Tips for Off-Campus Housing
Take Your Time Choosing a Place to Live
You are the customer, it is your money. This is a financial commitment that is legally binding. Where you live and who you live with over the next 12 months can have a profound effect on you positively or negatively. In this type of situation haste does make waste.
Do not sign anything, or fill out any applications until you are certain you have identified the place you want to rent. Some applications will automatically legally bind you to the lease. Do not sign anything unless you can afford to pay for it.
Talk is Cheap
This is a business arrangement between you and the landlord. Get everything in writing and document conversations so there are no misunderstandings by you or the landlord later on during the lease.
Know What You are Signing
There are two types of leases commonly used; Joint and Several, and Individual. In the Lehigh Valley area, the individual lease is typically used. However, with a Joint and Several lease you are responsible for your portion of the rent AND your roommates', if they do not pay their portion. In other words, if your roommates are unable to pay their portion of the rent, you will be expected to make up the difference.
If you do not pay their portion of the rent, the co-signer (parental guarantee) will get a bill requesting them to pay the difference. Essentially, you are your brother's/sister's keeper with Joint and Several Lease. With an individual lease you are responsible for paying only your portion of the rent. If your roommate does not pay his/her portion of rent, the property manager goes after him/her, and not you.
Before You Move In
Document the condition of the apartment- do a damage checklist, take pictures (give the landlord a copy and keep a copy for yourself). The damage checklist lets the landlord know what needs to be repaired in the unit and it provides you with a record of the condition upon the move in. Most landlords want to know what is wrong with the unit so they can repair it.
Help the landlord and yourself by reporting all repairs to management immediately. Get the name of the person you report the repair/problem to and the date. Document the request for maintenance in writing for your own records.
When you are ready to move out, get the damage checklist and the photos. Review your comments regarding the unit. Clean like you have never cleaned before. If at all possible, get the landlord to walk through the unit before you turn over the keys. Take pictures again upon the move out. Give the keys to the landlord and wait for a response within thirty days after you turn over your keys.
Questions to Ask a Potential Landlord
As you look for rental housing, it is important to learn as much about a place as you possible can before submitting an application or signing a lease. The following are a few questions to consider asking your prospective landlord:
Rent and Utilities
- How much is monthly rent?
- How many of us may rent and live at this rental address?
- May I rent from you for a twelve-month, nine-month, or lesser time period?
- Where and when must the rent be paid? If rent is paid after that date, do you charge a late fee? How much is that fee?
- If one month's rent is late, does the lease contain an acceleration clause that causes all remaining rent to become due and payable?
- May each roommate pay his/her portion of the rent with separate checks?
- If my roommate leaves during the lease, who's responsible for paying that share of the rent?
- What utilities do I pay for (heat, water/sewer, parking, air conditioning, garbage collection, pets, cable, etc.)?
Lease Applications and Security Deposits
- Must prospective tenants submit an application for a lease?
- Is a fee required with my application? If so, what happens to that money?
- Does the act of submitting an application commit me and/or my parents to sign a lease?
- What are my obligations if my application is accepted?
- Can you give me a copy of the lease at this time?
- How much is the security deposit? When must it be paid? When is it returned, or may it be used as my last month's rent?
- Do I receive interest on the deposit?
- What must I do to have my security deposit returned in full?
- Which bank will hold my security deposit?
- Who is the landlord and/or the landlord's property manager?
- What are their addresses?
- Will the lease be written or oral?
- What rules and regulations must I follow upon signing the lease?
- How much notice is needed to renew or terminate the lease?
- Will my rent payments have to be guaranteed? If so, why and by whom?
- Does the lease contain escalator clauses that could cause my rent to increase during the lease period? For example, are energy-cost increases passed on to the tenant?
- In previous years, were such assessments made; and if so, by what amount did they exceed the base rental figure?
- May I sublet or assign my lease?
- May I find someone who is willing to make a new lease and end my responsibility?
- Must you approve my sub lessee or assignee?
- Will you assist me in finding a sub lessee or someone willing to assume a new lease?
- Are fees charged for these options?
- Is notice required to terminate or renew the lease, or will it automatically renew for another year? When must notice be given and in what form?
- If the lease automatically terminates, will I have the first right to renew it?
- Is it possible to terminate the lease before the stated date? What fee, if any, is charged for early termination? How much notice is required for early termination? In what form?
