So, you’re tired of the dorms. Your meal plan sucks, you get roasted out of your room in the dead of winter, and the fire alarm pranksters always choose 4 AM on a day you’ve got midterms to do what they do best. You’ve had it; you’ve got to move out. But where do you go? Unless your parents are nearby and your city has amazing public transportation, “home” is likely not your answer. You want to live independently, and there seems to be no shortage of apartment buildings in your area, so you go online and start hunting. After about a billion hits on Google, you realize this won’t be easy. How do I do this, you ask? How can I retain sanity and still find a decent place to live? Well, here are some tips:
1) See if your college/university has any off-campus housing resources.
2) Look early and keep your options open. A lot of colleges have apartments that cater largely to students prelease for fall in the spring so that students who go home during the summer don’t have to hunt long-distance. If you are looking at apartments that don’t necessarily cater to students, however, you may have only a month or so to look. While you’re preparing for and/or taking finals. This is probably not the greatest situation to be in.
3) NEVER, EVER agree to anything site-unseen. If the landlord refuses to show the exact apartment advertised, ask why. Their reason, especially if it’s “we’re being fumigated for termites”, will likely be telling.
4) Roommates can lower the rent, but they can also raise the tension. No matter who you’re living with, make sure you have set down ground rules, and before you even consider those, try trading dorms or something for a week. Have them show you what their room at home looks like. See how they live, and realize that you will likely have to make compromises. Breaking up, ending a friendship, and/or potentially breaking a lease after a month because you just can’t live together and you didn’t figure this out beforehand is a BAD, BAD thing to risk.
5) Location is value in and of itself, and not always in the way you might think. While an apartment closer to campus might be more convenient, rent is often hiked up anywhere from a bit to significantly because many students vie for the space. They can also be more dangerous, as students are notorious for leaving their doors and windows unlocked. No matter where you end up, though, if you don’t have a car, try to situate yourself within close walking distance of public transportation.
6) Ask any residents who may be home during a showing about their experiences. This is self-explanatory.
7) Additionally, carry a list of questions whose answers you must know before applying. Ask them of whoever shows you around. Rent, utilities, on-site management, laundry costs, and, if applicable, disability accommodations are all good things to know about.
8) BE RESPECTFUL. Though, really, if you have not figured this out by college… Oy.
9) Express your interest early, and keep in touch with the management to see when they are showing.
10) If you decide to apply, and there is sensitive information on the application (I know of people being asked for their bank account numbers, supposedly to see if they had enough money), ask what the information is needed for, and how your information will be protected, and if their answers do not satisfy you, for the love of God, do NOT apply!
11) If you are offered a lease, make sure you know when it and any deposits need to be turned in by. Also, read your lease very, very carefully, and have a second (and more experienced) pair of eyes go over it with you. Landlords are by and large quite honorable people, but if there are any discrepancies, ask for a new lease with them corrected. You will also be expected to know what violates the lease and what doesn’t, and even if you unintentionally violate the lease, landlords can kick you out because you were supposed to know better. (Do read up on the renter’s laws in your area, though. You may have protections under that.)
12) Make sure that you inspect your apartment thoroughly on or just before move-in. Landlords often have a condition form that must be filled out to protect both you (“Oh, yeah, the last tenant rode a bicycle through the wall. We’ll get that fixed for you.”) and them (“Are you quite sure that toxic black mold hasn’t been there since the 70’s?”).