Many students, especially undergraduates, are living in off-campus housing for the first time. While new-found freedom may be a lot of fun, it also requires a lot of responsibility.
For those students who’ve settled on off-campus housing,you need to know how to find a place without getting ripped off by your landlord or jacked out of your security deposit. After that, it’s about choosing financially responsible roommates and making your stay comfortable.
Follow these 6 off-campus housing steps to save you from any leasing deceit, roommate troubles or eviction.
Step 1) Inspect the place before signing the lease.
Some students are lucky when it comes to finding the perfect off-campus apartment. They find prime spots close to campus with wonderful views and a fair price. Other students choose nasty hovels that get condemned by mid-semester. While financial woes may limit your apartment options to substandard housing, there are certain things you should never settle for such as:
- Water damage or mold
- Bathroom fixtures that leak or don’t work
- Defective gas or electrical connections
- Damaged paint, wall paneling or pervasive nail holes
- Windows that are cracked or broken, or don’t open and close
- Signs of rodents or bug infestations
- Unreliable door locks and deadbolts
If you see any bugs or mouse droppings, have the landlord pay for extermination services before you sign the lease. Also, ensure the lock is changed before you move in to keep the previous tenant from any uninvited visits while you’re away.
And one last thing, always write what’s broken or missing on the lease before you move in. If you find any of the problems mentioned above, write it on the lease before you sign anything. Otherwise, you may get charged for pre-existing damages when you move out. Better yet, write out an agreement with the landlord to rectify any problems before you even move in.
Step 2) Review the lease carefully before signing it.
More likely than not, this is the first lease you’ve ever had to sign, especially if you’re an undergraduate. Therefore, you need to examine the lease agreement very carefully. Many undergraduates often get hoodwinked into merciless leases in the haste to find housing. So, unless your mom or dad is a lawyer, you need to carefully review the following questions:
- What is the landlord’s policy on subletting?
- What’s the policy on early leave?
- Are there any stipulations about noise, guests, or curfews?
- How many people are allowed to live in the house?
- Who is responsible for fixing broken appliances and fixtures?
- Most importantly, what’s the policy on refunding your security deposit?
Step 3) Find financially responsible roommates.
While living with your best friends may be fun, you also want to choose responsible roommates that pay their rent on time and help out with the utility bills. If it’s just party, party, party you’ll tire out quickly, and when you find out your friend’s part of the electricity bill was invested in a bag of who knows what, your fun will have a shelf-life.
It may be slightly boring having nerdy roommates or students writing their dissertation, but generally they’re financially responsible and are far less frustrating to live with. So, party elsewhere and relish the fact you live with people who pay their bills on time.
Step 4) Furnish the place for free.
After you finally move into your off-campus housing, don’t worry if the place looks empty. The easiest way to furnish your housing is to inherit the goods from previous tenants. Graduating seniors are also generous sources of free or cheap furniture. If you’re brave enough, you even can try dumpster diving.
However, be wary of any stuffed furniture such as mattresses and couches abandoned on the street. You don’t want to invite any bedbugs into your home. Hard furniture like plastic and wood are excellent choices because they can be easily refurbished with some cleaning or paint.
The best time of year for scavenging is before and after spring finals. Never forget there’s always Craigslist and Facebook.
Step 5) Set up the kitchen.
One great reason to live off-campus is the fact you can cook for yourself. However, be careful: food storage and dish cleaning are some of the surest ways to start loud disagreements with roommates. The only way to avoid any issues is to clean up your mess and come to some sort of agreement with your roommates.
Enforce rules, but keep them flexible. For instance, rotate taking out the kitchen trash and have a 1 day policy on dirty dishes.
Regarding food storage, if you leave it out in the open, it’s fair game for the taking. To prevent any missing food items, divide refrigerator shelves and cabinet space between each roommate to ensure nobody ‘accidentally’ drinks your beer or eats your cereal. As for expensive items, such as coffee, fresh produce or meat, it’s best to store them somewhere private.
Remember to clean out the fridge periodically and throw out any moldy food you see.
Step 6) Get to know the neighbors.
The last step is more like a survival strategy than it is a necessity. Never forget that as a college student your resources are very limited. For example, if you ever need something like a ladder or a screwdriver, you may have to ask your neighbor, giving you a good reason to get to know them. At the very least say hello and smile when you see them.
This will also help later when certain kinds of gatherings grow overly exuberant and annoy the people trying to sleep. If you’re friendly with the neighbors, chances are they’ll call you first before they call the cops.
What are some of your tips for finding off-campus housing? Let us know about them in the comment section below.