Whether you’ve been cursed by the housing gods or ready to move on from the dorm life, living off-campus is a big step that requires planning and thought. Remember to follow the three C’s: cost, comfort and convenience. Since I myself have finally taken that huge step to living off-campus, I’m going to share with you a few tips that I’ve learned that will hopefully make your transition go smoothly!
Finding an apartment.
Some of you may not have the slightest clue as to where to start looking for an apartment. Most colleges have an off-campus housing department dedicated to helping you find a place to call home. It usually includes useful tools like apartment listings in the area, renters’ checklist, and other helpful information. If your school doesn’t have an off-campus housing department, try checking out craigslist for your area under housing. And if all else fails, ask around! There are plenty of students living off-campus that need a roommate or someone to take over their lease.
Inspecting your potential apartment.
If you’re a broke college student like myself, you probably won’t be living in a luxurious penthouse. But that’s not to say that there aren’t certain things you shouldn’t compromise on! There are just some conditions that aren’t acceptable and you should not sign the lease until said issues are fixed. Here are a few things to look out for when checking the apartment:
• Water damage or mold
• Any damages (holes, marred paint, etc.) on the wall from previous tenants
• Leaking or broken faucets
• Any signs of rodents or bugs
• Broken locks or doorknobs
Make sure to check for all the important issues (just say no to rodents, bugs, and mold!) before signing the lease. With the minor glitches, you can always list the damage on your statement of conditions so it won’t be taken out of your security deposit.
Finding the perfect housemates.
Finding the perfect housemate or roommate for an apartment is a bit different than finding the perfect roommate in the dorms. Besides finding someone who has the same living habits as you, you need to make sure that they will pay their rent and co-pay the utility bills with you on time. Unless you sign the lease as individuals, if they’re late, you’re late. You do not want to be constantly paying on their behalf until they find the money. When it comes to living with someone off-campus, finding a responsible roommate should be of a higher importance than finding someone fun! Make sure that they either have a dependable job or parents willing and capable to help them. Otherwise, you’ll probably find yourself in a pretty miserable living situation.
Signing the Lease and Upfront Costs
Okay, so you found the perfect apartment and picked the crème de la crème of roommates. Now for the paperwork. If you’re a student at UMass Amherst, I strongly recommend that you get an advance copy of the lease and have someone at the Student Legal Services Office look it over for you (Click here to learn more: http://blogs.umass.edu/slso/). If you don’t have access to free legal services, make sure to read your lease carefully! A few red flags to look for:
• Long-Term Lease. As a college student, a lease term that lasts for more than two years might be a problem. Situations change, especially when you’re in school. If you have to break the lease, there is usually a fee and you might be liable for paying the rent until the landlord finds someone new to move in.
• Surrendering Legal Rights. Don’t sign anything that forces you to give up legal rights. Insist on the removal of any agreement that says you can’t take legal action against a landlord.
• Rent and Utilities. Make sure you know what bills you’re responsible for paying (e.g. electric, gas, water, etc.). Also be aware of how much your rent is, when it’s due each month, and if there is a late fee.
• Subleasing Policy. If you aren’t around for the summer months and don’t want to pay the rent, you might want to sublease your apartment for the time you aren’t there. That being said, make sure you understand the policies regarding such actions.
• Pet Policies.
Any changes and spoken agreements between you and the landlord should be in writing! In addition, you should know what the upfront costs are. Some common payments that are needed at the lease signing are: first and last month’s rent, security deposit and broker’s fee. I recommend paying by a method that leaves a paper trail such as, checks or money orders. If you pay with cash, get a receipt for your records.
The thought of being on your own and paying monthly bills can be a little scary but the rewards can be great. You could be saving thousands of dollars living off-campus! Besides the financial benefits, living away from the dorms will give you a taste of what the real world is like. But like any situation, it’s what you make of it. So make the best of it!