slate’s Off-Campus Housing office caters to students seeking general housing resources, everything from legal advice to moving companies to listing rentals. She thinks it’s important these resources are available. “All of our faculty, student or staff are entitled to post an ad for free once every year,” says Slate.

Slate and Neufeld agree there is an excess of sublets in the summer months, and that not everyone can find someone to take over their lease.

Although frustrated, Smither realizes she might not find a tenant. “There’s not really much I can do, my hands are kind of tied because I signed a contract,” she says.

Smither plans to live rent-free at home in Toronto and work full time so she can afford to pay rent and save for tuition next year.

“I guess it’s not going to be the end of the world if I don’t find a subletter, it’s just going to set me back a couple thousand dollars.”