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  • While off-campus living might not be as social, it can mean more privacy and less money spent on room and board.
  • It’s important to research every apartment listing to help you avoid unpleasant surprises and ensure you sign with a reputable landlord.
  • Make sure you read your lease carefully, and know the tenant rights in your state.

Sure, dorm living has its perks. It’s fun, and with classes on your doorstep, your commute is negligible. That said, there are lots of advantages to living off campus. Namely, the privacy and the potential to save money.

If you’ve had enough of wearing flip flops to the bathroom, listening to your roommate snoring, or gorging on the dining hall buffet, renting an off-campus apartment can be a great option. But before signing the lease, there are a few guidelines you should follow to ensure that first, dream apartment doesn't turn into a nightmare.

1. 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 know the person, speak with their former roommate to see what it's like to live with them.

2. Set clear expectations

Apartment dynamics can be particularly important when you and your roommate 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.

3. Set a budget

Before you start scrolling through real estate listings, it’s important to have a clear picture of what you can afford. Also, don’t forget to factor in things like utilities, Wi-Fi, and food into the cost. Once you know how much you can spend, you can start your search in earnest.

4. Weigh your priorities

It could happen that what you want in an apartment isn’t the same as what you can afford in an apartment. Create a ranked list of your wants, from non-negotiables to nice-to-haves. Is being close to campus more important? Or living in a thriving hood near coffee shops and restaurants? Are you willing to sacrifice on square footage? Chances are, you’re going to have to compromise on something, so knowing what features are the most important will help you make a final decision.

5. Research each apartment you visit

Just because something looks good in pictures doesn’t mean it will be a good place to live. There are lots of things you might not be able to account for even when visiting a place, such as noise level, the reputation of the landlord or management company, or the safety of the building. In addition to online research, feel free to reach out to previous tenants or neighbors to see how they feel about the place, and uncover what, if any, issues they might have had.

6. 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.

7. 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 US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which provides helpful resources for each state, including an overview of tenant rights and links to free legal assistance organizations. For more information, check the housing section of your city's or county's government websites.

8. 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.

9. Purchase renters insurance

On average, renters insurance can cost approximately $15 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, smartphone, or other electronics around campus. 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.

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