Why Live Off Campus?
Living off-campus offers students a bit more independence and requires a bit more resourcefulness than living on campus. However, history has shown that living off-campus is a valuable learning experience that complements the academic learning experience of these students.
Choosing to live off campus is a decision that will have an impact on your college experience, especially if it is the first time. The appeal of living on your own is enhanced by the opportunities it presents for more privacy and more personal space as well as a greater sense of freedom. However, it is important to identify and understand the responsibilities that come with living off campus and to be prepared to handle a wide range of added tasks, such as cooking, cleaning, paying bills and managing your new residence called "home".
Determining Your Needs
Selecting a place to live is fun, exciting, and sometimes, a difficult and overwhelming experience for first time renters. As a prospective tenant, you should seek advice from those who may have experienced some of the same problems before you and don't be afraid to ask questions of your landlord. It is your right!
Before you begin your housing search it is important to determine your needs and what you can afford. You should consider the following:
Here are some questions that can be helpful in determining your needs:
- How much can I afford to pay for rent and utilities each month?
- Do I want to live alone or with roommates?
- Do I want to live in a single room, apartment or house?
- Do you want a unit that is furnished or unfurnished?
- Do I need to live within walking distance or do I have reliable transportation to the university?
- Do I need a place to park my vehicle?
Where and When to Look
Once you have decided what your needs are, it is time to begin your search. START EARLY, the sooner you start, the more likely you'll find what you need and want. Students already living off-campus are often your best resource when searching for housing. Usually through word of mouth, you can find out what the landlords and the housing units are really like. And remember to ask all kinds of questions about costs, noise, living conditions, etc.
There are a number of rental units available in the University area and many ways in which you can search for them. Listings for off-campus housing can be found by going to the Off Campus Housing website.
Kutztown University, through the Office of Off Campus Student Life maintains a website that lists available housing. This listing is provided on a voluntary basis by the landlords and is updated regularly. The site list what utilities are provided and lease specifics, available for the perusal of interested students. The University does not approve, recommend or regulate off campus housing. It does require that landlords sign a Fair Housing statement guaranteeing that they do not discriminate in renting to any individual. However, if you have a hard time with a landlord, and if his refusal to rent to you appears to be because of your gender, race or religion, or sexual preference, he is breaking the law. If this is the case contact the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD)- 800-669-9777.
Other sources for finding student housing includes bulletin boards--on and off campus; newspapers (The Kutztown Patriot, Reading Eagle, East Penn Valley Merchandise, Allentown Morning Call); friends and classmates who have or are renting area and the Off-Campus Student Housing Fair that is held during the fall semester in McFarland Student Union. Area landlords, property managers, real estate managers plus representatives from the Borough's Code Enforcement Office, Kutztown Police and Fire Departments, and various neighborhood associations are on hand to answer questions and share information with students.
When looking at rentals, you should take notes and ask questions. And while you are looking, check for safety concerns such as locks on doors and windows, working smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, exterior lighting, etc. Parking in town is always an issue. Examine the amount of parking available in your area. Be sure you are aware of the on-street parking regulations that you are expected to abide by.
Lastly, before you sign any lease, ask to see a copy of the landlord's housing license. If they can't produce one, call the Kutztown Borough office to confirm it is a legal rental unit. If you lease an unlicensed unit, you will soon have to find a new apartment -- a difficult task you don't want to encounter during the middle of a semester.
So now you've found a place that you like and it is available. Your next step is to talk to the landlord and review the lease.
A lease is a legally binding agreement that outlines rights and responsibilities of both the landlord and the tenant. The lease details rules by which landlords and tenants agree to handle matters arising under the agreement. A written lease gives you the most protection under the law. The majority of leases in the University area are for a full calendar year. In addition, most leases require that each tenant is responsible for the entire amount of the rent. Therefore, if one of your roommates fails to pay the month's rent, you may be held responsible for paying the entire amount of the rent for that month. Before signing a lease, make sure you understand it and agree to the terms listed in it. You might want to consult a lawyer to review the lease for you BEFORE you sign it.
Important Things to Look for in a Lease
Standard clauses in a lease include:
- Names and addresses of all parties involved.
