Moving off campus, new responsibility
April 6, 2007
Living in the dorms is fun for a year or two. But too much sharing can wear on a person after awhile, and that’s when it’s time to move off campus. Besides having more personal space and control over the environment, and not banging your head on the ceiling every morning, courtesy of your lofted bed, off-campus living provides some experience in real world matters and is an opportunity to grow. There is rent to pay for every month, as well as the utilities, cable, Internet, groceries and other fees that come with independent living. Most college students have probably never dealt with these kinds of responsibilities before; I know I hadn’t before I moved out of the dorms. I want to take this opportunity to give you a heads up on renting so you can avoid finding out the hard way.
Possibly the most important factor you need to consider is whether you can afford to rent. Even if a place is $300 per month, there are still monthly charges for electricity, heat and all those other charges that add on maybe another $100. In reality, you have to pay over $400 every month.
Every landlord requires a security deposit, which can be half a month’s rent, a full month’s rent, but not more than two month’s rent. This is a check the landlord will cash, so you have to have that money at the ready. As long as you don’t destroy anything, you should get all of that money back, plus some interest. The landlord has used that money, so they owe you a little, just like the bank owes you for letting them use your money.
But to get that money back, the place has to be in good shape, with only some reasonable wear and tear. Holes in the wall and doors hanging on hinges will not get you your deposit back. When you move in, make note of all the flaws in the unit and take pictures too. Then you won’t be charged for repairs you weren’t responsible for.
Movies like to show something bad happening to someone because they didn’t read the contract closely enough. Reading your lease is just as important. You can actually make your own changes to the lease if you want, and if your landlord doesn’t disagree, then they become a part of your lease. Some landlords do make unreasonable demands of their tenants. I lived at one apartment, named after a certain river, where the landlord charged an hourly rate while they clean the unit after everyone has moved out. This is not the tenant’s responsibility, and to understand what is or is not your responsibility, you might want to skim through the Wisconsin Landlord/Tenant Law, which, like everything and their mothers, is on the Internet.
Although renting comes with a lot of responsibilities and sacrifices, it really is a great experience and I recommend it to everyone. Just make sure you are prepared for everything else that comes with renting, and don’t let landlords get away with taking advantage of naïve, young college students because landlords in a college town are usually not that interested in helping a student out. It might be a good idea to talk to other tenants to see what a landlord is like because you can never really understand who, or what, someone is when they want money from you.
Cassie Rodgers is a student at UW-River Falls.