Get a new lease on life: Your guide to off-campus housing

For many college students, the independence that comes with living off campus teaches valuable life skills, such as paying bills, cooking, cleaning and managing a household. But sometimes the responsibilities of off-campus living can be a bit overwhelming. You need to learn how to navigate lease terms and communicate with your landlord. Here are a few tips for mastering your lease terms and guaranteeing you get your money’s worth on rent:


  • Watch for hidden expenses. When reading through your lease, keep an eye out for the cost of the security deposit and look to see whether rent includes utilities. The security deposit and cost of utilities are hidden expenses that renters usually overlook before making an offer, so keep these numbers in mind when choosing between apartments.


  • Assess damages BEFORE putting pen to paper. Be sure to do a walk-through of the apartment with the landlord before signing the lease. Make note of any damages and take pictures so you can dispute damages that may be held against you. Security deposits are generally equal to one month’s rent, so take the precautions necessary to ensure the landlord refunds your deposit after your lease ends.


  • Understand what’s expected of you. Before signing your lease, ask your landlord what areas of maintenance you are responsible for. Some landlords take care of lawn care, snow removal and general repairs, but others expect their tenants to chip in.


  • Do you need a lease buddy? And we’re not talking roommates here. If students are not financially independent, some landlords will require a parent or guardian to cosign the lease.


  • Prepare for the worst-case scenario. Hopefully you won’t ever need to use it, but it’s always a good idea to carry renter’s insurance. For a mere $10 per month, North Dakota renters are able to protect the contents of their apartment in the event of theft or fire. Better to be safe than sorry, right?


  • Know the flexibility of your lease timeline. Because most landlords require a 12-month lease, check to see if you can sublet your apartment. Unless you are planning on sticking around campus for the summer, you may want the option of subletting or renting out your apartment during the summer months. This will save you money without having to lose your lease.


  • Get it in writing. Sometimes tenants end up losing a lease because they neglect to establish a contractual agreement with their landlord. Simply talking things over with the landlord is not enough! Once you understand the terms of your lease, make sure you get a paper copy for future reference.

Although off-campus housing may seem intimidating, knowing your way around leases doesn’t have to be scary. The key to a positive apartment experience is communicating well with your landlord and understanding what is expected of you as a tenant. When you have your lease terms squared away, you’ll be set to move in and make your first apartment feel like home.