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Finding Off-Campus Housing for Fall 2021: Top Tips from Cal Rentals Staff

If it’s your first time searching for off-campus housing in Berkeley, you may be wondering where to start. Here are some top tips from the staff at Cal Rentals, UC Berkeley’s free off-campus housing listings service. Cal Rentals is a department within Cal Housing, and is staffed by UC Berkeley housing professionals who know Berkeley’s rental market inside and out. 

The staff at Cal Rentals met with dozens of students at the recent Virtual Housing Fair on April 21, 2021, and prepared this tip sheet based on the top questions asked. For more information, visit Cal Rentals or send an email to

  1. Where should I look for off-campus housing?  

    To find housing, check out the university’s free Cal Rentals website, which offers housing listings specifically designed for students, as well as a roommate matching service. You can also check websites like Zillow,, etc. We do not recommend AirBNB as it tends to be much more expensive and is designed for shorter-term rentals.

  2. It will be my first time living in Berkeley and I’m looking for an experience like the residence halls. Are there off-campus opportunities that offer a similar experience?

    Private rooming options are privately owned housing buildings specifically designed for students. They offer dorm-style housing as well as suites and apartment-style units. Examples include the Berk and the Metropolitan, but there are many others. They do not include meals. One advantage of these units is that, rent-wise, you are responsible only for yourself. If your roommate doesn’t pay, it’s not your problem, unlike typical leases in off-campus apartments. Send an email to for a list of private rooming options.

  3. When should I look for fall housing?

    End of April through early July are ideal times to look for fall housing. We usually tell students to allow 6-8 weeks to look for housing. If you start looking for a lease in April, the landlord might ask for payments too soon (i.e. a lease starting in May).  If you are planning to visit Berkeley to look at apartments, we would recommend coming in late June to early July. We’d recommend that you start calling and making appointments on the Tuesday of the week you plan for your visit, and then attend your tours/appointments on the Friday and Saturday of that week.

  4. I’m an international student and probably won’t be in Berkeley until a couple weeks until the term starts. How does this affect my housing search? Do I need to be in Berkeley?

    Pre-COVID, we would have said you needed to be in Berkeley, but things are different now. Virtual tours and Docusign (for signing leases) make things easier now. Keep in mind though, the apartment may not look exactly like the photos you see on websites. If you have a friend or a family member that can look at the place for you, that would be best.

  5. What is the process for leasing off-campus housing?

    If you find a place that you are interested in, send in an application. Keep in mind that you will have to pay fees on most applications. The landlord will run a credit check on you, your roommates, and likely a cosigner. A landlord might require you to have a cosigner on your application, so have that conversation with your parents and make sure that that’s something they are willing to do. If you are accepted, you will sign a lease directly with the property management company, which will be a binding contract. Make sure that this is something you are really interested in before you sign. 

  6. Regarding leasing off-campus, do these leases typically terminate in the academic year or is it the entire year?

    Typically leases are for the entire year. Some of the larger developments in the area will offer you a shorter lease, but often the rent will be higher. Landlords may offer for you to do a sublet during the summer. But keep in mind with summer sublets, you will usually have to pay for some of it. 

  7. When we apply to housing for a year lease, can we ask the landlord to start the lease in August?

    Typically, landlords will want to start the lease as soon as possible instead of holding it open for you. However, you can ask the landlord.

  8. What is the risk to the guarantor/cosigner?

    If you don’t pay your rent or if you get evicted, it hurts the credit scores of both you (the renter) and your guarantor. 

  9. Are there resources for being matched with roommates?

    Besides Cal Rentals, you can find roommates on the “Class of” Facebook page for your year.  Search for “UC Berkeley Class of [your grad year] (Official)” or “UC Berkeley Transfer Class of [your grad year] (Official).”

  10. How is my financial aid affected if I live off-campus instead of on-campus? 

    If you receive financial aid, your award is based on your estimated Total Cost of Attendance, which includes tuition and fees, books, housing (including off-campus housing), personal expenses, food, and transportation. Your cost of attendance serves as the foundation for determining your financial need as well as the amounts and types of financial aid, including grants, scholarships, loans, and work-study that can be offered to you. The cost of attendance varies based on your housing type, which means if your housing situation changes, expect your financial aid awards to also change. This includes a prorated adjustment to your grants and scholarships that aligns with your housing type changes. If you are planning to change your housing option or want to see how your financial aid will change, log into CalCentral to update your housing status. UC Berkeley reserves the right to adjust awards to correct any awarding errors. Changes to qualifying information or revisions to federal, state, or institutional policy may result in updates to aid eligibility and adjustments of financial aid awards. Information is subject to change. To learn more, visit the Financial Aid and Scholarships website.

  11. What if I cannot afford to put down a security deposit for my off-campus housing?

    The campus has a Housing Security Deposit Award Fund for students facing economic injustice who cannot pay up-front for their security deposit. 

  12. Is there any other kind of loan program available to help students pay for off-campus housing?

    In order to access all federal, institutional, and state loans available through the University, students should submit a financial aid application (by completing your FAFSA or CADAA). While Private Alternative Loans are also available, we strongly encourage students to first maximize all other resources, including federal or institutional loans, which may have lower interest rates and better loan terms before pursuing a private loan.

  13. Is it possible to count financial aid as income?

    Yes. If you live in university housing, you can also get a copy of your rent payments if you need a rental history. 

  14. What does “two months free” mean?

    “Two months free” is a promotion that a lot of landlords are doing right now. You should talk directly with that property for details. Sometimes this means entire months free or it could mean a discount on each month that adds up to two months free.

  15. What are important factors to consider when looking for housing?

    If you are going to do roommates, you have to make sure that you are all on board and work out a budget. Then, talk about what you all need. Are you going to share rooms? How important is proximity to campus? Only after this conversation should you start your search. 

  16. What are the lowest-cost options for housing? 

    Co-ops are a good lower-cost option. The Berkeley Student Cooperative, known as co-ops, include buildings that offer various accommodations, including rooms, houses, and shared apartments for single students in single or double occupancy rooms. You can apply to them and get on a waitlist. The Pacific School of Religion (PSR) by Hudson McDonald is another less expensive option.

  17. What about parking?

    We don’t encourage you to bring a car, but if you do, just keep in mind that parking may be tricky. Depending on where you live, you may be able to get a parking permit, but it’s not a guarantee that you will find parking. Also, a lot of neighborhoods require you to be a resident to park there. 

For more information on off-campus housing, visit Cal Rentals or send an email to

For information on UC Berkeley campus housing, visit Cal Housing.