I began seriously searching two weeks ago.
With an unpaid internship lined up in the Big Apple, I can’t afford to pay city housing rates and maintain a house in the campus area. Renting a studio apartment can run up to $2,200 per month, as reported in the New York Times -- quadruple the amount I’m paying for rent at college. So I was pulling double-duty: looking for a sublet to pay at least part of my monthly rent at school and finding a room to house me over the summer. A week ago you could find me clicking up a storm, collecting information on specialized sublet websites, posting ads for my place, and weighing my summer options. But summer is only a month away—talk about a time crunch!
When Subletting Your Room:
- Check with the landlord. Are you even allowed to find a buddy to live in your place over the summer months? If “yes,” proceed to tip #2.
- Start talking up your room on the market as soon as you decide it’ll need filling for the summer. This can mean as early as February or March, though you may not get too many responses until late March or April when most students start looking for summer housing, says Ben Tupper, owner of Tupper Property Company in Syracuse, N.Y. Talk up your apartment vacancy with friends, post flyers in coffee shops, and send e-mails over any list-servs at school; some students need housing for summer sessions, and others may need a place to stay during an internship.
- When posting an ad in the classifieds in newspapers or on Craigslist, an attractive description can up your interest. Tupper includes key descriptors like “great front porch,” “hardwood floors,” “great student neighborhood,” and “in walking distance” whenever applicable. Mentioning the porch stirs thoughts of sunny days, and walking distance appeals to college students without cars looking to stay close to campus. Focus on what sets your place apart, like its spacious kitchen or its sunny living room with large windows. It’s all about marketing, but be honest in your ad and don’t over-exaggerate, Tupper says. And, abiding by the principle “a picture is worth a thousand words,” add photos whenever possible to show off your selling points!
- Set a reasonable asking price. “Having done this for 13 years now and having seen people sublet every year, rarely will you ever get your full rent,” Tupper says. “You will usually get 75 percent of your rent—and that’s just supply and demand.” If you ask too much (or even just full price), somebody else can be asking lower and pick up the sublet.
- Include your housemates and roomies in your sublet decision, especially in the case that they will be staying in your house or apartment with the sublet. To avoid upsetting your friends, set ground rules for who would temporarily take your spot: A smoker or nonsmoker? Pets or no pets? Guy or girl?
Best case scenario is that you find a friend to take your room for the summer. Your housemates may feel more comfortable with a friend than a stranger moving in, and you’ll be less likely to return to a mess because she’ll know she will see you afterward. “I subletted to a friend, and she was very clean and courteous; I felt comfortable telling her what I’d prefer she’d not do in the room,” says Scott Rosenfeld, Her Campus’s “Her Gay Best Friend” columnist. “My other friend subletted to a girl he barely knew, and she trashed the place.” Tupper, who has been managing college houses for 13 years, says he typically runs into messy subletter problems in 10 of his 90 rental student-filled houses.
- Meet your prospective tenants: Yes, that’s right—your tenants. By subleasing your room in a house or apartment, you’re playing landlord in many cases. In many situations, your tenant pays you and you pay your landlord. So if your subletter fails in paying you on time every week or month, you’ll still be responsible for cutting a check. Screen for someone responsible enough to pay your rent timely and who (hopefully) won’t dirty or damage your house. Sometimes this can involve attaining personal references (perhaps from a mutual friend or previous landlord), but according to Tupper, “It’s more of a gut feeling.”
- Arrange to show your house to your prospective tenants before they move in. You can look at it sort of as an in-person interview, but moreover, by meeting the prospective tenant you know that he or she is a real person and not some online scammer responding to your ad. “The scam,” as Tupper calls it, begins with a simple e-mail from an international student interested in renting from you…without wanting to know any of the details like its location, photos, or dates of availability.” Though the situation varies, eventually the sublet would try to pay you in a check for $100 more than your asking price and request a check back for the difference. Before you can cash your check, the scammer cancels it and you’re out your $100 or so. So when sifting through responses, be wary about e-mails asking to take the place, no questions asked.
- Get it in writing: draft a binding contract between you and your summer sublet for legal reasons. “They’re short and sweet. In a nutshell, it will state who’s living there, what days he or she is living there, and that [the tenant] agrees to abide by all specifications on the lease,” Tupper explains. Check with your landlord for sublease paperwork he or she may require. Other sources for templates include your school’s off-campus housing services and sites like Subleaser or Do Your Own Will.
