It’s a new year and students’ schedules are at capacity, but on top of that pressure lies the looming stress of house hunting for fall 2016. Don’t panic yet. Despite what some say, you have plenty of time, and rest assured, you’re not alone. Every student participates in the ritual search for the perfect place. From coordinating roommates, navigating the market and deciphering your lease, it can be overwhelming. So let’s take a breath.
Choose your roommates wisely. Unfortunately, best friends don’t always make the best housemates, and things can get ugly when you realize this the hard way. Just think: Could you see this person every day and not get sick of them? That’s one simple way to gage who you want to live with.
Once you gather your crew, talk about your ideal living situation. Ask yourselves: Would you prefer loud parties or quiet studies? How much space do you want, inside and out? What’s your unit preference: apartments or houses? Desired location? Figure out the must-haves and search criteria. Also outline your budget, and rent is only a portion of it. Students often forget about utility costs, which greatly vary per unit; some places provide everything from heating to internet, and some just cover water.
“You’re in college; if you’re on a budget, you’re not going to get something that nice.” That’s CU student home-owner Maggie Bashford’s voice of reason. Another helpful suggestion: swallow your pride and ask your parents for help.
Start early and ask questions. Bashford says, “we were looking in February, and then in March we saw [the house]…we didn’t sign until April.” She and her six roommates began looking early to find a house with enough rooms for everyone.
Pre-leasing starts as early as September, and landlords ask if current tenants will renew. Towards the end of spring, the market slows down, but since some landlords only require 30 to 60 days notice to move out, places open up for rent in time for the school year.
To aid students, Off-Campus Housing (located in the UMC room 313) hosts two housing fairs on Jan. 20 and Feb. 24. With over 50 landlords set up from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the UMC hosts volumes of helpful information as well as some free pizza for students to pick up. Online, Off-Campus Housing’s website “Ralphie’s List” is a convenient search engine for places to rent.
Once something catches your eye, it’s time for a tour. Susan Barkman, a community outreach coordinator with Off-Campus Housing, guides students on what to look for. Pay attention to the house’s age and energy efficiency. Look at those single-pane windows; appliances and amenities; and estimated utility costs. She implores students to “try to look past whoever is living there,” and to envision the place as your own. Barkman reminds students to ask about policies regarding “lawn care and snow removal and things like that. Those are another group of unanticipated costs that sometimes student don’t think about.”
Don’t let excitement cloud your judgement. Bashford says at a house showing “you miss a lot of parts of it so, take pictures, walk through slow like, really look at everything.”
Location is another deciding factor, so evaluate the different student neighborhoods and what they have to offer.
Where the College Kids Are
Living on Table Mesa Drive, Bashford admits, “sometimes I really wish we were closer, but being far away has so many advantages…I have so much space, and I [can] have my dogs here.”
Plus her bus stop is right down the road, so don’t overlook places farther from campus.
Take your time with this legal document. “Leases tend to be multiple pages long, and sometimes fine print, and many students who are not used to housing situations and business contracts will not read the lease thoroughly and will just go ahead and sign it, figuring it’s probably alright,” says Philip Bienvenu from Student Legal Services.
Read all of it for your own good, and if you’re having trouble, consult a lawyer. Available by appointment Tuesdays and Fridays with Off-Campus Housing, attorney Bruce Sarbaugh offers free legal consultation with student leases. Student Legal Services, though not free, also offers this kind of help.
Boulder zoning laws, usually only allowing three or at most four unrelated people to live together, cause students a lot of grief because everyone breaks this rule. Students often live with five to seven people to split the rent, making it cheaper.
According to Bienvenu, “The landlords are usually making sure that only three or four people sign the lease” so they cannot be blamed for violations. If the city finds out though, “the tenants can be forced to ‘make the place legal,’ which means maybe three or four people will have to find another place to live, and the ones that are left will still be stuck on the lease paying the full amount of rent.”
Avoid this situation by finding trustworthy roommates and maintain positive neighbor relations because they are often the ones reporting student violations of zoning laws. Bashford had this issue, saying “people just feel like they can fake out,” so she had to find replacements in a rush.
Don’t rush into anything. Taking the housing search slowly prevents problems form happening and will result in a harmonious living situation. Be thorough and communicate with everyone involved, and you shouldn’t have a problem.