College will be some of the most fun and carefree years of your life. You’ll meet awesome new people, go to a ton of parties and finally have independence.
What isn’t fun are errant, greedy landlords. Crappy living conditions and totally horrible housemates. Your living conditions are what will greatly enhance your college experience, or hinder its full potential.
Not ending up with less than ideal living conditions and roommates will take more than just “winging it”. Either you can learn from bad experience or you could just read this article because the ideal situation is one where everything in your house works, right?! Everyone in your house gets along hunky dory, and your landlord isn’t trying to get the better of you.
Finding Good Roommates
It really depends on the kind of person you are and what you think should ideally be happening in the house on a Friday night. Books and reading, or awesome house parties? The choice is yours, but you will want to make sure everyone in the house is in the same boat as you are. Whatever platform you use to find roommates, always try to meet them where they are currently staying. It’s easy to lie about being “responsible and clean” online, but somebody’s room will give you so much information on their personality and general living habits. Don’t want (or want?) a pothead living in your house? Fine. The massive bong on their shelf will be a dead giveaway.
Securing a House
Most people are always looking for the sweetest deal (even at your expense). Just because someone seems sincere about moving in with you, and has verbally told you they will, doesn’t guarantee anything. When it comes to housing season, many people are committing to different potential houses. Ultimately, most people are only looking out for themselves. The only thing that should be official in securing somebody’s space in a house is a deposit in the form of cold hard cash and also a firm understanding that the only way they can get that back is if they can find someone else to replace it. Don’t be the one frantically searching for housemates last minute. This simple practice will eliminate any house hoppers you may have to deal with. You may just think you’ve found the best house ever, but some of your potential roommates might be considering other options.
Taking responsibility for bills and utilities is something you don’t want to leave to chivalry and good faith. Fact: Once people get accustomed to you paying the bills first, they’ll take it for granted. Pretty soon, you’ll find roommates paying late and you are soon put in the awkward situation of chasing them up for it. Draw straws if you absolutely must, but once you determine who’s paying for what make sure that everyone agrees bills aren’t paid until EVERYONE has paid their share. Setting clear boundaries like this is what will stop people from feeling like they’ve been taken advantage of. A happy house is better than one brooding with resentment.
Securing Your Rental Deposit
Depending on the state you are in, landlords are legally required to give you a bank statement showing you where your deposit is being held. Before moving in, make sure you ask your landlord for a copy. Money in a bank account is less tempting to try and take than cash in their hand. Asking your landlord for this also suggests that you know more than the average inexperienced tenant. Appearances are everything here, and if you look like you know what’s going on, they are less likely to pull something. It is also a very good idea to take pictures of everything in the house and take note of any damage in the house. Send your landlord an email with pictures and details, asking them to acknowledge the condition of the house. Again, back to the importance of appearing competent, this will also avoid any future disputes if they try to claim damages against your deposit.
Getting Things Fixed
Landlords know that college town means high demand and low supply. That means they have less incentive to keep their properties in tip-top condition. In most states, however, landlords are legally obliged to at least meet a few basic requirements. Habitable living conditions, working heat during winter and a dependable stream of utilities are some of them. You’ll want to check the laws in your state, but most do give you the legal right to withhold rent, provided certain conditions are met. Polite conversation is the best first course of action to deal with repairs. Failing that, reminding them that their bottom line could be at stake will always get a fast response. There is plenty of free legal resources online, so you’ll want to see what these pre-conditions are before you try and withhold rent.