Students face off-campus responsibilities


Renting an off-campus house for the first time next year?

Due to limited on-campus housing as well as other reasons, thousands of students will move off campus next year, and most will be renting for the first time. Although off-campus housing offers more freedom, students who live off campus may not realize they will be facing more responsibility.

"Everything ... was already set up for you in the [residence halls]. That is not the case off campus," said Rutgers Off-Campus Housing Service assistant, Stephen Mamay, a Rutgers college sophomore, in regards to cable and Internet services.

He said students would also have to plan for meals and budget their finances. Still, he said, moving off campus is a good experience for students because it helps them learn how to deal with stress.

"It's nice to have your own place to go to ... It's a step toward moving out of your parents' [house]," Mamay said.

To help ease the transition for first-time renters, staff members from the OCHS and students currently living off campus offered advice on finding a comfortable living situation in New Brunswick.

Thi Dinh, the OCHS student supervisor, said students may underestimate the need for a good relationship with their housemates.

"If it's [your] first time moving ... make sure you get along with your friends," said Dinh, citing that disputes are one of the most common reasons students seek assistance from OCHS.

Jessica Fong, a Rutgers college senior, also said it was important to choose roommates carefully. Fong, who lives on Bartlett Street, found her roommates through the organization Campus Crusade for Christ.

"I would be very careful about picking your roommate," Fong said. "I know a lot of people are getting desperate this time of year, but the decision you make now will be with you for the rest of the year."

Rutgers College senior Justine Hardie said she was hesitant to move into a triple, a room she shares with two of Fong's housemates, but is now glad she did. Seven women currently share two bathrooms, but Hardie said there hasn't been too much drama.

"We pretty much have an open communication," Hardie said.

She said she and her roommates divide the household duties each week with a chore list.

Dinh said OCHS has a co-tenant agreement contract on their Web site which students making the jump can sign with their roommates. Housemates can use the contract to delegate responsibility and come to an agreement about finances before moving in together. She said it is a good idea to work these details out before moving in to prevent problems in the future.

Due to years of students struggling to find available apartments and houses, the OCHS Web site also offers a listing service where people can search listings for them. Students can also find housing on RentRU.com or in the paper.

Before visiting apartments or houses, roommates may want to discuss which accommodations will be most beneficial to all parties in terms of space, parking, location and basic amenities.

Dinh said some students prefer apartment complexes because they are more like a residence hall setting. Apartment complexes often have maintenance people on the property at all times. She said some students also like having other residents nearby.

Many students who prefer a quieter setting, she said, move to the Birchwood Terrace Apartments. She said others prefer to live close to Easton Avenue because of the activity or on one of the side streets near College Avenue because of its proximity to many classes.

"[The Birchwood Terrace Apartments] seem pretty nice and they are pretty inexpensive, but I personally wouldn't want to walk that far to class," Mamay said.

He said he does not want to walk more than a few minutes to class each day.

Despite the distance, apartment complexes generally offer tenants off-street parking. When deciding on location, students with cars may want to consider parking, which is limited both on and off campus. Parking near classes is primarily limited to parking meters or spaces reserved for people with permits issued by either the University or the city.

"With the parking issue, they don't have a lot of off-street parking," Dinh said about many of the houses in the city.

She said students could go to the parking authority and get parking passes. The passes enable students to park within the ward they reside.

Besides parking, Fong recommends people look for residences that include laundry machines because of the hassle of using the city's laundromats. Many landlords install washers and dryers, but some are coin-operated.

After narrowing down the choices, roommates should visit living spaces that best meet their needs.

"Basically when you are looking at the house, make sure to inspect it yourself and make sure it's secure," Dinh said.

She said prospective tenants should make sure to check the residence's security features, such as locks on doors and windows. Dinh said students should check for fire detectors and carbon monoxide detectors when visiting the apartment.

The OCHS Web site offers students a home security checklist as well as a fire safety checklist, which Mamay said students should bring with them when they visit apartments.

Mamay said students should check to make sure appliances such as the stove are working correctly as well as for overall cleanliness.

Students should also look into showers, refrigerators and other damp places for mold and check for water pressure. Dihn also said tenants should make note of pre-existing damages.

"We do recommend taking pictures, just in case you get blamed for something that was already broken," Dihn said.

Most landlords will ask for a security deposit, and damages incurred during a resident's stay will be deducted from the deposit. Dihn said landlords are not legally allowed to ask for a deposit which exceeds a month and a half's rent.

She also said students should factor in utilities when looking at apartments. Heating bills can cost hundreds of dollars, especially during the winter months. Dinh said, if possible, students should ask current residents how much they spend.

Mamay said possible renters should also ask the landlord about subletting apartments during the summer. Most leases are a year long, and many start in June. Students who do not plan to be around in the summer often sublet their rooms to others who plan on taking summer courses.

Students should ask the landlord how he or she feels about this and whether it would be the tenant's responsibility to collect the rent during those months, Mamay said.

Dinh had one final word of advice for students after they have chosen a space.

"Always, always, always sign a lease and get a copy of it," Dinh said.


Michelle Cerone

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