Many college students prefer to live in off-campus apartments because they give them a sense of freedom and independence that may be lacking in dorm rooms. However, living in an apartment also comes with a lot of responsibilities. It is important to be informed on what to expect so that you can transition smoothly from the dorms or your parent’s houses to an apartment.
What should you ask when renting an apartment for college? When renting an apartment for college, do not hold back when it comes to making inquiries about the various aspects such as the rent, utilities to be paid and the estimates, roommates, the rules and regulations, and any other related questions that will help you obtain useful information.
Asking relevant questions about a prospective apartment is important because it is the space where you will be spending most nights as well as where you will study, entertain friends, and have your meals. Therefore, you should make a point of finding out as much as you can about an apartment before making a commitment. Here are some areas to inquire on when looking to rent an apartment for college.
1. What are the upfront costs?
One of the first things you should find out is the amount you are to pay as rent. By asking about the rent, you have the opportunity to find out whether the property manager is willing to negotiate or not.
You should also ask if the first and last month’s rent is required up front. In order to move into some units, you are usually required to pay rent for both the first and last month’s rent, and if this is the case for a prospective apartment, you can then factor this into your budget.
There is also the fee you pay when you apply for a rental unit and security deposit to take into consideration. In cases where you want a prospective apartment to be reserved, you will also have to pay a holding fee.
2. Are there any move-in fees?
Some landlords may require you to pay moving or elevator fees as you move in. Ensure that you find out if this is the case in the apartment building that you intend to move into.
3. How much is the security deposit?
The security deposit is one of the upfront costs that you are required to pay when you move in, so it is important to find out how much it will cost you before making any concrete plans.
The amount that you pay as the security deposit may vary depending on the following factors:
- The area in which you intend to rent an apartment – In some states, you are required to pay a fixed limit for a security deposit, while in others there is no required limit. A good example of a state where the limit is fixed is Kansas, where you can expect to pay one month’s rent as a security deposit for an unfurnished apartment, and one and a half month’s rent for an unfurnished one.
- Your credit score – If you have a low credit score, a prospective landlord is most likely going to ask for a higher security deposit.
4. How long does it take for the security deposit to be refunded?
The period of time it takes for the security deposit to be returned once you move out varies from state to state, but you can generally expect to receive the balance of your deposit within 30 days of vacating the rental unit.
5. What is the late rent policy?
Paying rent may prove to be a struggle when you are a college student so you will want to ask about the late rent policy in case you are ever late with the rent.
There are some states that allow a grace period, which is basically a defined amount of time you have to pay rent before a late rent fee is imposed or you receive a warning.
In some cases, there is usually no indication in your lease agreement about late rent fees, which means your landlord may not impose one. However, this rule of law won’t stop some landlords from giving you warnings and notices, so be sure to ask about any policy anyhow to avoid trouble in the future.
6. What are the average monthly costs of utilities if they are not included in the rent?
Other than rent, there are also utility bills to be paid on a monthly basis. Some utilities such as water and garbage bills may be included in the rent, so it is important to find out which ones they are and how much they cost.
If utilities are not included in the rent, find out the typical cost of the various utilities (water, electricity, internet, gas) so that you have an idea of what you can expect to pay on a monthly basis.
Don’t forget to inquire about how much you will be expected for the installation charges of the utilities if there as well.
7. How long is the lease?
Consider finding out whether the lease agreement is long-term or short-term. A long-term lease may not be the best option, especially if you only spend only part of the year in your college town.
Short-term leases are meant to last for six months or less, but it can really be any lease that is under a year and whose length you and the prospective landlord can collaboratively make adjustments to suit your needs.
Other than a lease that is under a year, you can also go for a month-to-month short-term lease. With this option, you have to give the landlord 30 days’ notice that you are going to extend another month. Keep in mind that short-term leases are typically more expensive because the landlord factors in the inconvenience of finding a new tenant once you vacate the rental unit.
8. What happens if you break the lease?
There are many instances where you may be forced to break the lease as a college student. Depending on your reasons and the landlord, you may be met with sympathy and not be subjected to penalties.
