I wanted to title this “How to Live in an Off-Campus Apartment Without Getting Evicted, Harassed or Jacked Out of Your Security Deposit,” but that title is way too long, and does not do justice to the advice I’m also giving you about the more nuanced aspects of off-campus living, like procuring free furniture and how to, say, avoid kitchen fires. I lived off-campus in the bucolic college town of Amherst, Massachusetts, where I witnessed off-campus houses that varied from beautiful collective Victorians adjacent to farmland to totally nasty hovels that literally got condemned literally mid-semester. It helps that I am now a full-time home improvement writer and editor, so you can trust me: I’ve been there, and now it’s my life’s work to educate the American public about the finer points of dwelling. I’m going to take you through off-campus apartment living, step by step:
Step: 1: Thoroughly inspect the place before signing a lease.
To put it bluntly, I’ve seen students live in some pretty decrepit apartments. While financial necessity may force you into a place that is substandard, there are certain things you should not compromise on. If any of the following is broken or missing, be sure that you notate it in writing on the lease so that you do not get charged for pre-existing damages when you move out. I suggest that if any of the following are problematic, you get an agreement in writing from the landlord stating that he will rectify the problem before you move in:
- Broken , creaky, or wobbly stairs or floorboards.
- Windows that don’t open, don’t close, don’t have screens, or have cracked/broken panes.
- Water damage or mold (if you smell or see mold, I recommend not even considering the place).
- Bathroom fixtures that leak or don’t work. Turn on the faucets and shower when you are touring the apartment to check that all water fixtures work.
- Marred paint, wall paneling, or drywall. Don’t get jacked out of your security deposit for the previous tenant’s nail holes.
- Check that all appliances work, and that the gas and electrical connections are functional.
- If you see signs of rodent or bug infestation (that means even one bug or one mouse turd), don’t take the place. If you absolutely have no other housing options, get an agreement in writing from the landlord that he’ll pay for extermination services before you move in. Be especially wary of bedbugs. Ask the current tenants if they had any problems with bedbugs, and ask the neighbors. I say this because student housing is often in older, neglected neighborhoods where bedbugs have become a really big problem in recent years.
- Check that the door locks with a deadbolt, and verify that the lock will be changed before you move in so that the previous tenant is not at liberty to let himself in and steal your laptop.