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A Student Guide to Finding & Leasing Off-Campus Housing

Fastweb has you covered with this all-inclusive college housing and apartment guide to help you through the process, from start to finish.

Shawna Newman

June 24, 2020

There are many things to consider before moving off-campus, especially in 2020.
A Student Guide to Finding & Leasing Off-Campus Housing
When looking for off-campus housing, there are many common questions college students have: Why do some universities require their students to live in dorm? Is living off campus better than living on campus? Is there any website to find student housing? Can scholarships pay for off campus housing? You should consider these before deciding whether or not to live on campus or off campus. In addition to common housing questions, health and safety are a top concern for many students and their parents this fall because of Coronavirus. As colleges rethink dorm safety, some students are considering short term housing options with more space to practice social distancing. For instance, local rentals with single tenant bathrooms rather than communal shower rooms. Other students are staying safe at home, at least for the fall semester. The Washington Post reports, American University is cutting the availability of campus beds from 4,300 to 2,300, and Frostburg State University is eliminating the two-person roommate accommodation to keep students safe. Looking for more COVID-19 student-impact information? Find it here.

On-Campus Housing Requirements

Before you dig too deep into researching off campus housing, be sure your college doesn't require you to live on campus. On-campus housing requirements are not designed as a way to parent you. Some students do much better academically, by living on campus. Many universities put a lot of time into research to prove students do better while living on campus. Be sure to check with your admissions counselor to find out what the latest housing requirements are. If you’re new to apartment renting or are strongly considering this type of housing arrangement, be sure you follow a comprehensive guide to avoid any surprises. The lists below can help you through the process with questions, tips on what to look for during housing tours and what to look for in leasing agreements.

Rent-Related Questions

According to Best Colleges, “...your monthly rent and utilities bill should be no more than 30% of your monthly net (after tax) income.” You’ll want to do some math to ensure you can afford renting a house or apartment. You don’t want take on any huge student loan debts because of housing!
  1. What’s included in the rent?
  2. What’s the typical monthly cost of each of the utilities?

Pet-Related Questions

  1. Are pets allowed?
  2. If so, is there an additional fee?

Questions Regarding Amenities

  1. Does the house/apartment have air conditioning?
  2. Is WiFi included in rent?
  3. What is the laundry situation?
  4. Where are the machines located?
  5. Is there a cost to use them? If so, what is the cost?
  6. Is the cost for both the washer and the dryer?
  7. Is parking or covered parking available? If yes, is there an additional cost?

Items to Check During Your Walk Through

  1. Is there a good amount of natural light? You don’t want your electrical bill to be sky-high!
  2. Do the locks work properly? Would you feel safe being alone at night?
  3. Are the windows old or drafty?
  4. Does the toilet and faucets work properly?
  5. Does the shower provide enough water pressure?
  6. Is the carpeting/flooring clean?
  7. Are the appliances up to date?
  8. Do all outlets work?
  9. Test the air conditioning and heating systems.
  10. Do the neighbors seem friendly, courteous, trustworthy and easy to get along with?
  11. What are your initial impressions of the landlord?

Research

  1. Safety
  2. Be sure the area is safe. You can check area crime statistics with AreaVibes.
  3. Convenience
  4. What’s the proximity to the nearest grocery store? What about the nearest coffee shop? Can you get to classes, the library and other campus locations quickly and easily when you need to?
  5. Reasonable Rent Rates in the Area
  6. Find the typical rent rates within the area.

    Leasing Fees Questions to Ask

    Are there additional fees for:
    1. Signing the lease at a later date
    2. Administration processing fees
    3. Subleasing fees
    4. Approval fees

    Remember…

    Always trust your initial instincts! If something doesn’t seem right or you don’t trust the landlord, go with your gut. See before you sign. Never sign a lease without visiting the property first. Your school may have resources, too. Some colleges and universities have lists of approved landlords, campus partners, property management companies or properties that previous students have rented. Check with your college’s student affairs office to see which resources they have available. Consider renter's insurance. Purchasing renter's insurance can safeguard you just in case the unthinkable happens. Read the lease. The property owner may be in a rush to sign you but don’t let them! Take your time reading over the details and, if you need help understanding, do not be afraid to ask for help. Most landlords are happy to accommodate you questions. Fill out evaluation forms. When you sign the lease, make note of everything (and we mean everything) that is already damaged within the apartment on an evaluation form when you move in so that you aren’t charged when you move out. Once you make the list, sign and date it. Give a copy to your landlord and keep copy for yourself. Look for details in the agreement such as: Do you have the option to renew your lease? You don’t want you landlord renting to someone else if you want to stay! Are there options to sublease? If not, will you or a guarantor (usually a parent/guardian) be charged the full amount? For example, what if you’d like to live at home for the summer to save money? Or, perhaps you want to study abroad for a semester? You don’t want to get stuck paying the rent somewhere you’re not even living!

    Cleaning Requests

    Coronavirus is still a very real concern; you’ll want to be sure your apartment is as clean as possible before you move in. Ask if the apartment has or will have a deep clean after the previous tenants leave. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends routine cleaning on commonly touched surfaces such as “tables, doorknobs, light switches, handles, desks, toilets, faucets, sinks and electronics.”
    Helpful Resources
    Find and compare rental listings at rent.com. College Rentals focuses exclusively on off-campus rental properties near college campuses. College Pad includes estimated walk times from rentals to your college campus. Apartments.com offers virtual tours and videos for your housing search while staying safe.

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