Mon. Jan 17th, 2022

There’s no place like home. Even Dorothy can tell you that, and clicking your heels together won’t take you back to mom and dad.Whether it is the first time you’re renting an apartment or house, or the tenth, it is an important decision to make. By gathering enough information and seeking out advice from others, you will be able to make the process less complicated and more rewarding.

Timing can be everything when it comes to finding a place to live. By starting the search early, you are opening yourself up to more options. The best places are usually the first to rent out. If you wait too long, you probably won’t find what you are looking for. The leftover apartments tend to be far from campus, in poor condition, or costly.

WCU student Nicole Smith started her search in January. “With a large group like mine, there are 11 of us, we knew we had to start looking for a place right away, or we wouldn’t be able to find anything,” said Smith.

Smith, along with many other students, heard about the listing for her house by word of mouth. “One of my friends lived in the house before, and they said it would be available in May, when most of the leases in West Chester tend to start, and the landlord was going to show it over the weekend. We went there that Saturday and there were two other groups waiting to see the house. Luckily we came prepared and ready to sign for it, so we got it that day,” said Smith.

Word of mouth can be an excellent way to find an apartment or house. If you have a friend or coworker who lived somewhere before, or they know of vacancies, they can give you good advice, along with a heads-up on the rental. Professional resources such as real estate agents, or apartment-locating services are also available. However, there is usually a fee involved. Students can also scan ads in The Quad, the Daily Local News, or check out West Chester’s Off Campus and Commuter Association Web site for current listings.

Once you find an ad that seems appealing, you should go there to check it out. The OCCA Web site recommends taking a friend with you because “two sets of eyes are better than one.” Take a list of questions along with you so you can ask the landlord. Your landlord should tell you everything you want to know. If they seem to be eluding certain questions or topics, be very cautious when signing the lease. The following list will be very helpful. Make sure to take it along on your apartment search.

How much does it cost? You want a comfortable place to live, but you also don’t want to burn a hole in your pockets. A rule of thumb is that your rent should cost about 25 percent to 30 percent of your gross income. Sometimes a student is fortunate to have parents who will pay for their rent. If this is the case, see how much they are willing to fork over. Or, you could contribute a certain amount of what you make, and have them pay the rest. Remember that the more money you spend on rent, the less money you will have for more pleasurable things like going out with your friends on Friday night, or that new outfit at the mall.

What is included in the rent? Check to see who pays for bills like gas, electric, cable, water, telephone, garbage, and Internet service. If none of these are included, you could end up paying way more than you bargained for. If next year’s winter is anything like this past year’s, don’t be surprised to see a gas bill that is two or three times more than your usual. If you need something fixed, who pays for it? Also, how long does it take to get fixed?

What is the condition of the apartment or house? Check to see if the plumbing is fairly new. It may sound silly, but try flushing all of the toilets and running the faucets to see if they work properly. Are there leaky roofs, cracks on the walls, chipping paint, worn out carpets? Will the landlord commit to making repairs you deem necessary? Are you allowed to redecorate?

Is there parking? Will you have a designated spot? Do you have to pay for it? How many cars can park there? Will you have to park on the street? Is it easy to find a parking spot?

Is it safe and secure? If you are looking at an apartment in a building, do they have security guards? Is there an alarm system? How secure are the locks? What is the neighborhood like? Can you walk home by yourself on the streets at night? Has anyone ever broken in before? What types of fire protection (smoke detectors, sprinklers, fire extinguishers) are installed? Where are the emergency exits? What is the outdoor lighting like? Ask about the hazards of lead and radon. As a precaution, you may want to look into purchasing renters insurance. For about $120 a year, all of your belongings will be protected in the event of fire, water damage, or theft. If you have a tendency to burn candles or forget to turn off the stove, the insurance will cover the costs if the building catches on fire.

Can you have pets? What is their policy? Can you have small animals, such as cats? What if someone has a dog that barks all night, will you do something about it? Is there a fee to have a pet?

What are the neighbors like? Are there families with children or seniors who go to sleep early? Or, are they college students who stay up all night partying?

Is it in a central location? Check to see if it is in walking distance to school. Are there grocery stores, banks, and restaurants nearby? If you don’t have a car, will you be able to walk to these places or take public transportation? Sometimes it is better to live within walking distance to campus so you don’t have to worry about traffic or fighting over parking spaces.

After finding a place that seems to fit your needs comes the most important step signing on the dotted line. Read the lease carefully. A lease is a legal document that binds you to an agreement. It should clearly state your rights and responsibilities. The lease should include the address of the premises, and a brief description of the rooms. The names of the lessor (landlord) and lessee (you) should appear on it, as well as the amount of the rent and when it is due. In addition, the amount of the security deposit and how much you should expect to get back should be listed.

If you are living with other people, check to see if the lease is a joint lease, or individual. It is best to get an individual lease. If, for some reason, one of your roommates decides to leave, or can’t pay their share of the rent, you won’t be held responsible for paying that portion of the rent. If you found anything wrong with the apartment when you were inspecting it, have the landlord guarantee the repairs in writing. You don’t want to be responsible for damages you didn’t cause. It can be helpful to take pictures of damages and have the landlord sign and date them. You also want to see if the lease mentions anything about privacy. Can the landlord enter your apartment at any time, or must you be home? What are the rules about having guests over?

By following some of the advice given, you will be able to avoid renter’s remorse. But, if for some reason after moving into your new place, you have a dispute with your landlord and aren’t sure what to do, remember that the OCCA, located in Sykes, is there to provide you with free legal advice.

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