Most first-year college students live on campus. In fact, some colleges insist on it, because it provides a support system and safeguards as students become accus- tomed to living on their own away from home. After your first year, however, a variety of living arrangements become available to you, both on and off campus. This chapter will walk you through:
- choosing housing: on vs. off campus housing
- finding the right apartment
- understanding your lease
- tips for moving in and out
On-Campus Housing Options
On-campus housing is maintained, operated, and subsidized by your college. While most on campus housing is located on the campus, some colleges— especially those in urban areas—maintain housing facilities on properties that are not actually part of the campus. Common types of on-campus housing include:
Dormitories are usually multi-story buildings featuring rooms that are shared by two, possibly three, roommates. Each dorm floor usually has a kitchen and living area as well as a suite of bathrooms that is shared by all the residents of a floor.
Some dorms are divided into suites—apartment-like sections of a building. A suite may consist of two to four bedrooms connected by a common living area with a kitchen and shared bathroom.
Student Apartments or Townhouses
These are living situations modeled after off-campus housing. They are just like an apartment or townhouse and are usually very popular. (Hmm, perhaps because you don't have to share a bathroom with forty other people?)
Pros and Cons of On-Campus Housing
When you do have a choice of whether or not to live on campus, consider these pros and cons:
Pros and Cons of Off-Campus Housing
Your options for off-campus housing are varied and range from leasing an apartment with a roommate in an apartment complex, to renting a home with a group of friends, to renting a room in a family's home. Off-campus living may seem like a dream after a year of having three meals a day at the college cafeteria and enduring the noise of dozens of other students at all hours of the night. However, off-campus living has both an up and a down side:
￼Finding the Right Apartment
If you do decide to move off campus, you'll need to figure out exactly what kind of apartment you want. Sit down with your roommate(s) and make a list of the features and services that are essential to all of you, as well as a list of those things you'd like but don't really need, and the things you'd like to avoid. Then set a price range you can afford. Here are some things to think about:
Location: How close do you want to be to campus? To grocery stores? To the bus or subway line?
Safety: What areas of town are considered safe? Are the units of the apartment well maintained and up to code?
Size: How many bedrooms and bathrooms do you need? How big of a kitchen will suit your lifestyle?
Features: Do you want a place with a yard? A balcony? Air conditioning? Charm?
Amenities: What kinds of things can you not live without? A laundry room? Cable television? A security system? A pool or workout facility?
Rules: Every landlord and apartment complex has its own rules. Do the rules of the apartment you're considering match your lifestyle?
Furnished or unfurnished: You may have the option of renting a furnished apartment, which can offset the cost of living off campus. Do you need furniture? Are you happy with the furniture that's provided?
After you and your roommates agree on the kind of apartment you want, it's time to start looking. Check out the classified section of the newspaper, Craigslist and other Internet sites, local apartment search services or property manage- ment companies, and bulletin boards on campus and around town. Also, drive or bike around town to get a feel for the different neighborhoods and to find potential rentals that haven't been listed yet.
Negotiating with a Landlord and Signing a Lease
Remember the law of supply and demand? It is about to have a direct effect on your life. If there are lots of apartments available in your college community, you will be able to leverage a better deal. If not, you will have to compete with other renters and will need to compromise. One thing you can do to give yourself more leverage is to maintain an excellent credit score, as your credit rating affects your ability to lease as well as the amount of deposit required and the rent price. Here are a few things you can do to negotiate a better rental deal, even in a scarce market:
Sign an extended lease. If you know you love the property and can commit to staying in it for longer than the minimum lease, let the landlord or property management company know. Landlords love the stability of having good tenants stay for over a year and yours may give you a reduction in rent or security deposit in exchange for signing an extended lease.
Know the rental market. Research the going rental rate for apartments in your area and what kinds of amenities and features you can get for what kinds of prices. Don't be afraid to talk with a landlord about what other complexes or buildings are charging or offering, and to negotiate a better rental rate.
