Are you planning to live off campus? We've already given you some tips for how to search for off-campus housing in this blog post; however, do you know how to be a smart renter?
Every year, a significant number of students (both international and domestic) get into some trouble because they don't understand the terms of their lease and how to avoid fees upon move-out.
One of the first things you should do is to become familiar with apartment rental terminology. Some of the words used to describe renting an apartment are confusing, even for those who have lived in the U.S. a long time. Some of the most commons words you will see are:
Landlord: The owner of property (such as houses, rooms, or apartments) that is rented out to another.
Lease: A contract whereby the landlord grants the tenant the right to occupy a defined space for a set period at a specific price.
Rent: The amount charged by the landlord for the right to occupy a defined space, usually stated as monthly rate.
Security Deposit: A rental tenant will put down a security deposit (usually on month's rent) on an apartment so that the owner of the apartment has security against any potential damages to the apartment. At the end of the lease term, the landlord will take the cost of any damages caused by the tenant out of the security deposit before returning it.
Subleasing or Subletting: The leasing of space from one tenant to another tenant. (For example, moving out and having someone else live in your apartment and take over the responsibilities of your lease).
Amenities: The "extra" features and services offered by an apartment community. Amenities may include things like on-site laundry facilities, a fitness center, a swimming pool, a free bus pass, etc.
Furnished Apartment: This means that basic furniture is included such as a bed, sofa, a kitchen table and chairs, etc. If an apartment doesn't specify that it is furnished, you'll have to provide your own furniture.
Utilities: This can include electricity, natural gas, water, trash pick-up, cable, Internet, etc. "Utilities included" means that the rent will cover some utilities (check which ones). "Utilities not included" means that you will have to pay these fees separately.
Many of the above definitions were taken from this renter's resource website. Check out the full glossary of rental terms for many more definitions.
The two things that often get students into trouble are security deposits and subleasing/subletting.
Sometimes students do not get their full security deposit back after they move out because they either damaged the apartment, did not clean the apartment thoroughly, or failed to document previous damage that already existed in the apartment when they moved in. Here is a very useful guide called Tips on How to Get Your Rental Security Deposit Back. Follow the steps carefully before you move in, during your stay, and when you move out and you should be able to get your full security deposit back!
Another common point of confusion is subleasing/subletting. Perhaps you want to get out of your lease so you choose to sublet to another student. Or, perhaps you're looking for a place to stay for only one semester and you take over someone else's lease. The confusion upon move-out is: Who is now responsible for the apartment? Who must pay overdue rent? Who is responsible for damages? Sometimes the landlord can hold both the original tenant and the new tenant responsible. An important tip is to get everything in writing. Additional tips can be found in this guide called What You Need to Know About Subletting.
Are you a smartphone user? Then check out these two useful apps:
· LeaseLobster: This app will help you compare different apartments, making it easier to find your future home.
· RentRhino: This app will protect you from hidden fees and claims from your landlord. It's a great way to keep track of the condition of your apartment when you move in to later protect yourself when you move out.
Need additional help?
· Penn State's Office of Student Legal Services provides legal assistance to students who are dealing with disputes with their landlord.
· This learning module will help you learn more about landlord/tenant relationships.
There will be at least one session about off-campus housing information during the International Student Orientation (make sure to attend!) and there will also be some lease workshops and housing fairs offered throughout the year.
Be smart, educate yourself, and you will most likely have a great off-campus living experience!
Image borrowed from hownowdesign courtesy of Creative Commons.