One of the most important decisions you may have to make during your freshman year is whether you should rent an apartment or live in the on-campus dorms. While living on campus can be a lot of fun, dorm life can also sometimes interfere with academics. Friends may pressure you to go out more often than you should, and dorms, with their shared bathrooms, showers, and meal halls, afford very little in the way of privacy. If you've decided that renting an apartment is the best option for you, it's important to educate yourself about the process, as well as your rights and obligations.

Obviously, the first step is to find out about properties that are available for rent in your area. Check out on-campus bulletin boards and newspapers or, better yet, perform an Internet search. Many college towns have websites devoted to helping students find the right apartment. Most colleges maintain offices devoted to off-campus housing. Cost should obviously be taken into consideration. In general, living space in a college town will be more costly than it would be in other locations, so expect to pay a little more. If you don't have a car, you should definitely try to find an apartment close to campus. You might save a little by moving farther away, but if you have to worry about catching a bus or making the long walk to campus each time you have to go to class, the library, or a group meeting, those savings will hardly seem worth it in the long run.

Location and price are two of the most important aspects to consider when choosing a place to live, but they are definitely not the only ones. You'll also want to examine the overall condition of the apartment. Look to see if the locks are in good repair, check for stains on the carpet, holes in the walls, and any evidence of mold or mildew. Apartment security is also something you should consider. Keep in mind that well-lit premises are preferable because they often discourage criminals. Doors to apartment buildings should be locked at all times, and should require residents to use a key and guests to be buzzed in. Some buildings are located in gated communities, thus providing an extra level of security. Another concern is fire safety. Be sure the apartment you selected is equipped with fire extinguishers and escapes should you need them. Finding an apartment where you'll feel safe and secure is extremely important.

If the location is great, the price is right, the apartment has been kept in good condition, and there appears to be a high level of security, the next thing you'll want to do is get to know the apartment manager a little better, preferably during an interview. Do they seem professional? Are they willing to answer your questions in a straightforward manner? To a degree, you'll have to rely on your gut instinct when determining whether the apartment manager is someone you can trust. During your meeting, find out about each of the following aspects of apartment life:

Amenities: Are there washers and driers on-site? Is there a covered parking area available? What about a fitness center or pool? Does the apartment complex provide trash pick-up? Of course, always ask whether these are included in the rent price or will require you to pay an extra fee should you decide to use them. If there are on-site exercise facilities, pools, or saunas, ask about hours of operation.

Rent and Lease Considerations: Find out everything you can about the terms of the lease, including on what day rent is due and where you will be expected to pay it. Does the apartment lease require renters insurance for housing? It's also crucial to find out the length of the lease and whether there is a cost involved if you decide to terminate it prematurely. Some leases increase after a certain amount of time has passed. Another area of great concern is the terms by which you will be refunded your security deposit when it comes time to move out.

Complex Rules and Policies: Ask about the regulations that tenants must obey. Are there specific sections where residents and visitors are required to park? Is it alright to set up a barbeque on the porch? Will you have to sign in guests who are staying overnight, or can visitors come and go as they please? What about pets? If animals are allowed, you should ask about pets already living in the apartment complex. If there are numerous large dogs, for example, things could get quite noisy, so you may want to rethink whether you want to live at that particular location. How does the manager deal with noise complaints and rowdy residents? Along these lines, you could also ask about the average age of people in the complex to determine how likely it is that excessive noise may be an issue.

If you're satisfied with the answers provided by the apartment manager, it's likely you've found the right place. Before you sign a contract, however, there is one more thing you should do to protect yourself. Spend some time going through the apartment to look for problems. Record everything, however minor - carpet stains, cracks in the walls, peeling paint, discolored tiles, etc. Take pictures of these problems and store them in a safe place. Keep a copy of the recorded problems for yourself and give one to your landlord. The reason for this is simple. Most landlords require a damage deposit upfront. At the end of the lease, they may try to blame you for these problems and keep your deposit. By having well-documented proof that these issues existed before you moved in, you'll be more likely to get that money back.

All of these steps may seem like a lot of effort, as indeed they are. But remember, your apartment will be your home for the duration of the school year, and finding the perfect accommodations can mean the difference between having a comfortable place to study, sleep, and live, and living in a place that you can't afford and dread returning to each evening.

Last Updated: 09/18/2014


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