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Housing & Residential Life

The Transition to Off-Campus Life

Suzanne Shaffer

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When my daughter moved off campus it was an eye-opening experience. She was not prepared for the roommate disagreements, dealing with a landlord, getting along with neighbors who weren’t students, and handling broken lease agreements. She also wasn’t prepared for the temptations that came with the added freedom.

Is your college student living off campus for the first time? Here are things to discuss with them so they can avoid confusion and conflict. If an off-campus move is in their future, see my advice about roommates and leases at the bottom.

Maintaining a Household

There is much more responsibility when renting off campus than there was in the residence hall. When many students live in the same home, there are many tasks to share:

  • Rent and utilities — Determine each roommate’s share of the basic expenses and keep track of due dates and payments. Splitwise is a free app that can help with this, and with other shared expenses like meals out.
  • Groceries — Most roommates find it convenient to go in together on pantry basics like milk, coffee, cereal, bread, fruit, snacks and cooking ingredients. They can share grocery lists through OurGroceries. Want to help your student eat well on a budget? Check out “Grocery Shopping 101.”
  • Meal prep — Roommates may want to cook dinner together or take turns cooking. They should discuss likes and dislikes and pay attention to each other’s allergies. Spoonacular and Yummly (both apps are free) make meal planning easy and fun.
  • Cleaning — Roommates should share the responsibility for keeping the home clean. Start by identifying and assigning chores. Apps like Chorma can help the group keep track of everyone’s chores so they stay on top of it and accountable.
  • Property maintenance — If your student is renting a house, there will almost certainly be maintenance responsibilities. They should check with the landlord about yard work and property upkeep. If renters are responsible for mowing the lawn, weeding and watering, trimming bushes and keeping the driveway and sidewalk clear of leaves and snow, these chores can be added to the master chore list.

Staying Safe

Safety is an added concern when living off campus. The absence of campus security measures means students are responsible for their own personal safety.

When choosing off-campus housing, consider the building’s security features, the neighborhood, fire exits and safety alarms and detectors. Share with your student these simple safety rules:

  • Don’t let a stranger into your apartment or house without viewing through the peep-hole or other viewer first. When in doubt, don’t answer the door. Ask repair or service techs and delivery people to show official identification.
  • Keep doors and windows locked, both when you’re at home and when you go out.
  • Keep windows covered with shades and curtains at night and when no one’s home.
  • Don’t use laundry rooms, lounges or common areas in your apartment complex when alone.
  • Don’t hide keys under mats or flower pots (the first places a burglar will look!). Instead, give a spare key to a trusted friend or neighbor.
  • If you’ll be away, don’t advertise this on social media or by leaving a note on the door.
  • If all the roommates will be out of town (for example, over break), lock up the apartment/house and ask a neighbor to pick up any mail, packages or newspapers that might be left at the door or in the driveway. (You can have your mail held by the USPS.)
  • When you’re out of town, put a few lights and the TV on a timer so it looks like someone’s home.
  • If you come home and it appears that your apartment or house has been broken into, get to a safe place and call 9-1-1 — do not enter.

Protecting Belongings

Your student should purchase renters insurance to protect their personal property. The cost is nominal and they will be covered in the event of a fire, flood or theft. Renters insurance will also protect your student against any accidents or liability claims from visitors to the property.

Avoiding Temptations

Students who live off campus face any number of temptations. It may be more tempting to skip class, especially when they’re running late. They may also be tempted to become less involved in campus activities and social life, which can result in feelings of separation and loneliness. They may find their commitment to an on-time graduation weakening somewhat.

Living off campus lends itself to parties which often include alcohol. With no campus restrictions against underage drinking and no supervision, it’s easy for these parties to get out of control. Your student should remember that they are responsible for any underage drinking that occurs on their property and any bad behavior as a result of the drinking.

8 Tips for Being a Good Tenant and Neighbor

Share these with your student!

  1. Pay your rent on time every month.
  2. Treat the property the way you treat the home you grew up in.
  3. Alert your landlord as soon as something breaks so they can fix it before a small problem becomes a big one.
  4. Be responsible when you host parties and control the number of guests.
  5. Introduce yourself to your neighbors. They will really appreciate this, and that way, if they have a concern about noise or anything else, they will feel comfortable speaking with you (rather than calling the police).
  6. If you live in a house, take care of the landscaping if this is your responsibility. Keep trash and recycling in the proper bins/carts and out of sight.
  7. Do not illegally sublet your room/unit. (If you want to sublet, and it's permitted, here are steps to follow.)
  8. When you move out, allow time to sell/donate unwanted furniture, dispose of all your garbage, and clean the apartment or house. Leave it like you found it so you can get your full security deposit back!

If an Off-Campus Move is in the Future...

Choosing Roommates

Counsel your student to choose roommates carefully. It’s one thing to have a bad roommate in a college dorm — it’s another to be locked into a lease with someone who parties constantly, is messy and inconsiderate, and/or doesn't pay bills on time. A good roommate is willing to contribute to maintaining the household, takes budgeting seriously, and respects the property of others.

Before signing a lease, the future roommates should discuss schedules, chores, bills and house rules (including party expectations and significant other sleepovers). Once the discussion is complete, they should write a Roommate Agreement and require that  everyone sign it. A Roommate Agreement helps ensure that everyone in the group understands their joint obligations and responsibilities and will make it easier to avoid and mediate conflicts.

Download a Roommate Agreement here >

Finding a Place and Signing the Lease

Many colleges and universities have an off-campus housing support office/website that maintains lists of approved landlords, property management companies and/or properties that previous students have rented. This is a good place to start when searching for off-campus housing. Read more about “Housing Decisions for Next Year.”

  • Once your student has chosen the rental, they should read the lease carefully in its entirety before signing (and it’s a good idea for you to read it as well even if you will not co-sign). What happens if one of the roommates defaults on the lease? Is your student responsible for that portion of the rental? Is your student allowed to sublet and what are the rules? Pay attention to the lease termination guidelines, late fees, recurring monthly fees, terms for deposit refund, and maintenance policies.
  • Before moving in, your student should complete the move-in checklist. Make note of anything that is missing or damaged, write it down, and photograph it so they won’t be charged for the damage when they move out.
  • Impress upon your student the importance of paying rent on time and maintaining a positive relationship with the landlord. This rental will affect future rentals and serve to establish a positive credit history.
  • Think long and hard before you co-sign a lease with other roommates. It’s one thing to be responsible for your own student and another to be responsible for other renters. If any of them default or damage the property, you will be responsible since your name will be on the lease.
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Suzanne Shaffer counsels students and families through her blog, Parenting for College. Her advice has been featured in print and online on Huffington Post, Yahoo Finance, U.S. News College, TeenLife, Smart College Visit, Road2College and more.
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