- The amount of rent, when it is due, and if there are late fees.
- The beginning and ending dates of the lease, and how much the security deposit is.
- Who is responsible for paying utilities (e.g., heat, hot water, electric, gas, phone, and cable).
- Whether or not pets are allowed.
- Who is responsible for repairs and maintenance. (Sometimes luxury items like dishwashers are not the responsibility of the landlord to fix.)
- Who is responsible for disposing of trash, cutting grass, and shoveling snow.
- Limits on persons allowed in the rental unit (living or visiting)
- Is off-street parking provided?
Do not rent a place, sign a lease or pay any rent without first inspecting it thoroughly. Sometimes you are required to put some money down to hold a place until the paperwork is finalized. Make sure you get a receipt and a signed statement saying you will get a full refund if the rental unit is found unsuitable. Before moving in, inspect the apartment with the landlord present. Make a complete list of all problems and previous damages.
Before signing any lease, be sure that you are satisfied with the apartment, services provided by the landlord, and the security of the unit.
If There is More Than One Roommate Signing...
Even if you are moving in with one or more persons, if at all possible AVOID signing a lease with your roommate. Signing one contract with others makes you responsible for the entire amount of rent as well as any damages or any breech made by any roommates signing with you. Request a separate lease covering the amount of your rent only
Be sure to get receipts for deposits and cash payments for rent. Keep all cancelled checks and receipts for your records.
- Read before you sign
- Leave no blank spaces on a lease
- Keep a copy of the lease that has been signed by other parties.
A security deposit is money which actually belongs to the tenant but protects landlords against damage beyond normal wear and tear, provides a remedy for unpaid rent, and funds clean up of the rental, if necessary. Almost every landlord will require you to pay a security deposit in addition to your first monthâ€™s rent before you move in. A security deposit can be anywhere from one to two times your monthly rent, and will depend on your landlord.
During the first year of a lease, the amount of a security deposit cannot exceed two months rent.
At the beginning of the second year of a lease, a landlord cannot retain a security deposit of more than one month's rent.
At the beginning of the third year of a lease, the landlord must put any security deposit over $100.00 in an interest bearing bank account, unless the landlord obtains a bond.
A tenant who occupies a unit or dwelling for two more years in entitled to interest on his security deposit, beginning with the 25th month of occupancy. The landlord most give you the interest earned by the account (minus a 1 % fee which the landlord may retain for his costs) at the end of the third and each subsequent year of tenancy.
To have your security deposit refunded, make sure you do not damage anything in the property that you cannot fix yourself! Give the landlord a forwarding address and return the keys to the property. Within 30 days after you move out, the landlord must either return the security deposit or send you a list of damages, the cost of repairs, and any money remaining from the security deposit.
If the landlord does not provide a written list of damages within 30 days, he may not keep any part of the security deposit. You may then sue to recover the deposit without the landlord being able to raise any defense.
If within 30 days, the landlord fails to pay the tenant the difference between the security deposit and the actual damages to the property, the landlord is liable for double the amount by which the security deposit exceeds the actual damages to the property.
If you are experiencing any landlord-tenant problems, you can contact the Community Development Office in Kutztown at (610) 683-3290, or contact the Bureau of Consumer Protection at 1 800-441-2555.
--Adapted from the Bureau of Consumer Protection Booklet (2008).
Subleasing occurs when a tenant rents the apartment to a third party (subtenant). The subtenant is responsible to the tenant for performing all obligations set forth in the sublease agreement, and the tenant for performing all obligations set forth in the original lease agreement. This means that finding a subtenant does not release you from your obligations under the original lease. For example, if the subtenant does not pay his or her rent, you remain responsible for the amount due. Before you negotiate a sublease agreement, you must be sure that you are entitled to do so under your lease.
The Borough of Kutztown as well as surrounding townships, has very extensive housing codes. If you should want a complete copy of the ordinance, contact the Borough of Kutztown's Community Development Office at 324 W. Main Street. If for any reason you feel that these ordinances are being violated, you should contact the Borough Code Enforcement Office at 683-3290. They will take whatever steps necessary to bring the property up to habitable conditions. For those living in Maxatawny Township, the housing inspector can be contacted by calling 610-683-6518.