Moving out of a dorm and into your first apartment can be a major change. As you enjoy the freedom of living without supervision, you'll also discover there are responsibilities and challenges that come with renting a place of your own.
These five tips can help you cover your bases for your first major move.
Choose roommates carefully
Sometimes best friends don't make for great housemates, but other times it'll help strengthen your friendship.
Carefully think through what it will be like to live with someone before asking them to sign a lease with you. Consider sleep schedules, if they'll frequently have guests over and their ability to pay the rent. Some conversations can be awkward, but it's better to get everything out in the open early on.
You can ask for references if you don't know someone. Even if you do know the person, speak with their former roommate to see what it's like to live with them.
Apartment dynamics can be particularly important when you each have different study habits or expectations of cleanliness. Sometimes a rotating chore chart listing each person's tasks for the week or month, such as cleaning the bathroom or taking out the trash, can keep everyone on the same page.
You can also create a roommate contract to help avoid disputes. The contract can outline if you'll share food, when quiet hours start, the use of common spaces, rules for overnight guests, and anything else that is important to you.
Find out what's in your lease
It's important to carefully read and understand your lease before signing it. The lease may specify how much you need to pay for the security deposit, how often guests can spend the night before you need to ask the landlord for permission, if you can sublet the apartment, when the lease ends and if the rent includes any utilities. Make sure any verbal agreements you make with the landlord are put into writing on the lease before you sign it.
If you don't understand part of the lease, ask your university's housing department for help. Local non-profit tenant associations and government-run housing, rent or consumer protection agencies may also be able to provide general advice.
Know your rights and the landlord's responsibilities
Being a renter comes with responsibilities, such as disposing of trash, keeping the home sanitary and making sure the property isn't destroyed or damaged. Landlords have responsibilities of their own, and you can hold them accountable if you know the law. For example, your landlord may need to make sure the plumbing, gas and electricity are always working; clean common areas if you live in a complex; or repair stairways and railings. The law may also dictate how much the landlord can raise your rent.
Laws vary depending on where you live. You can start at U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which links to helpful resources for each state, including overviews of tenants' rights and links to free legal assistance organizations. For more information, check the housing section of your city's or county's government websites.
Walk through the place before signing a lease
You don't want to get caught off guard by a landlord that doesn't refund your security deposit because of damage to the home, especially if you didn't cause it. To avoid this, conduct a walk-through of the property with the landlord before signing your lease. Note any damage, take pictures and ask the landlord to list it on the lease.
Purchase renters insurance
Renters insurance can cost approximately $20 a month and will help pay for new belongings if yours are stolen, damaged or destroyed. If your roommate has renters insurance, you may still need a policy of your own because the insurance may only cover the person on the contract. In some cases, you may be able to share a policy with a roommate, by putting both your names on the contract and splitting the cost. Speak with an insurance agent about your options.
Depending on your policy, coverage could include off-premises theft, which you may want if you frequently carry a laptop, smart phone or other electronics around campus. Even if you don't have many valuables, renters insurance also covers legal fees and medical expenses if a guest gets hurt while in your home.
Moving into an apartment of your own can be a big step and lots of fun. Choosing your housemates wisely, understanding your lease and becoming an informed tenant are crucial steps to making sure living off campus remains a pleasant experience.