When my son told his dad and me it would “definitely be cheaper” to move off campus sophomore year, we took his word for it, as well as his assurance that he could easily find someone to sublet his part of the 12-month lease for the summer. Neither turned out to be the case!
Most colleges require first-year, non-commuter students to live in campus residence halls and some require it for sophomores, too. At most schools, and certainly at larger universities, students can choose to move off campus for their second year.
What should you know in order to help your student make a good decision?
STAYING ON CAMPUS
More floor plans to choose from
For second-year students and beyond, there’s usually a wider selection of room configurations available, from singles to suite-style apartments. Pricing may vary.
Your student may want to consider residential communities that center on a common interest or cause. For example, many universities have an international house for students seeking cross-cultural experiences, and more schools are offering gender-non-specific residence halls or floors. Theme houses built around a shared interest (outdoor recreation, service learning, etc.) may offer an independent-style living option without the potential hassles that accompany off-campus housing.
They’ve been described as “apartments with training wheels.” Utilities and internet are included and, since there’s a kitchen, students may not have to buy a campus meal plan or can choose a reduced plan. Bedrooms may be shared or private. Best of all, such accommodations are charged on an academic-year, rather than 12-month, lease.
MOVING OFF CAMPUS
Consider your budget
Decide what you can afford for your student’s monthly living costs and use that figure as a starting point. Things to research:
- What are typical rental rates in the community? You may need to pay top-dollar for a well-maintained property.
- Can your student afford a single room or will they need to share?
- What are typical utility costs? How about “extras” like cable and internet?
- Will there be transportation costs to get to campus?
- How about furnishings and appliances?
- Look closely at food costs. Students who cook for themselves can save money, but for many it’s convenient (and healthier) to keep a partial campus meal plan.
Before going online…
Help your student pin down what they have in mind: How many roommates (i.e., how many bed/bathrooms)? Apartment or house? Do they need storage for bikes, skis, etc.? How close to campus would they like to be? Are there safety concerns?
Next, encourage them to utilize local student housing support services. The college housing office may have information about off-campus life. Some property management firms specialize in student rentals and can be a helpful place to start.
Meet the landlord and see the rental in person
This ensures the landlord is legitimate and the property is as advertised. It gives your student a chance to ask questions such as: What are typical utility costs? Is subleasing allowed and on what terms?
Review the lease carefully before signing!
For most students, this will be their first experience with a detailed legal document. A landlord may require a parent co-signer if the student doesn’t have a rental or credit history. In our son’s case, we insisted he send us a copy of the lease so we could review it (we’d be making the payments).
Be clear about the following:
- What’s required up front in addition to a security deposit? First and last month’s rent?
- What dates does the lease cover?
- What utilities are provided (heat, water, garbage collection, etc.)?
- What are tenants’ responsibilities for upkeep (lawn mowing, maintenance, snow removal, etc.)?
It’s impossible to over-emphasize with your student how important it is to read the fine print of the lease and view the property in person. In the case of an apartment building, they should ask to see the actual unit they will be renting (not a similar one). A local apartment complex in my college town has been fined heavily for illegally subdividing two-bedroom units into four bedrooms. At the start of fall semester students who had just moved into the building had to move out temporarily and then either choose to stay in a shared bedroom (not what they thought they were getting) or scramble to find another place to live.
Take photos before moving in
Your student should document the condition of the house or apartment, and in particular his room, when the lease is signed. Pay special attention to stains on the ceiling, holes in walls, a cracked bathroom sink, etc. so that if there is a dispute at the end of the lease, your student can prove his case and get his security deposit back.
Purchase renter’s insurance
In the event of fire, burglary, water damage and so on, renter’s insurance is essential to cover the cost of lost property, including valuable items like laptops and bicycles.