Haggle the deposit. The deposit is one area where landlords may be willing to make allowances because it will, most likely, be returned to you at the end of your rental agreement. Ask if your deposit can be reduced or paid in increments over several months.
Don't just think money. Reducing your rent is ideal, but if that's not possible consider asking the landlord for other allowances, like replacing the fridge, repainting, or adding a microwave.
Consider asking for a month-to-month lease. Ask the landlord if you can extend your lease on a month-to-month basis once the terms of the original lease are up. This can give you flexibility in the future and help you save on the costs of putting a security deposit down on a new apartment and moving again.
After you have come to an agreement with the landlord on the terms of your rental, go over the written lease very carefully to make sure it reflects your agreement. Before you sign your lease:
Read it carefully. You should ask if you can take the lease home to review it in private. This will give you time to read it word for word—and to enlist the help of a more experienced friend or family member if you need it.
Highlight any concerns and ask for clarification. If there is anything in the lease you do not understand, that concerns you, or that you feel contradicts your oral agreement, highlight that section and insist that your landlord clarify it. In some cases, he or she will have to revise the written document before you sign your name on the line.
Make sure your written lease is identical to your oral agreement. If your landlord promised you new carpet, make sure it's written down. If she said she would waive the pet fee, make sure it's written down.
Moving In and Moving Out
Some college students end up in legal wrangles with landlords or former landlords, which is inconvenient and expensive. Protect yourself by taking the following precautions:
When Moving In:
Conduct a thorough walk-through before moving in. Inspect every aspect and feature in the apartment and make a detailed list of its imperfections: stains, holes, outlets that don't function, broken windows or mirrors, crooked cabinets, nonworking appliances, etc. Ask your landlord to sign your completed list, and then make a copy for each of you.
Make sure it meets your standards. If the apartment has not been cleaned, repaired, or doesn't meet the specifications outlined in your lease, inform the landlord and request that the necessary adjustments be made immediately.
When Moving Out:
Conduct a thorough walk-through with your landlord or the property manager before you move out so he/she can indicate any potential problems, such as damage or alterations.
Have your landlord sign off on a statement outlining what you will be charged for, if anything, and stating when and how your deposit will be returned to you. This is a critical step—students have been surprised by bills for damage many months after they vacated an apartment.
Leave it like you found it. It's good manners and it makes sense to leave the property in as good of shape as you received it. First, you want to establish a good list of references for future rentals. Second, you want to recoup all the money you put down as a deposit.
The possibilities are endless, so we'll cover a few of the most common special circumstances you might encounter:
Free-rent promotions. Oh, yes! In a saturated market, apartment complexes and landlords will compete for your money. You will see all sorts of promotional programs, including free rent for a certain number of months. Read the fine print and ask the important questions. If you're satisfied that it's a genuine deal, go for it!
Special discounts. Some landlords and property managers offer special discounts to veterans and their family members, employees of specific companies, or members of particular groups. Check to see if that's the case in your new apartment, and ask if the special discount applies to you.
Bartering. If a landlord just has a few properties, he or she might be willing to exchange services for reductions in rent. You might landscape, paint, or do other work and save some much-needed cash.
Subleasing. Because college students are not always able to fulfill the full term of their rental agreements, there may be a variety of subleasing opportunities available to you. Subleasing can sometimes be a good deal because the original renter may be in a tight spot and willing to rent the property for less than he or she is paying. Also, you might not have to pay a deposit in a subleasing situation.
Where to Live Exercises
- With a partner or in a small group, review the two pros and cons lists at the beginning of this chapter. What pros and cons would you add to the on-campus list? What pros and cons would you add to the off-campus list?
- Create a list of the things you would need, want, and not want in a rental property.
- Do a little field work to figure out: 1) Where you can find out about housing availabilities in your community, 2) Areas of the community where you would like to live, 3) The price range of off-campus living options, and 4) Where you can find information about the landlord/ tenant laws in your state or city.