When you live off campus, you open yourself up to hundreds of housing options. One of your options is to live at home; if you want to stay with your family, read more information here. Otherwise, start your housing search. Apartments, studios, lofts, and rental houses come in many shapes and sizes. The search for the perfect place can be overwhelming, but you can easily focus your search if you concentrate on your needs and price range.


How do I find off-campus housing in my budget?

Students usually find off-campus housing on their own, without help from their college or university. They generally find living off campus to be more affordable than living on-campus housing. To reduce their estimated costs further, they find a roommate or two. Once they know the number of bedrooms they need, they look online, read the classifieds, and drive around nearby neighborhoods looking for “For Rent” signs.

If you’ve tried those options and still aren’t having much luck, ask around. Friends and members of the college community might have some leads. You could also reach out to a local realtor for help; depending on where you live, though, this could cost you. Some realtor’s fees are paid by the owner of the home or apartment, but other times the renter will be charged up to one month’s rent as a commission. If you live in a location where realtors are paid by property owners, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to get professional help. If you would have to pay, though, check with your school instead of a realtor. At some schools the office of residential life maintains a list of landlords who have worked well with students in the past.

How do I make sure a landlord is reputable?

If you find a place that might fit your needs, research your potential landlord. It’s important to lease from someone honest who follows up with your maintenance requests and doesn’t charge hefty fees for no reason. Reach out to neighbors and other students who might know something about the landlord’s reputation. You could even ask the landlord themself about their practices; landlords can sometimes provide references of their own from previous renters. If not, Google him or her or get an opinion from your school’s residential life office. Factor in the satisfaction rate of others when making your final decision. You don’t want to be caught having to move out of an apartment sooner than expected because your landlord defaulted on their mortgage payment or stuck with charges that the landlord refused to pay.

How do I assess a potential apartment?

There are certainly many questions you can ask a potential landlord, but take his or her answers with a grain of salt. That person is looking to rent the apartment as fast as possible to make a return on the property. Don’t rely on Craigslist pictures or blindly accept anything that you’re being told. If you’re in pursuit of the perfect off-campus apartment and you don’t want to be swindled, take the reins.

  • See the apartment in person. Photos can be deceiving, staged, or enhanced. Mirrors make spaces look larger than they actually are, and pictures taken from corners make rooms look massive. Testimonials are subjective. Another person’s glowing review of an apartment or a landlord may not live up to your standards. Make an appointment to visit the apartment yourself and check if the amenities meet your requirements.
  • Take a parent or trusted friend. Apartment hunting is so stressful that it’s easy to get reeled in or caught up in the first showing of a home. Bring someone you can trust to offer up an honest opinion.
  • Take some time before signing a lease. Read the lease before signing it, even the fine print, and weigh your options. If you’re confused about something, ask a parent or trusted friend who has rented before for clarification. If they can’t answer your question(s), it’s time to ask the landlord. Make sure you understand what you’re agreeing to before signing.
  • Don’t rent the apartment on the spot. Even if you love the apartment and it’s within your budget, take the time to see another, just for comparison’s sake.
  • Don’t rush into leasing. Listen to your gut and trust your instincts. If you don’t feel satisfied or safe in the apartment, don’t rent it. You have the right to ask a landlord to fix a window or install new locks before you move in. If they refuse, find another place to live.
  • Visualize your transportation situation. Is this a safe place to walk at night? Would you feel safe walking alone? Can you take public transportation? Is there off-street parking? Check crime statistics for your new zip code. Enter your location on MyLocalCrime.com to learn more about your neighborhood. If you see a score of arrests and assaults, you may want to rethink the apartment and search for a safer place to live.
  • Know what happens if you break the lease. Will it affect your credit score? Will you be saddled with fees? If you move out before the contract is up, many landlords will charge you two and a half months of rent or you may owe the full amount that would have been paid in rent through the end of your lease. Read the fine print.
  • Calculate the annual expenses upfront. Can you afford the apartment? What about after you add in water, electricity, internet, cable, gas, and other utilities? What if a roommate moves out without warning and you’re stuck with extra expenses?
  • Assess the move-in condition. Fill out an evaluation form regarding the condition of the home before you move in. Mark any problems with your apartment, even if they seem miniscule, to avoid being charged in the future for damages that you did not cause. To be extra safe, take photos of the apartment’s original condition and submit them with the evaluation form to your landlord.

What should I ask my landlord before I sign my lease?

When you’re apartment hunting, you won’t be able to gauge everything by reading every page of the lease or doing a quick walk-through. It’s important to interview your potential landlord and decide whether the responses he or she gives match your needs. Consider printing out this list of questions to be sure that you cover everything.

Should I consider a meal plan?

With a place off campus, you have your own kitchen and more control over what you eat than you would at the dining hall. Still, many students find that it’s too hard to balance schoolwork with cooking three meals a day. If you plan to live with roommates, you could create a schedule that evenly distributes the cooking responsibilities, or use an afternoon each weekend to meal prep for the upcoming week. You may find that this is still too much work, though. Students who live in off-campus housing are usually eligible for supplementary meal plans. Check with your school to learn more about your options.

Page last updated: 10/2017