- Collect a security deposit. Holding it may be your only leverage, Tupper explains. It can be used to cover a broken window you discover when your sublet leaves, or it can be used to cover the cost of cleanup if your replacement was an EXTREME slob. “Charge $8 a person per hour, the same amount any of my workers receive to clean a house, and deduct it from the security deposit,” Tupper says. “It’s perfectly legal and acceptable to do.”
- Nearing your move-out day, make plans for what to do with your possessions. Don’t forget to empty out your closet, fridge, and pantry; move your stuff to the side to make room for your sublet. (Cleaning up the room is also highly considerate!)
When Looking for a Place to Stay:
- Know what you’re looking for in your summer housing. Would you prefer furnished or unfurnished? Walking distance to your work destination, or close to a bus stop? With roommates, or your own bedroom? Making a checklist—or even a comparison chart to line your favorites side-by-side—will help you narrow down the number of houses you’re interested in, and eventually rank them.
- Ask friends, search websites like sublet.com and craigslist.com for advertisements. Also check with larger universities in the area you’re looking to move to for the summer. (For example, if you need to be in New York City, do a little research into dorms at NYU or Columbia University.) See what the colleges have both as on-campus and off-campus. For more on this type of housing search, read HC’s article on how to find summer housing in Boston, NYC, and DC.
- When you find an ad you like, accumulate all the information you can: ask for photos, pricing details. Also inquire about the current tenants and who would be living there over the summer months (i.e., your potential summer housemates).
- Most rents are more reasonable if you look at housing with one or more roommates. As Marly Fink of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee learned, with the perks come the downsides. One night last summer, her sublet roommate had partied until one evening she experienced a medical emergency. “It's best to know someone fairly well before agreeing to live with them,” she advises. “If you don't have a choice, just be sure you have a backup plan in case things get ugly.”
- Review crime statistics for your potential summer neighborhood. Many local police stations include this sort of information as part of public record on their websites.
- Scope it out in person—this way, you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into. Arranging a visit can accomplish three tasks at once: a chance to see the room and the house, a meet-and-greet with your summer housemates, and an opportunity to browse the neighborhood for signs posted in the windows of businesses looking for summer help.
- After choosing an apartment, read thoroughly and sign a sublease with your summer housing contact. A binding contract can serve to protect you in the case that your landlord isn’t holding up his or her end of the deal, giving you concrete evidence of all that he or she agreed to do. If possible, have a lawyer or your school’s student legal services review the contract for any gaping holes or fine print.
- On move-in day, take photos of the room and house in its original conditions. This way, at the end of your stay you’ll have evidence to document any previous damage as having been there before you arrived. Tupper photographs every apartment after cleaning it and before turning it over to new tenants. If a tenant dirties it up and claims that’s how it looked when he or she moved in, Tupper can disprove the lies by referring to his photos.
- Do your homework to check whether or not your summer housing is furnished. More than likely, since your stay is short, you’ll be looking for a bedroom that comes with the essentials rather than bringing one in for three months. On move-in day, do a once-over to make sure the apartment is clean, with room for your belongings in drawers and closets… and the fridge. “Stephanie, Annie, and I had a terrible experience with the owners of the apartment leaving food everywhere,” says HC Publisher Windsor Hanger. “It had molded by the time we got there and the apartment smelled awful!”
- Last but not least, before the person you sublet for leaves town, collect all contact information—cell phone number, home phone number, work phone number, and e-mail address. If you encounter any problems, you need to be able to get a hold of him or her. While you’re at it, ask for contact information for the plumber, local police, alarm company, and any neighbors for emergency purposes.
So while it’s not too late, there’s no time to dawdle around if you’re considering leaving your off-campus housing for the summer. Rooms are getting swept up by the day, and countdowns to final exam week have commenced. Best of luck as you let HC help guide your search.
Finding Your First Apartment by Vivian S. Toy, The New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2008/
Benjamin Tupper, Tupper Property Management (Syracuse, NY)
Scott Rosenfeld, Her Campus Contributing Writer
Marly Fink, student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Windsor Hanger, Her Campus Publisher