Off-campus housing can be a good option for students who prefer a bit more space and privacy than dorms can provide. Still, it's important to investigate a landlord's reputation and carefully review a rental agreement or lease before signing on. It's also important to take precautions if you'll be renting with roommates: You might find yourself in legal or financial difficulty if a roommate leaves school or causes damage to your home.
Know Your Rights
Off-campus landlords must adhere to state and local landlord-tenant laws. Make sure that you understand your rights and responsibilities by reviewing these laws before you start looking for a rental apartment or home. Your school's housing office or student tenant union can either provide you with a copy of these laws or tell you where you can find them online.
Research landlords and ask others for references before committing to a rental. Campus housing offices and tenant unions often provide lists of landlords to students and can sometimes answer questions about students' experiences with specific landlords. Search back issues of the student newspaper for stories about landlords and check out the Better Business Bureau or other online consumer reporting services for reports about landlords and property management companies. If you find a property that you like, try to talk to other tenants about their experiences with the landlord or property manager.
Understand Lease Length
Talk to the landlord about the length of the lease. In some college towns, landlords offer leases tailored to the school year: Some landlords might offer a nine-month lease to cover the school year, then a separate lease for the summer months. If you sign a 12-month lease but then decide to return home for the summer, you'll either have to find someone to sublet your place, negotiate a lease termination with your landlord or pay for an apartment that you aren't using. If you are confused about lease terms, ask a lawyer to look it over.
Understand Utility Responsibilities
In addition to paying rent, your landlord may expect you to pay all or part of the utilities. Your lease or rental agreement should state who is responsible for the utilities: If it doesn't, ask the landlord to add this information to the lease. You should also make sure that you get good cellphone coverage in your rental home and that you won't have any trouble connecting to the Internet.
Clarify House Maintenance Responsibilities
If you rent a house, check the lease for information on maintenance responsibilities. Your landlord may expect you to perform basic property maintenance duties such as raking leaves, cutting the grass and shoveling the sidewalks. The maintenance section of your lease should also include details about who provides equipment, such as lawnmowers or shovels, for these tasks.
Use Caution with Roommates
Having roommates can cut down on expenses and keep you from getting lonely. But be wary about signing a joint lease with a roommate: If they don't pay their rent or decide to move back home, the landlord can hold you responsible for the entire rent obligation. If you can't pay it, the landlord can evict you and sue you for any money owed. Signing an individual lease, instead of a joint lease, can minimize your risk. If the landlord won't agree to an individual lease, make sure your lease allows you to take on a new roommate if your current one leaves.
- UIUC Tenant Union: The Housing Search
- US News & World Report: 5 Considerations for Renting at College
- Nolo.com: Renting a House or Apartment With Roommates
- University of Wisconsin-Madison: Apartment Touring Checklist
- Yale University: Lease Information
- Radford University: Lease Information
- Nolo.com: How to Find Landlord-Tenant Laws Online
- California Department of Consumer Affairs: California Tenants
- Goodshoot/Goodshoot/Getty Images