Tips For Finding Off-Campus Housing
Start your hunt for apartments as early as possible. You will be surprised to find that many residents take at least 6 months to find a suitable place to live.
Access Free Resources
Avoid paying for an apartment locator - all you are paying for is a listing they provide. Locators provide no further assistance than that list and you already have free access to newspaper listings, web site listings, and realtors’ listings. There are numerous apartment/rental locators in Houston that will find you a new home for free; the cost is paid by the rental properties (not you).
While emailing is a great first point of contact, you may have to follow up with phone calls. If you don’t get a response right away, don’t give up! Leave a message and call back at a different time, often apartment representatives may be showing a property and not at their desk.
As you search for a new place to live, be realistic about what you need verses what you may want. Do not limit your search by the number of bedrooms you may desire, but instead search based on your budget. Sometimes you can find more bedrooms for the same price. Also, make sure to get as much information on the apartment as possible before making an appointment to see if it fits your needs. Ask about utilities. Often they forget to inform you whether utilities are included or not (electric, heat, gas, water, trash, and sewage). Lastly, consider the location of the property and how it may impact your commute.
It Doesn’t Hurt to Ask
If you are interested in the apartment, ask for the application for the lease and make sure you understand whether or not a co-signer is needed and if a fee is charged. You may also want to ask if anyone else has applied for the lease. Sometimes realtors/landlords are hesitant to tell you someone has applied for the lease because if it falls through, they still want to rent it.
If you are unhappy with the price listed, consider asking the realtor or landlord if the price to rent is negotiable, it does not hurt to ask. Though keep in mind that large corporate owned rental properties are less likely to negotiate than privately owned properties. Likewise, you may want to ask if there are any “move-in specials” that could help off-set some of the costs. For example, many apartment complexes may offer the first month free for a twelve month contract.
Before Moving In…
Review your Contract
- Review the details of your legal obligations to stay in the property. Is it month to month or an annual lease?
- Review the terms to end the lease. How much time do you need to notify your landlord that you’re moving out? This can vary greatly from 2 weeks to 3 months.
- If you have pets, check to see if they are allowed. You may have to sign a separate pet agreement allowing your animals on the property.
- As maintenance issues tend to be one of the biggest complaints among student renters, make sure you’re clear on how to submit a maintenance request and how the landlord or maintenance service responds to problems in the apartment.
- Know your rights. Texas Tenant is a good resource for you to review should you have any concerns or questions on the laws that govern tenant’s rights.
Carefully Check the Rental Property
- Before signing the lease, visit on different hours and days to observe overall conditions of the property, especially on a Saturday night.
- Don’t sign until you have looked at your unit – they aren’t always like the model.
- Watch for any signs of insects, rodents, rust, mildew, smoke or water damage.
- Note the cleanliness of the property's lobby, hallways, bathroom, kitchen, walls, ceiling and floors.
- Note the condition of yards and gardens (confirm who is responsible for upkeep of any outside areas)
- Be sure that all electrical outlets, phone jacks, plumbing fixtures, appliances, exhaust fans, windows and heating and cooling systems are conveniently located, in good condition and functioning properly.
Assess the Location
- Drive to the rental at peak commute hours to get a feel for what traffic and parking will be like on a daily basis. Is it close enough to UH? Is it close to public transport, if you need it?
- Be sure the property is a neighborhood where you would feel comfortable walking home in the dark?
- Consider the "feel" of the neighborhood. Would your neighbors be upset if you hosted parties in your home?
- Is the property safe? Check for safety features such as a door deadbolt, security chain, and peephole.
Check Your Budget
- Ask what you will pay per month in rent and how much is required for the security deposit.
- Ask the landlord if the lease allows for rent increases if real estate taxes are raised or if sewer or water rates increase.
- Calculate how housing will figure into your budget and cost of attending at UH.
- Find out if there are extra charges for a late payment on rent.
Review On-Site Services
- Find out if there are extra charges for utilities, storage space, parking spaces.
- Determine if the property has a resident manager, if maintenance hours for services are restricted, and how emergency services will be handled.
- Find out how trash is disposed of and if the trash facilities are easily accessible.
- Ask the landlord if laundry services are available on the property. There should be one a washer and dryer for every 10 residents.
- Ask if the landlord provides other services, such as landscaping, window cleaning, or additional storage.
- Find out how deliveries are handled.
Before moving in, and to prevent future conflicts or frustrations, make sure you and your roommate(s) have a mutual understanding of your living expectations and responsibilities. You and your roommate should:
- Confirm any financial agreements before moving in. Decide how monthly bills (utilities, rent, etc.) will be divided and who is responsible for making sure the bill is paid. Keep track of who paid deposits for different utilities.
- Be careful about sharing expenses for things like refrigerators or furniture. (What will happen when one or more roommates move out?)
- Discuss the division of household duties. A cleaning schedule (dividing chores daily or weekly) is an effective way to do this.
- Talk about groceries and sharing food. Often, roommates will agree that everyone is responsible for their own grocery shopping, and food is generally not shared.
- Respect each other’s privacy and belongings. If you break something- offer to replace it.
- Be considerate of noise levels. For example, if you’re a night-owl and your roommate is not, you may want to lower the volume on your all-night T.V. movie marathon.