Finding Housing: What to Expect

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Searching for Off-Campus Housing

I lived my first year in the residence halls as a freshman and am glad I did. Most students live on campus for at least a year, if not more. But now I’m venturing into off-campus housing and am here to share what I’ve learned from my own searching and from consulting with fellow UC Berkeley students. Below you’ll find links to helpful resources and answers to some housing search questions you may have!

Getting Started

UC Berkeley has some great resources available to students. Check out the list below for key housing resources to get you started.

Be sure to consult Cal Rentals — they have free support for students and housing listings that are only shared with UC Berkeley students and community. You can even get matched to a roommate through Cal Rentals. You can learn more in our blog, where we interviewed a staff member for their tips and tricks on utilizing this resource.

The Berkeley Student Cooperative provides housing at a lower costfor students at UC Berkeley and other Bay Area colleges and universities. Want to learn more? This helpful YouTube video breaks down what exactly a co-op is and how it works.

For Graduate Student-specific tips, see The Graduate Assembly’s Housing Guide, which touches on subjects like finding affordable housing and shares tips on how to help others.

International students, the International Office has a helpful Finding Housing Resources page that includes virtually everything you need to help you get started in your search.

The Basic Needs Center also has a great collection of housing resources and support.

For details about how to use these resources, finding off campus housing, and benefits of living in a co-op read this Berkeley Life article where students share advice on how to find housing.

Timeline for Searching

What was the timeline like for the process, from searching for housing to moving in?

Melissa: I started looking during the last few weeks of fall semester, just to start to get an idea of what kind of options were available. We really started to look mid-spring semester, around March and April, for our fall housing. It took a few weeks to find the right fit — my roommates and I signed our lease in late April to begin on June 2. Landlords will typically want to start the lease as soon as possible and not wait for August, but there’s no harm in asking about this. There are a lot of different lease start dates, so if you want to move into your apartment right after the on-campus housing contract expires, that is possible! My roommates and I went home for a while and waited for our lease to start.

Preslee: Starting the search early is not a bad idea, but hold off on locking anything down until closer to the semester because new listings pop up and circumstances are constantly changing. Cal Rentals recommends starting 6-8 weeks before your move-in date. I signed my lease in July before my first fall semester. After signing, the roommate pairing and move-in details followed shortly after.

Mahrosh: In the event you start late, because you had hopes of getting on-campus housing, you may still be able to find other options. The co-op applications often begin in the springtime. You can also sublease an apartment from someone; you can find them semester by semester or, at times, for a full year (the latter being a bit rare, but at least it will get you started).

Roommates: How to Find Them

How did you find your roommates?

Melissa: I met my roommates in the residence halls. They were the roommates I had been sharing my triple in Unit 2, and we got along so well that we decided to continue being roommates. Our sleep schedules and habits were compatible, we had things in common, and we became friends quickly after we moved into the residence halls. It’s also common to post on social media or join the official Berkeley Discord IM and chat platform. (Look for the #looking-for-roommate channel.)

Mahrosh: If you have an apartment and are the one looking for roommates, provide pictures and be mindful of pricing. Also be sure to set up video calls for a meet-up (especially if you do not live in the area). Additionally, be sure to discuss expectations among potential roommates. Things like lifestyles that may affect each other’s health concerns and other similar things should be discussed from the very beginning.

Was it harder as an incoming transfer to find roommates?

Preslee: It is slightly more difficult to find roommates assuming that you’re transferring without knowing many people yet, but there are tons of avenues to becoming paired with roommates. Cal Rentals allows you to create your own roommate profile and search for others that align with your compatibility and living preferences. In my case, the house that I signed my lease with randomly paired me with another incoming transfer and it worked out great. As you get your feet under you, then you can move in with a friend for your second semester or year here.

What to Consider When Searching

What factors did you consider when searching for housing?

Melissa: My roommates and I made a spreadsheet that listed out apartments we liked and where we tracked things like the cost, utilities included, when the lease would start, how far it was from campus, if it was close to any bus stops, etc. Touring the places was also incredibly helpful, because sometimes looking at the provided pictures is not enough. If you can’t tour a place yourself, try to find a friend or family member to view it for you.

