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Finding a place to live in Nanaimo

January 22, 2024
Author: Michael Witcomb, Off-Campus Housing Coordinator

5 tips for students looking for housing

Are you moving to Nanaimo to attend Vancouver Island University? The sooner you start your search, the better, as rental accommodations can be in high demand in Nanaimo.

There are various types of accommodation to choose from, like single-unit apartments, secondary suites (for example the converted basement of a house), condos or private homestays (living with a family). Finding the right housing fit can take some time. While it is a lot of work looking for housing, the more listings that you look through will help you decide what a good housing option for you is. Here are some tips to help you find a place that’s right for you*. 

Make a list of your needs. 

The first thing to do is consider your unique needs. Do you plan to use public transport, or will you have a car? If you have a car, where are you going to park it? How important is it to you that you are close to campus? Do you have a pet? For more info on needs and preferences you should think about, use the Renting it Right Needs and Preferences Worksheet. After you have identified your needs, this will help you either restrict your search or expand it. For example, if you know you will be using public transport, you will probably want to look for housing near a bus route. 

What type of housing suits you best? 

Different types of off-campus housing come with various pros and cons. Some of your unique needs that you identified will help you determine which options are better for you. Do you want roommates to keep costs down, or do you want a place of your own? Is living in a house with a yard important to you, or do you prefer a condo? There’s lots more information on the Off-Campus Housing page. 

Do you want to try living on campus and getting the full residence life experience? While VIU does offer housing to students on campus, it’s a popular option and spaces are limited. Priority groups are considered, but if you are applying close to the start of semester, you may have to focus on other options. 

If you are an international student, there’s also the option of Canada Homestay Network where you live with a Canadian family. Private homestay providers also offer rooms with their families and you could try VI Homestay or MLI Homestay. This may not suit everybody and you should certainly have a chat with the homestay team if you are thinking about this option.

A final cost-effective option is to rent a room in someone’s home. Read local landlord Bruce Barnard’s story about renting a room in his home to students and the mutual benefits his family has experienced from this arrangement.

Figure out how much you can afford. 

Your budget may rule out some of the options listed above, but it is important to ensure you’re not getting into a rental situation that is unsustainable. To calculate how much you can afford to pay per month, you need to have a budget. Fill out a monthly budget worksheet (courtesy of RentingitRight.ca) to get started. Ideally, you’ll want to spend no more than about 33% on rent out of your total per-month income. Review what is included with the rental property. Does it include things like utilities (heat, hot water, electricity bill, which in BC is called your “hydro” bill, etc.)? If it doesn’t, then you will need to budget for these expenses in addition to your rent. 

Avoid rental ad scams. 

Rental ad scams (tricks) are not uncommon. Signs include things like a poorly written ad with bad grammar and spelling mistakes, or excuses about why the landlord is not available or why you can’t view the unit. You should also be careful if someone asks for money in advance, or other personal information like your Social Insurance Number or bank account details. Trust your gut feeling and stay away from something that doesn’t feel right. It is hard to determine the legitimacy of a property listing without actually viewing the property and meeting with the landlord/property manager in person. A good rule of thumb is to never send money to someone you haven’t met and be very cautious about paying a deposit before you have viewed the rental unit. More tips, including a list of questions you should ask yourself before committing to renting a place, are available on the Off-Campus Housing page. 

Begin your search. 

Armed with knowledge about your personal needs, budget, the types of housing you are looking for and how to be careful of scams, the next step is looking for a place. Some platforms to get you started on your housing hunt journey include: 

  • Places4Students – an online listing service that specializes in providing rental housing options for students and a great roommate finder too … our most trusted recommendation! 
  • VIU Students’ Union app – lots of students use the community board to search for vacancies and roommates on this platform. 
  • Facebook groups, Craigslist, Kijiji or similar platforms also have rental listings. A couple of popular Facebook groups are Nanaimo Rentals and Nanaimo 4 Rent. Go to the Off-Campus Housing site for these and more options. 


Still not finding anything that meets your needs? Temporary housing is also an option. You can view our current recommendations on the Off-Campus Housing page. Remember, you can always contact Off-Campus Housingwith any questions or book a meeting. 


Michael Witcomb is VIU’s Off-Campus Housing Coordinator.


*Please note that off-campus accommodation options are not verified by VIU for quality or legitimacy, and that any private accommodation is solely the renter’s responsibility. VIU is not a party in any off-campus housing agreement. Students must read the agreement carefully, understand the terms and be fully responsible for the terms of the agreement before they sign any documentation.

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