Living Away from Home: The Basics
Living away from home can be one of the most nerve-wracking, yet exciting experiences a college student has. The freedom it brings comes with responsibility. There are a lot of things you’ll want to think about when it comes to renting and living on your own or away from home.
The Housing Search Process
Start early. At Minnesota State University, Mankato, students are making the decision about where to live almost a year ahead of time. We suggest that students know where they plan to live in August by Spring Break of the year before. Most apartment complexes will begin the leasing process before the winter break. Smaller property managers may not start listing their available properties until March or April.
Different properties offer different amenities. Make a list of what is important to you, and look for that when doing your research. To make sure that you’re getting what you think you’re getting, it is best to see a property in person before signing a lease, if possible.
A 2012 survey of off-campus students asked them to rank the factors that were most important when it comes to deciding where to live. Using a scale of 1-4, with 4 being “very important,” students said the following:
|Distance From Campus||3.52|
|Condition of the Unit||3.5|
|Availability of Parking||3.23|
|Number of Bedrooms||2.9|
|Number of Bathrooms||2.82|
|Where my Friends Live||2.43|
|Distance From Stores/Restaurants||2.34|
|Recommendations from Others||2.26|
|On a Bus Route||1.98|
|Advertised on Campus||1.63|
|Where my Parents Wanted Me to Live||1.62|
If you want roommates but don’t have anyone in mind, visit with leasing offices at the various apartment complexes. Some maintain lists of other students who are looking for roommates, too. You can also check our online database or sites like Craigslist. Some students will hang flyers on the bulletin board outside CSU 173, too.
Signing a Lease
Most property managers/owners and apartment complexes will have a legally binding document that you will sign. This is an agreement between you and them about what they will provide and what you will pay. It also details what your responsibilities are as a resident in their property. Read the lease carefully because, once you sign it, you’ve agreed to abide by everything it says.
In the Mankato area, we see a mix of individual and joint leases. An individual lease makes you responsible for only the portion of rent that pays for your individual bedroom. Joint leases are more common and obligate each resident to ensuring that the full rent amount for the apartment is paid. For example, if you live in a four bedroom apartment that goes for $1000 per month, you are responsible for making sure that the full$1000 is paid, even though your share is only $250. If your roommate loses his or her part-time job and is unable to pay, or if they forget to pay, you will still need to find a way to make the full payment. Most leases in our community are for a full 11 ½ or 12-month time period, and most run from the Middle of August through the end of the following July. If you are planning on graduating in December, or if you plan on not sticking around for the summer months, ask your property manager/owner or leasing agent about your options. They are not obligated to let you out of your lease if you graduate or leave the university. You may be able to find someone to sublease your apartment/room for the remainder of the contract period, but there will likely be policies regulating that. Check with your leasing agent for information about this. When you sign a lease, it is likely that there will be an application fee and/or a deposit assessed. Application fees are generally non-refundable, and deposits may be held and applied to your last month’s rent or to the cost of any damage repairs needed once you leave. Some complexes run specials every once in a while and may not have a deposit or an application fee.
It is likely that you may be required to pay your first and/or last month’s rent ahead of time. This may be even more likely if you do not have a Social Security Number or a co-signer with one. If you plan to use financial aid funds to pay rent, you may need to save enough to cover a month or two of rent prior to moving in. Apartment complexes and property managers will not give you a grace period to wait for financial aid to be distributed.
Paying the Bills
You will be responsible for making sure that the bills are actually paid. Financial aid money can be applied to bills and rent, but the university will not send the payments for you. Deadlines are important, as missing them can result in hefty late fees or, even worse, a negative mark on your credit history. Some properties wrap utility costs into your monthly rent, but most do not. You may need to set up an account to pay electric, gas, trash, cable, or internet bills. If this is the case, you will want to visit with any roommates about how these accounts will be divided or whether they will all be in one person’s name. It is likely that a Social Security Number will be needed in order to set up these accounts or services. Also talk with your roommates about grocery and cleaning supply expenses. Will everyone be responsible for their own stuff, or will there be a collective effort to shop and pay for the needed items?
While you have greater freedom, you are also subject to the laws and regulations that the rest of society are. Mankato has “social host” laws that hold residents responsible for the actions of those visiting their homes. If you are found to be responsible for hosting an event at which underage consumption of alcohol is allowed to take place, you can be held responsible for that. Repeat violations of regulations can result in “strikes” which may affect a property manager/owner’s rental license. They can legally evict you or fine you for these violations.
Students found to be in violation of certain laws or policies off campus may be held responsible for them on campus, as well.
In a 2012 survey, students residing off campus indicated that the average distance they lived from campus was 1.1 mile or a 9-minute commute. Most of the apartment complexes we work with are within walking distance or on a bus route with busses that run to campus. If you are concerned about bus access, ask about this when you visit with a complex representative or with the property manager/owner. You will still have the ability to drive to campus if you have a car, but you will either pay for a parking permit or park in the “free lot.” Taking a bus to campus will get you much closer to your buildings than parking in the “free lot” will.
Living with Roommates
We’re all different. Some of us are early to bed and early to rise while others certainly are not. Some people are ok having late night or overnight guests, and others are opposed to this idea. Some people need the bathroom cleaned once a day, and others may be ok with once a semester. Some people may choose to lead a substance-free lifestyle while others may not. When you decide who your roommate(s) will be, talk about these things early or before moving in together. It can save a lot of trouble and help make sure the relationship is open and honest. Use our Roommate Agreement as a conversation starter.