- Is the apartment furnished or unfurnished?
- Are a stove and refrigerator provided?
- Are drapes and curtains provided?
- Are there screens on the doors? Windows? Sliding glass doors?
- Is there a fire extinguisher in the apartment? Are there smoke alarms? How often are they checked or tested?
- Has the apartment been insulated or weather-stripped for more energy efficiency? What are the average heating/cooling bills?
- Is laundry available on the premises? If not, where is the closest laundromat?
- Is a storage area outside of the apartment provided? How is access to the area obtained? Is a fee charged?
- How many parking spaces are provided per apartment? How do I get a parking space? Is a fee charged?
- If I pay for parking, is it assigned? What if someone parks in my space or the lot is full?
- Can my guests park in the lot? Is there a designated guest parking area?
- Is a super market within walking distance? Is a corner grocery store within walking distance?
- How accessible is public transportation?
- What are the hours of bus service to and from town/campus/shopping?
- How do I notify you of emergency repairs during the work day, on weekends, and after office hours?
- Do you have an on-site maintenance staff to handle normal repair requests?
- How soon after my request will repairs be made?
- If I want something special done, may I request that you do it if I am willing to pay (ex: pain my apartment a color other than standard white)?
Right of Entry
- How much advance notice will I receive before your staff comes to make repairs or conduct an inspection?
- Do I have to let someone in if doing so is inconvenient?
- If I am not renewing my lease, will I have to allow people in to see my apartment? How about if I am renewing?
- Do you change the locks at no charge between tenants move out and moving in? Is there a charge for keys?
- Do you have a dead-bolt lock or other secure locking device that operates only from inside the apartment on all doors?
- Do you have a mechanical locking device operated from inside the apartment, other than those manufactured as part of the window or door, on all windows and sliding glass doors?
- If I wish to install a dead-bolt lock or other locking device, may I do it? Will there be a charge?
- Do you have a peephole or viewer in solid doors that enables the tenant to see who is at the door before opening it?
- If I love my key and want either another key or the lock to be changed, is there a charge? If so, how much?
- What is the earliest date I may move in?
- May I move in earlier if the present tenant leaves early? Do I need the tenant's written permission to do so? Is there a fee for moving in early? If so, do I pay you or the tenant?
- If my apartment is not ready, clear, or in good repair, who is responsible? When will the repairs or cleaning be done?
- Will someone help me complete the damage report when I move in or out?
- How much time is allowed to report damage that was not initially apparent (ex: a broken refrigerator self support that won't stay up when groceries are but in)?
- Does the lease contradict a tenant's legal right to have visitors for a "reasonable time"? Does it attempt to define "reasonable time"?
- Do I need to purchase renter's insurance, or do you provide this?
Renting a Room in a Private House
- The tenant is a paying guest if he/she is living in someone's home.
- The tenant needs to realize he/she is in a family situation and treat it as such.
- The landlord is not your father or mother.
- She or he is not required to clean up behind you, so remember to:
- Wash your dishes
- Keep your room clean
- Pick up your books or belongings all around the house
- Let the family know if you can plan to have a guest or friend over.
- No overnight guests unless approved by the landlord.
- Remember you cannot have family visits unless approved by the landlord/owner of the house.
- If you come home late be quiet and try not to disturb the family members. Out of respect let the family members know if you will be coming home in the evening or if you will be coming home late.
- Let the family members know if you are going out of town.
- Ask permission to use the phone if they allow it or have a separate line installed.
- Do not play loud music. You are sharing a living a space with others.
- Ask Permission to use any and all appliances i.e.: irons. vacuum cleaners, etc.
Penn State University Disclaimer
The Pennsylvania State University makes no representation whatsoever regarding the housing or the landlords listed through this office/site. The properties listed are done so at the request of the landlords to assist students in locating possible off-campus housing opportunities. Students are responsible to inspect the property and negotiate lease terms with any landlord. The Pennsylvania State University has not inspected or investigated these listings or landlords in any way and is not endorsing any specific properties or landlords for students by this listing. The Pennsylvania State University disclaims any responsibility, among other things, for the condition of any premises, terms of any leases, treatment by any landlord, or compliance with any applicable local zoning ordinances.
A few tips to help students through their off-campus housing search.