Thinking about moving off campus? Take your time! Your decision can have a huge personal and financial impact on you in the coming year. Here are some tips on how to approach the search.
Is moving off campus right for you?
- Are you ready for more independence and more responsibility? When thinking about moving off campus, don't forget that it usually means extra work like taking out the trash and cleaning the bathroom.
- Do you need flexibility for studying abroad, medical emergencies, or transferring campuses? Off-campus housing typically does not have flexibility for these issues, on-campus housing typically does.
- How will you pay for your off-campus residence? If you rely on scholarship or loan money for payments, landlords require that you make payments in accordance with your lease contract, and that doesn't always match with when your scholarship or loan payments become available to you.
- What is your budget?
- Check the lease carefully and add to the rental cost all fees and expenses, such as application fees, amenity fees, and carpet cleaning.
- While on-campus housing only charges for the academic year, most off-campus landlords require twelve monthly payments.
- How far away from campus are you willing to live? The price per square foot tends to go down the farther you get from campus.
- Do you want your own bedroom or bathroom, or are you comfortable sharing? What amenities do you want, and what can you live without?
- Lease application
Leases can obligate you to tens of thousands of dollars. This is not the time to click accept and move on without reading. It starts with the lease application.
A landlord may ask you to fill out an application to lease their property. Read the application carefully. Look for these three key items:
- Is there an application fee, and, if so, is it refundable if the landlord does not offer you a lease?
- What are you applying for: A specific unit? A certain size or type of unit? A space with roommates you have chosen? Or just a space, but the landlord decides what size or type or with which roommates?
- Does the application require you to enter into a lease if the landlord offers it? Some applications say that if you sign the application, you're required to wait until the landlord decides whether to offer you a lease or not. And if a lease is offered, that you're required to sign it. You may have to wait months to see if you're offered space. If you decide to sign this kind of a lease application, you have to be comfortable stopping your search until you hear whether you got the apartment or not. If you sign another lease in the meantime, you could end up being obligated to two rent payments for the year.
Ask the landlord for a blank copy of the application that you can take with you to review before signing. Student Legal Services will review application and lease materials with you for free to ensure you understand what you're signing.
A lease is different than many other contracts you may have signed. These contracts obligate you to a term of payments, and typically do not offer any way to cancel or buy out the obligation. When signing a lease, keep these tips in mind:
- Read and understand the contract. Student Legal Services offers free lease reviews.
- If the landlord makes any promises that aren't in the lease, the landlord must put those promises in writing for you to be able to hold them to it.
- Check how empty spaces are filled. Do you have veto power over any tenant the landlord may assign to any empty rooms or beds within the apartment? Does the landlord do any kind of background check or preference matching on the individuals who might fill empty space.
- Look for any impossible or unacceptable terms. For example: Does the landlord require you to arrange for your apartment to be inspected daily over winter break to ensure the heat is maintained at a certain level? Does the lease say that your landlord can enter your apartment at any time without giving you prior notice?
- Know whether you are just responsible for your share of the rent (individual lease or individual rent responsibility) or can be held responsible for everyone's rent (joint and several liability).
- Joint and Several Liability
Joint and several liability is a legal term that means that the landlord can choose to hold everyone (joint) or any individual person (several) responsible for liabilities under the lease like rent or damage to the apartment.
If you are signing a joint and several lease with two friends, all three of you are responsible for the total amount of rent on the apartment. If all of you promptly pay your share of the rent, it may never be a problem, but if one of the tenants leaves school early and stops paying rent, the landlord will typically look to the two who are still living in the apartment to try to collect the delinquent rent. And the landlord is allowed to do this. The landlord can choose to take legal action against any one, two, or all three of the tenants. For undergraduate students, landlords typically require a parent to guarantee the lease. That means that the parents are all responsible for the entire lease as well, not just their student's share.
- Individual Lease
When landlords offer an individual lease, each tenant signs a separate contract. An individual lease can be for an individual room or a shared room. Each tenant is individually responsible for paying only their portion of the rent.
If you and three friends each sign an individual lease for the same apartment, and one person stops paying rent, the landlord can only hold that one person, and that person's guarantor, responsible for the delinquent rent.
These individual contracts typically still assign joint and several liability for any damages to the common areas or shared bedroom or bathroom space. They typically assign individual liability for any damages to private space, like a private bedroom or bath.
- Individual Rent Responsibility
For individual rent responsibility, all of the tenants sign the same lease document, and all of the obligations are joint and several except for rent. Each tenant is only responsible for his or her share of the rent.
- How to Spot Scams
When you lease off campus, you're leasing from a private individual or company, not the University. As with any private transaction, you'll want to be alert to scams. If you feel uncomfortable about a transaction, are being asked to send money in an odd way, or find a deal that is too good to be true, slow down and look into it further before committing money or your signature to the transaction.