Off-Campus Housing Search Tips

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When, Where, Who, How to Find Housing

Searching for housing in an unfamiliar area can feel daunting. Thankfully, you are not the first and certainly not the last student who will find off-campus housing around Berkeley. Here are a few sites to begin or continue your search and helpful advice on finding your next home.

Location Overviews

Before we dive into finding a rental, it’s important to get a sense of what each neighborhood of Berkeley has to offer.

  • Southside is the busy, student-orientated part adjacent to the south of campus. There are tons of on and off-campus student housing options, as well as stores and cafes on and around Telegraph Avenue. College Avenue is also accessible in this area with a variety of shops and restaurants.
  • Northside is quieter than Southside, with lots of apartments, co-ops, and family homes. The terrain is a lot more hilly.
  • Downtown begins a block west of campus on and around Shattuck Avenue that has a mix of apartments and houses. It’s close to BART, restaurants, and west campus.
Telegraph Avenue on Southside

Telegraph Avenue on Southside

If you’re looking further than these areas, here are a few nearby communities that may have cheaper rent.

  • North Oakland/Rockridge is easily accessible to public transportation, has direct bike paths to campus, and has more of a neighborhood feel.
  • Downtown Oakland is also easily accessible to public transportation via BART stations and bus stops and is in more of a dense urban space.
  • Emeryville is a major area for shopping, entertainment, and new apartment housing. There are free shuttle buses to BART and around town.
  • El Cerrito has two BART stations, affordable housing options, a small-town vibe, and is convenient for commuting,

Cal Rentals: Start Here

Cal Rentals is an official off-campus housing search site where you can check out listings, sublets, and search for roommates, as well as create a roommate profile for yourself. UC Berkeley Housing Officer and local business owner Elaine Perkins-Smith gave me helpful tips on the timeline for securing housing, details about the listing process, and how to best navigate the Cal Rentals site.

A screenshot of the Cal Rentals website homepage, with a map of Berkeley showing available units on the left and featuring some of those units on the right.

A screenshot of the Cal Rentals website homepage. The listings can be sorted by filters like neighborhood or building type, and the interactive map provides an easy way to view locations.

What are some of the pros and cons of searching for housing early versus later?

“We tell students to wait six to eight weeks before their move-in date to secure housing. There’s a tale that you need to secure housing in January or February and that couldn’t be anything further from the truth.

“The problem with securing housing so early is that things can change so often. We do listings throughout the entire year and we tell students to wait at least until April to start the search, and not to secure housing until you start seeing the start date that the listers are interested in. It’s very common for last-minute listings to show up, especially recently with the new builders around campus. It’s not uncommon to see landlords list in July, August, and all the way into September.”

Is there any screening for those who list on the site?

“You don’t have to be affiliated with the University to list on there. There’s no criteria.

“Cal Rentals will look at the listing to make sure everything looks okay. If anything looks shaky, I will reach out to the lister to get more information. Typically we will catch anything that seems like a scam before it hits the site.

“If any questions do come up, I’d rather students give Cal Rentals a call and say, ‘Hey, this is what I’m looking at. Can you look at it for me?’ before they send their money.”

How do you effectively navigate the Cal Rentals site?

“The best thing to do is to set about two parameters. The main parameter is the maximum rent amount. The listings you see on the front page are the properties that have a large budget. If you were to set your max rent, that would flush out a lot of those. Set if it comes fully furnished because many students don’t have furniture or have the wherewithal to get furniture. Sharing rent will always be way cheaper than finding your own place. Getting familiar and being realistic with what your budget can get you is the most important.”

What’s the question you’re asked most often?

“The main question is how early should I secure housing. I always tell students they have more than enough time to apply for University housing and see what they get. If you don’t receive an offer there’s still plenty of time to start looking for off-campus housing. The month of March is usually when we start sending out offers to continuous students. Be patient. There’s tons of housing available.”

Start your search on this easy-to-use site and don’t be afraid to reach out for help on a potential rental and how to begin the process. The Cal Rentals team encourages you to call their number, 510-210-0650, or send an email if you have questions or concerns about your housing search.

UC Berkeley Housing booth at an Off-Campus Housing Fair

UC Berkeley Housing booth at an Off-Campus Housing Fair

Dorm-Style Apartments

Many of the listings on Cal Rentals will include privately owned dorm-style apartments. Research what they have available and rent rates for each one. Schedule a tour, whether virtual or in-person, beforehand to get a feel for the place before putting a signature down. Here are a few popular examples of this kind of housing:

The Durant Apartments

The Durant Apartments

I have personally lived in one of The Berkeley Group’s housing facilities before and enjoyed my experience. This real estate group owns several properties with the same format of a furnished, move-in ready room with cleaning services and convenient amenities. An important note to keep in mind is that each place has different management even though they’re under the same ownership, so be sure to reach out to the staff and ask questions about what it’s like to live in each place.

The Morgan House by The Berkeley Group

The Morgan House by The Berkeley Group

Other Search Sites

The UC Berkeley Off-Campus Housing Facebook Page is a place to find a new roommate, post a listing, or ask any housing-related questions. It’s constantly being added to since it’s a public profile. Typically the messages consist of those who are trying to find housing fast or those trying to sublease a room.

A screenshot of the UC Berkeley Off-Campus Housing Facebook Page

The UC Berkeley Off-Campus Housing Facebook page

There is Zillow, which is your typical apartment/housing search site. In a similar vein, showcases listings in the area. Both of these sites are more general and will usually direct you to the apartment building’s personal website. Always use due diligence when searching for housing online, and if you’re concerned about a listing, you can consult Cal Rentals for advice.

A screenshot of The Durant listing on

An example of an listing

General Tips Before Signing the Lease

These are a few preparatory measures, boxes to check, and tenant rights you should be aware of:

  • Have a cosigner, reference, and landlord’s info in advance
  • Hop on the official UC Berkeley Discord to search for potential roommates
  • Bring a credit report, application, and deposit ahead of time
  • Know whether it’s a sublease or for rent, what the utilities are, and take photos and videos during your visit
  • Check safety requirements such as window locks and smoke detectors
  • Be aware of costs such as first month fees, deposit, moving supplies, and appliances
  • Your building must meet habitability requirements by the City of Berkeley, including but not limited to working gas and plumbing, and unbroken doors and windows
  • Map grocery stores around your neighborhood
  • Keep in mind the benefits of a meal plan with on-campus housing and the costs of not having one with off-campus housing (off-campus meal plans are available)
  • Create a spending plan through this Center for Financial Wellness resource

Happy Hunting!

Although searching for housing may feel overwhelming, there are a plentitude of avenues to go down to find your next place. There is an abundance of housing options available; whether it be through the Cal Rentals site, another search engine, or independent dorm-style apartment research, you will figure out what your next residence will be. Take this process step-by-step and you’ll be moving in in no time!


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

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