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Off-campus living comes with challenges

December 12, 2013

Student Billy Stout opens the door to his house off campus.
Student Billy Stout opens the door to his house off campus. Students who live off campus are responsible for more than students who live in residence halls, such as paying for utilities, groceries and keeping their apartments and houses clean. There may be hidden costs associated with living off campus that may drive the overall cost up. (Desi Danforth/Student Voice)

Moving off campus into an apartment or house has long been a rite of passage for many upper-level college students, but they may not be fully informed about renting.

Director of Student Life Paul Shepherd said that students can be unknowledgeable about signing leases as well as safety issues in apartments and houses.

“I’ve had conversations with student about leases and the responsibilities of being a renter off campus,” Shepherd said.

Wiring and structure are two factors that Shepherd said students don’t take into consideration when touring a rental unit, but they can make pose safety problems once students are moved in. Smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are also two things students should make sure are always in working order.

Shepherd and Director of Risk Management Connie Smith collaborated on an event held earlier in the semester about living off campus. Community members including the police chief, the fire inspector, a lawyer and a landlord talked to students about different problems students have experienced as renters.

While the event was poorly attended, Shepherd said that he and Smith want to have the event again in the future. Smith got the idea for the event after she attended a conference where parents of a student who died in a house fire in Madison, Wis., while visiting his brother talked about fire safety.

Shepherd said Smith was inspired to create awareness of safety issues in off campus housing. He wanted to collaborate with her because when he worked as a residence hall director at UW-La Crosse he knew the student who died in the Madison fire personally.

“Tragedies like that always have a way of really hitting home and it motivates you to want to do something to prevent something like that from happening in the future,” Shepherd said.

Students searching for apartments and houses off campus also may not know how expensive renting can be. Students living in a residence hall pay at the beginning of the semester and do not pay separately for utilities, cable television, Internet or other household items like furniture and cleaning supplies. While rent may look cheaper than room and board on paper, the extra costs may add up over the course of the semester and end up not saving students much money.

“Sometimes we do hear that a lot, that students say ‘well it’s way cheaper to live off campus,’ but when you start adding it up, it might not be that much cheaper,” Shepherd said.

Senior Jessica Pilarski lives off campus in a two-bedroom apartment with one roommate, and she said that she prefers living off campus because of non-monetary reasons.

“I just think everyone is more respectful of each other here than in the dorms,” Pilarski said. “It’s also a lot quieter than the dorms.”

She said that she likes cooking her own food compared to paying for a dining plan as well, but she does not like the distance between her apartment and campus.

“I lived in Hathorn before, so I’m used to a two-minute-walk,” Pilarski said. “I’m not too keen on paying $20 for parking every week, but it seems like a much smaller price to pay.”