Nova Scotia·Global Studies

CBU international students say make a plan, avoid scams in housing search

Cape Breton University has hired a full-time off-campus housing coordinator to help students after many arriving from abroad struggled to find housing last fall.

University has hired off-campus housing coordinator to help students coming from abroad

Ashdeep Singh, a student from India, has been in Cape Breton since December 2017. (Norma Jean MacPhee/CBC)

Global Studies is a CBC series exploring how the influx of international students at Cape Breton University is transforming the school and the community.

Cape Breton University was better prepared for the hundreds of international students who arrived in January than it was for those that arrived in the fall.

An influx of international students landed in Cape Breton last fall, many with no place to live. It resulted in a housing shortage that led to people in the Sydney area offering rooms for rent.

To ensure the same scramble didn't follow the arrival of the January cohort of students, CBU hired a full-time off-campus housing coordinator and created a housing website where people could post information about the rooms, apartments or houses they have available for rent.

Doug Connors, the manager of housing for the university, also credits the preparedness of the students for improvements to the housing situation.

"One of the largest things we emphasize is making sure you have secured off-campus accommodation or on-campus accommodations prior to your arrival, and then we provided them for resources for doing so," said Connors.

"It seems as though that has done the trick. We didn't have as many surprises this time around." 

Komal Dabas (left) and Ramanpreet Kaur are studying at Cape Breton University. (Norma Jean MacPhee/CBC)

International students account for 56 per cent of the total student body at Cape Breton University.

Ashdeep Singh, a student from India, has been in Cape Breton since December 2017 and lives in an apartment with two others.

"It's difficult for those people who do not know anyone here. It's easy for those who know someone here. If someone does not know anybody, it's hard for them to find a house here," said Singh.

Komal Dabas came from India to study at Cape Breton University. She found an off-campus apartment in Sydney and has become friends with her three roommates.

"I didn't know anybody, but now I have lots of friends just because we usually going out together," said Dabas.

Rahul Radhakrishnan is out $250 after he was targeted in a rental scam in Whitney Pier, N.S. (Norma Jean MacPhee/CBC)

Pravnav Prasad, who is also from India, arrived on the island in January. He did his housing homework in advance. 

"Make a plan a month or two months prior to that. Search for the accommodation because if you're planning to come here and after that you're planning to search, it's really going to be a horrible situation," Prasad said.

But even the best planning can't help protect against a scam.

Rahul Radhakrishnan, a student from India, is out $250 after he was targeted in a rental scam in Cape Breton.

When he arrived in September, he lived with a friend. He decided to look for his own place for January and ​Radhakrishnan found an apartment on Kijiji for $325 a month in Whitney Pier.

Cape Breton Regional Police say they're investigating three reported cases of rental scams at this home in Whitney Pier, N.S. (Norma Jean MacPhee/CBC)

He went there with the man he believed was the landlord, who showed him the apartment.

"This is the hall, you can use the couch and everything, he explained it," said Radhakrishnan.

Radhakrishnan handed over $100 in cash for the security deposit — and then sent the man an additional $150 in an e-transfer.

But despite several subsequent calls and visits, he never heard back from the man.

Finally a neighbour told Radhakrishnan he was at least the seventh person to be scammed by a man posing as the landlord.

"At that time I was blank, like I don't know what to do next," said Radhakrishnan.

"I was not expecting that this is not his home, he was the guy who was kicked out two months before."

Cape Breton Regional Police confirm they're investigating three reported cases of rental scams at the same address. 

With files from Norma Jean MacPhee