Living in off-campus housing is somewhat of a “right of passage” for many college students. However, with increased freedom also comes responsibility and a number of risks students and parents should take into consideration. First, not all landlords are reliable or particularly honest. Second, apartments and rented homes often lack the kind of security measures dorms have in place. Lastly, it may be more difficult to address unruly or disruptive behavior in an apartment than in a dorm setting. Also important for students is the issue of renter’s insurance. Renter’s insurance provides coverage for losses and damages that landlords may not be responsible for. For example, your landlord may not be liable for losses due to water damage, fire, electrical outages, or theft. Renter’s insurance can provide a layer of protection, though its cost should be considered in addition to what you will pay in monthly rent.
ENTERING INTO A LEASE – BASIC ELEMENTS
Landlords should be willing to provide renters with a written contract detailing the terms of a lease. The contract should list what sorts of things renters and the landlord are responsible for, as well as terms relating to security deposits, rent payments, parking, trash disposal, utility expenses that may or may not be included in rent payments and any extra charges for these items. Your contract should also include terms related to sub-letters lessees and the time period required for notifying your landlord of your intention to end your lease. It should also list any penalties related for prematurely moving out or terminating your lease. The terms of a contract should also indicate who is responsible for repairs, what is necessary to recover your security deposit, and whether or not the parties involved are required to go through arbitration should the need for legal action arise. Renters should also be provided with contact numbers, including an emergency number, where office personal or maintenance personnel can be reached. Parents may be asked to become parties to the lease to assure compliance with the tenant’s financial responsibilities. Consider carefully the extent of personal exposure and whether one parent is taking on the responsibility for the financial obligations of their student’s roommates as well as their own student. If a contract is vague, doesn’t address issues pertaining to maintenance, utilities, return of your security deposit, or specify what is required for giving notice, you may want to reconsider renting from that particular landlord.
Most dorms on campus have some sort of security in place – a front desk requiring check-in, key cards, or special keys students must have to access different parts of the dorm. Off-campus housing typically doesn’t offer security features beyond a key to get in the front door or perhaps a security camera at the front entrance. Unfortunately, this makes off-campus housing an ideal target for thieves and criminals who may identify students as soft targets likely to possess desired items including smartphones, tablets, laptops, and entertainment equipment that can be easily converted to cash. Visit the apartment and evaluate the neighborhood and building for safety. Ask prospective neighbors about incidents or concerns they have. Discuss your choice with campus advisors, housing and security officers, and other students who have lived in the building or neighborhood.
Disciplinary Codes and Off-Campus Housing
Another consideration in moving off-campus is directly related to campus student conduct codes. Too often, students make the mistake of assuming that if they are living off-campus they can’t get in trouble with their college or university for parties and misbehavior that occurs off-campus. However, more and more universities are extending their codes of conduct to the kinds of misbehavior one often encounters in off-campus housing: drug use, drinking, sexual assault or harassment, behavior deemed inappropriate, etc. For these reasons, students may want to consult their university’s code of conduct and student discipline before moving off-campus.