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Where do I begin?
Due to rising enrollment numbers and the closure of a major residence hall on campus for renovation, more students have been or will be seeking off-campus housing for next year. When thinking of renting your first off campus apartment, there are a number of different things to consider in finding the right housing for you.
The Internet is a good source of information when formulating a search for an off campus dwelling. There are many websites that explain and demystify some often confusing aspects of renting a property, including leases, renter’s insurance and guarantor agreements.
Radford University’s Division of Student Affairs website offers several pages about off-campus living, which serve as a helpful starting point. The website features tips and hints for finding the right apartments, the right roommates and even an off-campus cost of living worksheet.
One of the first things to think about is expense. Prices for off-campus living vary by location, sizes of apartments or houses, the number of people living together and the cost of utilities. These expenses last throughout the term of the lease and affordability is one of the most important aspects of off-campus living.
If you plan to live with a roommate or group of roommates, choose wisely. You want to make sure the other people you are entering into rental agreements with are reliable and can be responsible for paying their part of the rent. This is especially important when considering what kind of lease you will take on an apartment.
Students should consider proximity to campus and other essential locations in the area. This is especially important if an individual has no means of transportation. If you do have a car, will you need a parking permit? Is campus within walking distance of the residence? Is there access to public transit? How easy is it to get to a grocery or convenience store?
Look around the neighborhood and choose a place that is safe. Ask people living nearby if they have any safety concerns and address any concerns that you may have yourself, such as adequately lit parking lots and entryways. Think about visiting the place at night to see what it is like. You might also ask questions about the atmosphere around the property, like whether or not people party and what kind of activities go on nearby.
Shop around the different leasing companies and familiarize yourself with differences in amenities, such as access to a washer and dryer, a dishwasher, heating and air conditioning and shared facilities.
Ask lots of questions about leases. A lease is a legal, binding contract and signing it means you assume all responsibility for the terms involved. Leases generally last for 12 months with a one week turnover period to allow the rental company to make the property ready for the next tenants.
Leases can be individual or joint. An individual lease means that each roommate is responsible for his or her own part of the lease. If one person breaks the lease or is unable to pay rent, that person must still pay his or her portion of the rent and the responsibility does not fall to the other people in the lease. In a joint lease, each person is equally responsible for the entire lease, meaning if one person in a multi-bedroom apartment breaks the lease, the others have to take responsibility for paying the total monthly rent. Not all companies offer individual leases, but many do. The best way to know is to ask.
Some, but not all of the rental companies in Radford require guarantor agreements. A guarantor, or co-signer, is a third party to a rental agreement who steps in and takes care of payments in the event that someone on the lease is unable to pay. In many cases, guarantors are a person’s parents or relatives.
In most cases renters will have to pay security deposits. Security deposits are generally equal to one month’s rent, or a certain amount per person on the lease. They are paid one time and are refundable minus any damages done to the rental.
Renter’s insurance is a good idea for anyone entering a rental agreement. It insures your belongings in the apartment and insures you against damages caused to the property in the event of a fire, flood or other damage that may occur during the term of your lease. According to rentersinsurance.net, “most renters insurance policies will include around $20,000 of contents protection and $100,000 of liability coverage which will cost anywhere from $10 to $20 per month depending on a number of things.” While it is not required for all of the rental companies in Radford, it is encouraged. One company in Radford that does require renters to have insurance is CMG Leasing.
Consider the expenses of the initial move, such as transporting your belongings, storage, furnishing and decorating, stocking up on food and making your new home comfortable. It is important to budget for unexpected expenses, and the little things can add up quickly.
Before the move, carefully inspect the rental for existing damages that might have been left by previous tenants, or possibly point to bigger underlying problems. Common problems may include water damage, holes in walls and doors, broken windows, carpet stains or broken appliances. It is usually the responsibility of the rental company to take care of these issues before you move in.
The move-in process includes a checklist of any issues a new tenant finds with the property. In order to get all or most of a security deposit returned, tenants should document damages by writing them down on a move-in form and taking time and date stamped pictures of any damages you encounter.
If you are considering bringing a pet along to live in your new place, be sure the pet goes on the lease. Ask up front and be honest about having a pet on the premises. It is better to pay a pet deposit than to be caught with a pet, which might lead to extra charges and eviction of the pet. Most companies require non-refundable pet deposits, which range from $100 to $300 depending on the place. Deposits are usually required for cats and dogs, but in most cases caged and aquatic animals require no deposit.
Finally, make sure any agreements that are not explicitly listed on the lease are put in writing. This way there is proof of agreements and tenants are not held responsible for things that were agreed to off the record.
The most important thing people looking to rent property can do is to educate themselves on all the different aspects of off campus living, renting property and entering into legal contracts. Doing so will help make your first renting experience a positive one.