Freshman year can go by in a flash, and before you know it, everyone is moving out of the dorms. Most universities offer housing options for sophomores, juniors, and seniors and many students opt to continue living in university-housing for the convenience of location and meal plans. Some, though, are ready for a change.
Living off-campus can have a number of advantages. Many students find that they love to cook and prefer having their own kitchen. It’s also nice to escape the coin-laundry rooms and have a space that really feels like yours. Living off-campus can come with access to different coffee shops and local stores, as well as providing new places for you to familiarize yourself with.
If you haven’t looked into the tedious process of finding off-campus housing, it can be an overwhelming experience. Don’t get discouraged. When it comes to your living situation, there’s a multitude of things you should consider to help save yourself from stress.
Finding people to live with
Finding roommates can be one of the toughest parts of living off-campus, so it’s important to start thinking about this early. The first thing you should decide is if you want a roommate at all. If you decide the best choice is to live on your own, then the process becomes a little less complex, and you can start looking for housing earlier! If you do want roommates, though, it’s good to know what you're looking for. You’ll meet a lot of people when you first start college, but you might not feel like you have a lot of solid friendships yet. Try to consider what it would actually be like to live with someone, and don’t feel obligated to move in with your friends if you think it won’t be a good fit.
When I first started looking for people to live with, I considered everyone—friends, girls from my hall, the people I sat near in class, and other students from my extracurricular activities. It’s important to explore your opportunities and consider who would best contribute to the living environment you want to create. Do you like plants and open spaces? Are you clean,= or okay with a little mess? How loud do you like your music?
If you’re having trouble finding people to live with, ask around and find out what other students are doing. They could be looking for people to live with, too, or maybe they need one more person to fill a bedroom in their future apartment. Remember that you’re not the only person experiencing the stress of off-campus housing, and don’t rush the process!
Location can greatly affect your living situation, so give this one a lot of thought, too. Talk to your future roommates about the type of apartment or house you want to live in. Do you prefer the busy or the quiet side of town? Is there a specific location that’s a better fit for your classes, or closer to the grocery store? Maybe your housemate spends a lot of time at the rec-center and wants to be in that area. It’s important to communicate and compromise.
During my junior year, I lived two blocks away from the farmer’s market. I didn’t know there was a farmer’s market when I moved, but it dramatically changed the way I dieted and ultimately improved my health. I spent more time outside, and my grades improved as a result of a healthier lifestyle. Now, I consider everything about a location. Nearby parks, community events, and even street traffic.
A multitude of online resources exist for off-campus housing, and a quick Google search can take you in a variety of directions. Start by searching for a specific landlord and housing companies around your campus. This way, you can find out what kind of people you’ll be renting from before you sign anything, and you’ll have direct access to the locations that are being listed for rent on their websites.
Signing a lease
The long-winded process is over, and now it’s time to sign your lease. Read it all the way through, then send it to your parents and have them take a look. If you don’t understand something, don’t be afraid to ask. Leases contain a lot of technical terms, so it’s important that you can distinguish between them and know exactly what you’re agreeing to.
Make sure you have all the details figured out. Is the leasing company handling the Wi-Fi and utilities, or should one of the tenants take responsibility for those accounts? How does the trash and sidewalk maintenance work? Make sure there’s a reliable maintenance service for emergency-situations like power-outages or broken pipes. If you’re going somewhere for the summer, ask about subletting and how your leasing company handles that.
A lot of first-time tenants need a parent to co-sign a lease for them, so definitely keep your parents or guardians in the loop as you take every step in the search for off-campus housing. They can help you prevent bad living-situations and find something that’s safe and affordable.
Talking to your landlord
There’s an age-old story about a landlord who takes advantage of a naïve student-renter. This isn’t always the case, but it’s important to form a trusting relationship and maintain clear communication with your landlord. Know who you’re talking to and ask around before signing with a company you don’t know well. Other students have definitely worked with these leasing companies, and most students are more than willing to share their experiences.
If you’re having an ongoing problem with your landlord, or you feel that something is unfair, don’t be afraid to speak up. When I was a sophomore in college, the heating in our house was broken but our landlord insisted that we were wrong despite the freezing temperatures. That’s when I learned that it’s okay to get your parents involved, even if you’re not living at home. Sometimes landlords respond differently to adults with jobs than they do to students. Our heating was fixed the next day.
There are basic city ordinances and landlord-related laws that every student-renter should learn. It’s important to know your rights, so research the local laws. Many universities have student legal services that can help you out in tough situations or when you think your landlord is taking advantage of you. Overall, it’s important to pay attention to the landlords and leasing companies you’re getting involved with.
Finding off-campus housing is only as stressful as you let it become. If you prepare yourself and get informed, you’ll be much more equipped to handle the responsibilities that come with living off-campus. Look for any resources that can help and talk to people who are more experienced than you may be. Above all, do your research and be honest with yourself about the living environment you want to create.
WRITTEN BY Sydney Bagnall University of Michigan
Sydney graduated in May 2019 with a major in English Literature and a minor in Graphic design. She has a knack for all things creative. Originally from Pennsylvania, she enjoys biking on rolling hills and never misses an opportunity to stop and observe the sky. If you don’t find her vigorously typing, you can find her outside.