Going away to college for the first time is a huge step in a young person’s life. It is the first step on the road to total independence. College opens a young person up to a whole new world of self reliance, responsibility and much more. Aside from going away to college for the first time, few things in a young college person’s life can offer as much of a shock as that which they will experience when they move into off campus housing for the first time.
Most young people are totally unprepared for what to expect in off campus living. There will be no one around to do anything for you. You will have to prepare your own meals, keep your house clean yourself, do you own laundry, and shock of shocks, pay all of your own bills.
Here are some things that a college student really ought to know if they are going to live off campus, or if they already are living off campus.
READ THE LEASE BEFORE SIGNING IT –
Any time you rent an apartment, you will have to enter into a lease agreement with the landlord. Some landlords will allow roommates to sign individual leases while others will make the group sign the lease. If you sign the lease as a group, you better be prepared to pay the additional share of rent if one of your roommates decides to move out.
Even if your lease doesn’t stipulate anything about the payment of rent if someone moves out, you would do well to create a written agreement among all roommates so that no one can just decide to leave without notice.
Depending on where you live, your landlord may or may not pay for things like heat and water. If you live in a place where the winters are really bitter cold, find out in advance whether or not heat is included in your rent. If it isn’t, don’t rent the place unless you want to have to pay a heating bill of a good $100 or more a month.
Does the landlord pay for water? If not, how is the amount that you pay for water determined? Is it based on the number of people in the apartment and the square footage, or does every apartment pay the same thing? Are there hidden costs in addition to the water?
If you are going to have a land line in your apartment, you need to be clear on what is expected from each roommate. Think about whether or not you want to have a long distance plan and how you’ll divide the cost for that up.
Also think about what kind of Internet connection you would like to have, how you can set up a network that will allow all roommates to access the Internet and how much that will cost.
If you live in an apartment, what is the extent of maintenance the apartment owner or landlord will provide? Are you going to be expected to handle anything your self? What about repairs for which the apartment maintenance crew isn’t responsible? Do you learn how to fix things yourself? Do you hire someone? If so, who pays for that?
WHAT ABOUT DAMAGES? –
When a bunch of rowdy young students decide to live together, there is always one extremely important consideration that is easily overlooked. What do you do about damages to the apartment? Who bears the responsibility for damages? Will it be the person who did the damage or all of you?
HOUSEWORK, COOKING, SHOPPING –
*Dividing responsibilities for housework –
One of the most difficult things for college students who live off campus together to resolve is how to divide up the responsibilities for housework. What sort of system can you create to make sure that everyone has to pitch in equally? Will you rotate the chores every week? What sort of policy will you have regarding what is expected of each of the roommates in terms of cleaning up after themselves?
*Food, cooking and shopping –
How do you plan to deal with the situation of food? Is each person going to be on their own. Will you each have your own section of the refrigerator? Maybe it will make more sense to shop together. Will you have a policy whereby anyone who uses something up has to replace it?
How do you intend to divide up the cost of purchasing stuff for the house such as cleaning supplies, laundry supplies, toilet paper, paper towels and other incidentals?
ESTABLISHING GROUND RULES –
Living with roommates off campus is a big undertaking. Before making the commitment, you need to come to an understanding whereby all of the roommates are in agreement about what will be expected of everyone. In order for the living arrangement to work, you will need to have some ground rules, and everyone will need to understand what is expected of them. You will also need to plan ahead in case you need to deal with a roommate who isn’t paying their fair share. It isn’t right of that person to expect the other roommates to tow the line for them because they can’t or won’t pay their fare share.
Decide in advance on house rules. You will need to determine when quiet hours will be, what behavior is prohibited, and how you intend to deal with prohibited behavior, and what you intend to do with someone who doesn’t pull their weight.
Living in a dorm is a big adjustment for incoming college freshmen, but once you decide to live off campus, you’ve got many more things to deal with, consider, prepare for and to arrange. Living with roommates in an off campus situation is far more involved than determining whether you get along together. You will have to be prepared to pay for expenses that you never realized existed.
Lastly, before you actually jump into living off campus, will you be able to afford the cost of all of the bills for which you will be responsible including rent and utilities, car expenses and upkeep, furniture, household supplies (pots and pans, dishes, cleaning supplies, small appliances, and everything else,) light bulbs, power strips, food, and other things? Are you willing to have to be responsible for everything from paying bills to cleaning house, cooking your meals, doing laundry, dishes and other things in addition to keeping up with your school work? And most of all, be sure that you can afford to live off campus. If you don’t have the money up front, you can’t be sure you will have it when you need it. Welcome to the real world!