Off-Campus Housing

American streets in the eveningFinding Housing - Factors to Consider

If you cannot find accommodation in university dormitories (dorms) on-campus, or would prefer to live in an apartment (flat) or house, you may have to look for housing off-campus. Off-campus accommodation includes apartments, houses, privately-operated dorms and rooms in a private home. If you choose to live off-campus, your university can help. Look out for mixers to find roommates or bulletin boards with information on moving services and furniture. Always remember safety if you’re going to look at off-campus housing, and tell someone where you’re going.

Finding Housing, Furniture and a Roommate

To find off-campus housing, ask the university’s housing office or consult the classified advertising section of the local and university newspapers. Consider using websites such as Craigslist (similar to Gumtree in the UK) to find available rooms or apartments, as well as used furniture. Furniture and household goods are available at reasonable prices at superstores like Target and IKEA or thrift stores in the area.

In addition to Craigslist or local/student newspaper listings, some university student services may also host off-campus living mixers or email lists in order for you to meet other students who may not have arranged housing or need a roommate/housemate.

If you are living in an expensive area, you may want to find roommates to share the rent and lower the costs. Students can even advertise for roommates. If you respond to one of these ads, you will probably want to meet with the other student in-person before moving in together. This is an excellent way to determine if it would be a mutually agreeable arrangement. If you decide to live alone or with your family, it would be helpful for someone familiar with the local community and rental procedures to accompany you while you are looking for an apartment.

Factors to Consider

Cost

Depending on what region you plan to live in, off-campus housing can be very expensive (such as NYC where you may pay more to live there than in tuition) or very affordable (in rural areas of the South and Midwest). Check out your university's financial page for an estimate of off-campus living costs, as well as the housing or residential life page, which may include information on finding off-campus housing. 

Utilities

Water and local taxes (including garbage collection and recycling costs) are usually included in rent. However, gas, electricity, internet and telephone services are usually not included in the rent and must be paid by the renter each month. There is no council tax or TV license in the US, but you will need to pay for cable TV if you want extra channels. You will likely make payment arrangements directly with each of the utility companies. It is a good idea to get an estimate of monthly utility bills from the utility company or previous tenants before you sign a lease. Unlike in the UK, gas, water and electric bills are paid on a monthly or quarterly based on meter readings, so you are paying for everything that you actually use rather than based on an estimation.

Utility bills can add from $75 to $200 to the rent each month, depending on how many roommates you have. Usually, communal laundry facilities will be available on the premises. If machines are not available on site, check that there is a convenient and reasonably priced laundromat/launderette nearby.

Transportation

If an apartment is beyond walking distance from the campus, it may prove to be inconvenient to get to class unless it is linked by public transportation. If public transportation is easily accessible, keep the hours of operation in mind when you arrange your class schedule during course registration. If you plan to have a car, consider the cost and availability of parking space both at your residence and on or near campus. The proximity of a grocery store, post office and bank if needed should also be taken into account.

Lease Agreement

A lease is a contract that legally commits the renter to rent a specific apartment or house for a specified length of time, usually a calendar year. Unlike in the UK, there may not be a six-month break clause and subletting may not be allowed. Of course, it is still worth asking for, but be aware when looking around that it may not be an option.

Many landlords require payment of the first and last months’ rent ("advanced rent") before the tenants move in. Additionally, landlords require a security deposit (or "cleaning’ deposit"), which usually equals one month’s rent. Be sure to always obtain a receipt for the security deposit as proof of payment. If the tenant leaves the apartment in good condition, the landlord returns the security deposit. Before you sign the lease agreement, take note of imperfections (such as nail holes in the walls, chipped tiles, damaged woodwork or soiled carpet) or even take photos as visual proof with the landlord so that you will not be held responsible when you move out.