International Students Find Housing

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Hannah is an international student and a graduate student in PNB since September 2018.
This is her story.

When you’re from out of the country it can be difficult to rent in Hamilton. I am originally from the United States, so I had the luxury of being able to visit Hamilton for apartment viewings before making my final decision. Still, it was a struggle. I had no idea what reasonable rates were in Hamilton or where were the best places to live, what the various landmarks ads kept referencing were or if I should believe them when they said it was a “safe, quiet neighborhood”.

The McMaster off-campus student rentals website ( ) became very important in my search. The prices were overall lower than those of apartments I found on websites geared less toward college students. It also has a map and coding system that lets you know exactly how far from campus each of the listings are. Still, there were plenty of questions that remained unanswered, such as how I would pay my first deposit when all of my currency was in USD and what my rights as a tenant in Canada were. I didn’t find those answers until much later.

The student housing market in Hamilton is very competitive- for the students. What’s available changes rapidly, with the best options the first to disappear. My first major hurdle was the huge number of landlords who simply never responded to their listed contacts. Of the few that did respond it seemed that well over half told me the property of interest was already fully booked by another party. The few listings that were available when I called usually disappeared between when I made the appointment for a viewing and by the time I arrived.

To make matters worse, the competition seems to lead (in my admittedly limited experience) to less obligation for considerate behavior on the part of the landlords. I had multiple scheduled viewings that were cancelled within hours of when I was expected to arrive, and at least one where the landlord forgot to show up for the appointment entirely. I know others who had similar experiences.

I managed to successfully attend only two viewings and one open house. For the first viewing the landlord never arrived in person: the entire appointment was conducted over the phone. He directed me to open the unlocked basement door, call out to see if anyone was home and when no one responded he gave me the all-clear to wander around at will. The rooms available were small enough I wasn’t confident I would be able to fit even a bed inside. The second viewing was given by a friend of the landlord, and while the rooms were larger their maintenance seemed worse. There was a period where I wasn’t sure if I would be able to find housing at all, and that if I did the space would be only barely live-able.

I found the apartment I ended up renting purely by chance: there was an ad on the side of a bus shelter announcing a new student apartment building downtown called the William Thomas. It just so happened they were having an open house during my visit, and though the kitchen was small the rooms were nice. The rent was steeper than I wanted to pay, but by this point I was running out of options.

The William Thomas has its own fair share of problems, and I would caution you from following in my footsteps. The administration leaves something to be desired. When I signed the lease they gave me incorrect instructions on how to pay for my initial deposit, which lead to weeks of headache. Often times the office has been unable to answer my questions or answered them incorrectly. My maintenance requests have been slow to be fulfilled when they’ve been fulfilled at all.

All of this is to say that if you’re an international student on the search for your first living space in Hamilton, start early. You can’t start early enough. The student housing market in Hamilton is constantly changing, and it won’t wait for you. I would also advise opening an account with a Canadian bank or credit union as soon as possible. Without my Canadian bank account I would never have been able to pay my first deposit. And finally, if possible, I would advise you to find someone in the PNB department currently or recently living in Hamilton to give you more personal advice. They have experience with the area you simply don’t, yet. Maybe they can help you avoid some of the problems I ran into.

This story was written by Hannah, who would be happy to chat with you. Ask the Grad Chair for Hannah's contact information.