However, breaking a lease agreement could have serious repercussions such as:
- Hefty fines – In some cases, the fine that you may be charged is equal to one or two month’s rent. Another possibility is having to bear the financial burden of paying for the apartment, regardless of whether you are moved out or not.
- Lower your credit score – Your credit score could be lowered by breaking a lease if you don’t pay the required fines and your landlord opts to take you to a small claims court, or if you don’t pay the required fines and your landlord sends what you owe to a debt collection company.
- You could get sued – Another possibility is getting sued for breaking a lease. To avoid being taken to court, you would have to pay the fees that the landlord provides you with.
- Trouble finding apartments in the future – Your rental history could be tarnished if you decide to break a lease, especially if you need a reference in the future from a previous landlord.
9. Is there parking available?
Parking should be high on your priority list if you have a car. Find out if there is parking available, and whether it is on the street, a parking lot with designated spots, or in a garage.
10. Under what circumstances may the landlord/property manager gain access to your unit?
It is also important to be informed about the limits of access a prospective landlord has to your home. If the landlord wants to inspect or make any non-emergency repairs, he/she must give you at least 24 hours’ notice. If you are given a reasonable notice, the landlord can access your home even if you are not at home. Without the notice, you can refuse him/her entry into your rental unit.
The only exception to this is if there is an emergency such as a fire or gas leakage in your apartment. In such cases, the landlord can access your apartment without notice or with short notice.
11. Are there any repairs to be carried out on the property?
Inquire about any seasonal maintenance visits that may take place once you move into the rental unit so that you are aware of when they are scheduled to occur.
12. What happens in case of an extended absence?
You may be required to notify the landlord in advance if you will be away for an extended period of time, so it is best to ask if this is the case with the unit you intend to rent. Some landlords may require you to give notice if you are away from your apartment for as little as three days.
This condition is put in place in case your landlord needs to access your apartment during your apartment if there is an emergency or if there are necessary repairs to be made.
13. Is a renter’s insurance required?
Inquire whether you need to obtain a renters insurance since this may be a requirement set by some landlords. Even if it is not required, consider getting one to cover your belongings in case of any damage.
14. What are the rules and regulations regarding overnight guests?
One of the reasons why you may have wanted to get an off-campus apartment in the first place is the freedom of having a friend or two sleep over. However, it is quite common for landlords the duration that guests can stay over, such as allowing a guest for only ten days in any six-month period. In such a situation, you have to get a written approval if the guest is to stay for a longer period.
This can be a challenge if you have a boyfriend/girlfriend who frequently stays over or guests visiting from out of town.
15. What are the limitations of renovating the apartment?
If you plan on making any major changes such as painting the walls, changing fixtures, or hanging items that require nails, you may have to ask the landlord first. Some lease agreements prohibit making such alterations to the rental unit in order to prevent potential damage.
16. Are your pets or your friends’ pets allowed in the unit?
If you have an animal friend or you intend to get one, find out whether you are allowed to have pets or not. Even if your friend brings a pet along during a short visit, you may still be in trouble especially if the pet policy strict, and you will have to face the consequences of having a pet in your apartment.
17. Are roommates required to sign the lease?
You may feel the need to get roommates in your off-campus apartment, especially if paying the rent proves to be a little difficult. However, make sure you inquire about this first because landlords typically require that everyone who is living in the apartment is named on the lease agreement.
18. How secure is the rental unit?
It is important to inquire about the security measures put in place to ensure the safety of tenants, especially if there is criminal activity in the area. Some of the security measures you can ask about include security cameras, a doorman, and a security system for the building.
- Do you have to be a student to live in off-campus housing? If there is a large number of vacant apartments in a particular apartment building normally occupied by students, a college may decide to open their student-only housing to the rest of the community. However, keep in mind that students have priority over non-students, so if the units start filling up, you may have to find other alternatives.
- When should I start looking for off-campus housing? If your college town is small and the number of apartments available is limited or the rental market in the area is highly competitive, you can start your search 8-12 months in advance. On the other hand, if your college town has a wide selection of off-campus housing, you may start your search 2-6 months in advance.