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Off-campus housing search tips

By CollegiateParent


Moving off campus is an exciting rite of passage. The transition brings valuable independence and responsibilities, but challenges, too.

Parents and students alike want to secure a safe, clean, convenient and affordable place, and students are much more likely to have a successful housing search if they go about it the right way.

Here are five essential steps in the search process!

1. Make a budget

Before students start looking (unless they are funding their housing 100%), it’s important to have a family conversation about what the family can afford for rent, utilities and other living costs. Even for students who are paying their own way, parents can be a helpful sounding board because they have more experience managing these types of expenses. 

Things that will factor in:
  • Number of bedrooms divided by the number of roommates (a one-bedroom or studio is more expensive per person than sharing)
  • Typical utility costs in the area (electricity/gas/water)
  • “Extras” like cable/internet
  • Transportation costs to get to campus
  • Furniture and appliances (if not included in apartment)
  • Moving expenses (renting a truck, buying boxes, paying for a storage unit over the summer)
  • Food costs (Students can save money cooking for themselves, but it can be convenient, and healthier, to keep a partial meal plan.)
  • Parking (free or paid?)
  • Renters insurance (see below)
Remember that money is needed up front as soon as the lease is signed — typically first and last months’ rent plus a security deposit. Check out our complete budget worksheet at bit.ly/cp-budget.

Good news: Students enrolled at least half-time in a degree-granting program can use 529 college savings account funds for off-campus housing expenses. But not necessarily the full amount — the college or university determines the allowable off-campus-room-and-board figure. Contact the Financial Aid office to find out what it is.

2. View properties (no short cuts allowed)

  • View the room/unit/house actually for rent (not a model) and confirm that the property is as advertised.
  • Be sure to view the property in person; don’t rely on photos or hearsay from a friend or the property owner.
  • Have questions ready, such as: What are typical utility costs? Is subletting allowed and on what terms?
  • Check security features of the unit, the condition of appliances, storage space and parking availability.
  • Take pictures inside and out, including the neighborhood — helps to recall details.
  • Click here to sign up for the Loop weekly newsletter and receive a free downloadable checklist to take along when viewing properties to keep track of/compare features.

up-housing-rental agreement

3. Study the lease.

This may be the first legal document students have encountered. It’s very important to review it carefully. Parents and guardians should take a close look, too (even if they are not required to co-sign).

Be clear about the following:
  • What’s required up front in addition to a security deposit? First and last months’ rent?
  • What are the conditions for getting the full security deposit back?
  • What dates does the lease cover?
  • What utilities are provided (heat, water, garbage collection, etc.)?
  • What are tenants’ responsibilities for upkeep (lawn mowing, landscape maintenance, snow removal, minor indoor repairs, etc.)?

4. Document the condition of the rental.

The roommate(s) will do this when signing the lease. Make notes and take photos, paying special attention to stains on the ceiling, holes in the walls, a cracked bathroom sink, etc. so that, if there is a dispute at the end of the lease, you can prove your case and get the security deposit back.

5. Purchase renters insurance.

Renters insurance is a must for students living off campus. Personal belongings will not be covered by a parent's homeowners policy or the landlord’s insurance. Renters insurance is affordable — typically less than $20 a month — and will cover the loss of possessions in case of fire, flood or theft. Renters insurance also provides protection if a student accidentally damages another person’s property or if someone is injured in their apartment or house.

Happy searching!

Adapted from an article by Wendy Redal with contributions by Suzanne Shaffer and CollegiateParent staff.

For more than a decade, our print and digital resources have connected parents and families to their student's experience, providing the insider information you need and want. All our products — classic and new, print and online — are inspired by our commitment to answering your questions and strengthening relationships between families, students and campus/community resources.

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