Now that summer break has begun, many graduate students are searching for a place to live before the fall semester begins. Given the imbalance in supply and demand in the Bay Area, house hunting can be a very daunting and frustrating experience.
To help you find accommodations, we talked to a specialist at Cal Housing to solicit some tips and suggestions.
Cal Housing suggests that students begin their housing search by identifying their desired living situation. First, you should figure out the types of places where you would like to live and what you can afford — a studio, a one-bedroom, or a shared room or house. You should determine a limit to your budget that is realistic for your financial situation.
When emailing or leaving a message for a landlord, be sure to clearly identify your name and contact information and include the following information: how many occupants will be on the lease, whether parking is desired, and the desired move-in date. Because pets could increase the deposit rate and will limit housing options, they should not be brought with you if at all possible.
Once you have narrowed your search, you should check out the place. In many cases, listings offer limited information and photos may omit problems. It’s very important to document any defects or deficiencies prior to or as you are moving in to avoid disputes or loss of your deposit later. If you are unable to see a rental in person, try asking a friend or someone you know to visit for you.
The Graduate Assembly has compiled a Housing Guide that provides advice to graduate students on how to navigate the local rental market on a student budget. The guide also serves to help students understand the nature of the local housing market, determine what they can afford, retain stable housing, and get involved in housing advocacy.
Types of Housing
Housing options for graduate students fall into three categories: University-owned and -operated, group housing alternatives, and off-campus housing. If you prefer University-owned and -operated housing, Cal Housing offers listings exclusively for graduate students, with or without families.
Many graduate students choose to live in off-campus housing in Berkeley or one of the surrounding communities. Berkeley Student Cooperatives are student-run, non-profit cooperatives that provide low-cost housing opportunities to Cal students.
For other off-campus resources, UC Berkeley’s Cal Rentals provides a wide selection of rentals, counseling, and information on finding housing and setting up telephone and utility (gas/electricity) services. The online resource Sabbatical Homes also offers home exchanges and rentals to academics and scholars. Craigslist, Roomster, and Sublet.com are other websites that list off-campus housing in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Like many other metropolitan areas, Berkeley and the surrounding cities of the East Bay are composed of varying neighborhoods, each with a flavor of its own. South Berkeley, adjacent to south campus, is a bustling student-oriented area where you are likely to see more undergrads live. North Berkeley is quieter in comparison, with several student co-ops and apartment buildings interspersed among single-family homes. Many graduate students choose to live in neighborhoods further from campus, including Albany, Oakland, El Cerrito and Richmond. Though this can help reduce rental costs, commuting may be more of a challenge.
Need a Roommate?
Given the high cost of rent in Berkeley, many students choose to live with roommates. In the event that you need to find a roommate, Cal Rentals has a roommate-searching tool where you can send messages to people who are also looking for roommates. In addition, the Berkeley International Office has recently rolled out its Cal Student Roommate Search Tool, which allows current and incoming students to list their housing preferences and contact information to find a potential roommate.
Need Temporary Housing?
While conducting your housing search, you may need a short-term place to land when you arrive in Berkeley. The Berkeley International Office (BIO) has compiled a list of some inexpensive places close to campus; if you mention that you are affiliated with UC Berkeley, you may be eligible for a discount. Airbnb and VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner) are popular websites that allow people to rent accommodation from local hosts.
The Berkeley International Office (BIO) has two webinars on finding housing in Berkeley.
— Written by Leo Zou, Updated in 2015 by Melissa Hellmann, Updated in 2016 by Larissa Charnsangavej