Living off-campus when you’re a student is great; you’re freed from the school cafeteria, the randomly chosen roommate and sharing showers with 28 other sweaty freshman. The downside is you have to do everything yourself. You’ll need to find those roommates and your apartment, and find food to fill your fridge.
Finding an apartment to rent can be as tough as searching for houses for sale. Rent is a financial burden at any age, but perhaps never more so than when you’re a student with either zero, or near zero income. Luckily, this is the time in your life where everything seems exciting, including living in the basement of a house or having a roommate who’s trying to be a famous guitar player and practices every day until midnight. What do you care, you’re out at the bar anyway, right?
Still, when every dollar matters, you’re going to need some tips on how to find affordable rent off-campus. Here’s a list of five quick tips for you to follow.
Don’t Live Too Far From Campus
Living too far from campus may be a false economy. Sure, apartments may be cheaper the further away it is from the dense student hubs, but that also means you’re going to be spending more time and money getting to class. If you live in the middle of nowhere, or in a family-centered neighborhood, you could also be far from essential services like grocery stores with frequent sales on frozen pizza, bars to cry over your grades in and buses that go straight to your next class. Try to limit your search to easy walking or public transit distance to class.
It’s Time for Roommates
If you can’t have 14 roommates at 19 years old, then when can you?
The best thing about having roommates during college is that it can drastically reduce your monthly costs. If the rent in Athens, Georgia for a two-bedroom apartment is $2,000, for example, but you can manage to put a third person in a cordoned off section of the living room for $500, you’ve now just saved yourself $250, or $3,000 for a year.
That’s all your textbooks, plus a few new outfits. Another way to add in an extra body to an already tight squeeze is to live with a couple —that way they only take up one bedroom, but pay twice the rent.
Don’t Forget to Negotiate
So you’ve found the perfect place to live, right? The only problem is that the rent is about $100 more than you can spend. Well, don’t be afraid to tell your landlord that. A good tenant is worth their weight in gold. Explain to the owner that you’re a responsible student, love to clean, don’t party and may even want to live there until you graduate. If that doesn’t work, offer to do some chores around the place in exchange for cheaper rent, like shovel snow, re-caulk the bathroom or take your own trash to the curb.
Always Read the Lease
Although in some places, like in Ontario, leases are standardized, in others they are up to the discretion of the landlord and tenant. Never sign something that feels wrong or shady. If you spot a clause in there you don’t think you should have to abide to, ask your parents or a call the landlord to make sure it’s legitimate. If it’s not, don’t be scared to point it out to your landlord and ask him to remove it. If he gets angry, walk away. The lease may also require a cosigner, like your parents, which is fairly standard for students. Just be aware that if you stop paying your rent, your landlord won’t hesitate to take them to court.
Find a Summer Subletter Early
The best thing to do is to find, or negotiate a lease for eight months instead of 12 — just for the months you will actually be in your college town studying. If you can only find a 12-month lease however, and will be returning to your hometown during the summer, try to find a subletter as early as possible, at least two or three months before the school year ends, because the competition can be stiff. Advertise on campus, online and on social media. The last thing you want is to be on the hook for paying rent for a place you’re not even living in.