Preslee: I prioritized location and cost. I knew that I was going to sell my car upon arriving so I didn’t want to be farther than walking distance from campus. I considered convenient amenities such as hand soap, paper towels, and weekly cleaning being provided, for example. I live in a place that comes with a meal plan so that was a huge appeal for me because convenience is ideal during the busy academic year.

Mahrosh: Pro Tip: Have little stock blurbs ready for a couple of responses so you don’t have to keep coming up with ideas:

  • Have a short description ready for you as a roommate that includes what you are like (a small bio about you that ranges from backgrounds to cleanliness to hobbies, etc.).
  • Keep drafts ready to send to someone you’d like to be roommates with and a short thank you response prepared if someone turns you down (the latter is a short “thank you for your consideration” template).

You Found It! But How?

How did you find your apartment?

Melissa: It was a group effort! We checked a lot of different websites, my favorite being, where we found ours. Zillow is also great. Filters on these kinds of websites were very helpful, and checking them often was as well. Wherever and however you are searching, please remember to be safe!

Preslee: I went on to Cal Rentals which led me to an off-campus housing group, The Berkeley Group, where I found my housing. I ended up going to their website outside of Cal Rentals to research and eventually find my place. I went through Greek life recruitment that same semester so that I could move into sorority housing the following academic year, where I am now. Panhellenic housing is a good option and on average cheaper than other off-campus housing options around Berkeley with great perks such as cleaning services and a meal plan. 

Mahrosh: Pro Tip: If you are searching on Facebook in places like the UC Berkeley Off-Campus Housing group, your Facebook profile should have a picture, otherwise someone may think you are a scammer. On that note: Be careful of scammers, they are real and they exist. For potential scammers, look out for the following things: when someone wants your money before showing the apartment, they hesitated about any valid identification, they do not accept live requests for room tours or even a virtual video call one, and if they refuse a video call interview.

Down to Business: Leases, Utilities, and Tenant Rights

What did you do when you found a place you liked? What is the utilities situation and how is the lease process?

Melissa: I was tasked with emailing apartments and landlords, and I always said roughly the same thing; I’d ask about touring the apartment and included any questions we had about it. Some leases require renters insurance, some properties cover all of your utilities, some none; some landlords require a guarantor or cosigner; some don’t allow subletting. Every place is different. Communicate with your roommates about what you are all comfortable with, and then reframe your search to match that, leaving some space for wiggle room to be safe.

Preslee: I immediately found virtual tours and contacted the staff that oversaw that specific house since the real estate group had multiple properties around Berkeley. Along with personal research online, I called and asked them questions about the process, roommate pairings, housing responsibilities, and amenities. I had to sign the lease and pay the down deposit in a short time because housing in Berkeley goes fast. My utilities were separate but a fixed amount. The lease process was seamless and entirely online. Be attentive to any of the fine print. It’s common for them to require a cosigner so be sure to have a family member or friend in mind if that’s the case. I paid my rent in full to avoid having a cosigner, but that’s a very particular and uncommon instance. 

Mahrosh: Read the terms and conditions of your contract carefully. At times there are hidden fees that are charged to your account every month that you should be aware of. Companies sometimes try to take advantage of students that are rushing to find housing who may not read the lease thoroughly. So it’s important for you to look over the contract in detail and also read the fine print.

Student Legal Services has resources on issues involving landlord-tenant disputes, evictions, and more things pertaining to off-campus housing, including this helpful tip sheet on leases that defines terminology you may not be entirely familiar with. 

The Berkeley Rent Board has a list of resources and guidance for city of Berkeley renters; another helpful place to look is the California Tenant Guide from the California Department of Real Estate.

There is a program for students who cannot afford to put down a security deposit. The Housing Security Deposit Award Fund is for students facing economic injustice who cannot pay up-front for their security deposit. 

I hope this post helped you in your search in some way! Remember to start early, be patient, and to take advantage of the resources available to you.


Melissa Mora-Gonzalez is a rising third-year student at UC Berkeley majoring in English and minoring in conservation and resource studies.

Preslee Vanlandingham is a fourth-year student at UC Berkeley majoring in English and minoring in creative writing.

Mahrosh Gealani, Class of 2022, majored in political science and South Asian studies


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