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Helping Your Student Determine if Off-Campus Housing is Right for Them

Spring is finally here and UNL students are busy looking for off-campus housing options for the summer, and many plan to stay in their summer housing through the fall semester. When it comes to choosing where to live, students often think that off-campus housing is the best way to go. They consider the freedom, the bills that they choose, and the inexpensive rent to be enough incentive to look for their own place. How expensive could living off-campus really be when they are splitting their bills in half with someone else? However, when it comes to deciding between on-campus and off-campus housing, nothing is black and white. Parents and students need to consider both the reasons for wanting to live off-campus as well as the expenses associated with that choice.

Many students choose to stay on-campus for reasons like location and atmosphere. On-campus, it is easier to focus on classes and studying. Students do not have to drive to campus in the morning, and the library is only a short walk away. On the other hand, on-campus housing is less private, with smaller rooms and noisier hallways. Deciding which of these things are important to your student is a matter of personal preference. Students and parents should discuss the reasons for the choice before considering expenses, which are often variable.

Once students understand their reasons and know where they would prefer to live, they need to estimate their expenses. Both housing choices will charge for rent, internet, and utilities. Variable expenses include transportation, food, and furnishings. For off-campus housing, furnishings are usually not provided. The student will need to consider the costs for things such as a bed, sofa, desk, and dresser. The student will also need to think about things such as cooking supplies and cleaning supplies. This, as well as the initial security deposit when renting, makes the first month of living off-campus quite expensive.

In March 2013, rent prices for a 2-bedroom apartment in the most popular UNL student complexes ranged from $585 and $885. The rent price, added with average utility bills of $55, basic cable of $65, and internet for $35, means that off-campus housing expenses will be between $740 and $1040 each and every month. The other big costs the student needs to account for are transportation and food. According to student surveys, students who do cook a majority of their meals spend about $250 per month on food. Students who eat out a majority of the time spend almost double that – about $485 per month. Transportation costs for students with cars average about $45 per month.

Besides these expenses, students and parents should also consider the lease agreement. Sometimes a co-signer is needed, but once a student has signed the lease, they are responsible for understanding everything in it. Some things to look for are details about the security deposit, what utilities the students will be responsible for paying, whether the student can sublet the apartment if needed, whether they are allowed to paint or do any type of home improvements, and what will happen if they, or their roommate, break the lease.

When it comes to choosing on-campus or off-campus housing, there is no clear choice as to which is better or less expensive. Each comes with inherent pros and cons. On-campus housing includes a convenient location and studious environment, but may lack some of the privacy and space that off-campus housing can provide. However, off-campus housing typically includes many first month expenses. The student must be prepared to be completely responsible for themselves, their apartment, their bills, and understanding the terms of the lease. Knowing and deciding amongst these things is something students and parents must do together to ensure that the student is getting everything they really want from their choice in housing.

The UNL Student Legal Services office frequently helps students with off-campus housing-related issues. The following are questions Student Legal Services representatives get asked most often about off-campus housing:

* Can I review a lease prior to the day I sign it?
Yes. It’s a good idea to ask the prospective landlord if you can take the lease home for a day so you can review it before signing it. The attorneys at Student Legal Services can go over the lease with you to help you make an informed decision.

* Will a landlord check my credit before renting to me?
Some landlords might. You can check your own credit report for no charge 3 times per year at: http://www.annualcreditreport.com. The UNL Student Money Management Center can help you.

* What should I look for when walking through an apartment/house before renting?
It’s a good idea to check if the appliances that come with the unit are working. The furnace, A/C, refrigerator and stove can all be turned on and checked quickly.

* How can I protect myself from extra charges from my landlord?
Taking time-stamped pictures when you move in will keep you from being charged when you move out. Take broad pictures of each room, as well as closer pictures of the carpets, windows, blinds, and the baseboards. Prior to moving in, Google pictures of bedbugs and their eggs so that you know what to look for. A bedbug extermination can cost several hundred dollars, and if you can’t show they were there when you moved in, you may have to pay for it. Also, record the condition of the apartment at move in by completing an apartment inventory which can be downloaded at:
http://asun.unl.edu/student-legal-services

* How much should I expect utilities to cost?
This varies greatly with every unit. Look closely at the lease before signing to see which utilities you will be responsible for. When you’re touring an apartment, ask the landlord how much the utilities cost on average for the unit. You can also call the utility companies and ask them what the cost for that address has been in the past. Asking the landlord if parking costs extra is a good idea as well.

* Do roommate agreements have a place outside of the dorms?
Yes. While it can be awkward to sit down with a future roommate and hammer out household responsibilities before you move in, it can save a lot of stress and friction later. Roommate conflicts usually happen when the expectations each person has are unclear. An agreement can clearly state how often each roommate should do the dishes, clean the common rooms, how late and how often guests should be over, etc.

* If my landlord tells me to sign an addendum after I’ve already moved in, do I have to?
Generally, you shouldn’t sign anything that adjusts your lease after you’ve already moved in. If your landlord asks you to, visit Student Legal Services to determine what the best course is.

* Do I have to do anything extra if I have a pet?
If you have or are planning to get a pet, look at the lease to see which pets are allowed. The landlord may require you to pay an additional pet deposit of up to one-fourth of one months’ rent.

* How do I get my landlord to make repairs?
You should make repair requests in writing. Not only will this make it easier for your landlord, it also triggers the landlord’s legal obligation to make the repairs. If the repairs are serious and the landlord isn’t making any progress, you can contact the City Housing Code Office for assistance, or come to Student Legal Services.

* I’m behind on my rent. How long do I have before the landlord can evict me?
If you’re behind on rent, the landlord only needs to give three days’ notice to pay and can then file for eviction within 10-14 days. This process moves quickly, so if you receive a notice of non-payment of rent, get legal help right away.


About the Author: Carla Talmadge is junior communications major from Seattle. She is a student program assistant at the UNL Student Money Management Center, a financial education program for UNL students. Carla works one-on-one with students to answer their financial questions and help them find solutions to their financial challenges. For more information on the UNL Student Money Management Center, please visit: http://www.unl.edu/smmc.