How to land off-campus housing

Austin Walker
Staff Writer

There’s plenty of reasons that somebody may have for wanting to live off-campus. They can find a cheaper option than the upper class dorms, they don’t have to abide by the rules of the dorms, and they can customize the space however they’d like.

The first step is choosing the style of living the students wish to achieve. Those who are looking for roommates in Richmond can can make and view postings on VCU Facebook pages, Craigslist, or through VCU’s Off-Campus Housing website.

Selecting a roommate or roommates for off-campus living requires different questions than you may have had for an on-campus dorm. Is this person going to be able to pay rent monthly? Will you split the costs of utilities? Do you trust that they won’t damage the property and make you pay the costs? Do you trust that person to secure all of your belongings while you’re not around?

The next step is to begin looking for a space. There are many properties available near the campus, but spaces here can be highly competitive. Students that either bike or drive to classes every day are going to have a lot more options.

However far from campus students choose to go, VCU has established a service which aids students in finding property. Offcampus.housing.vcu.edu is their website which allows students to customize the parameters of their search. Some of the important ones include:

Lease length: This is usually either 12-month or 9-month. This is important because signing on to a 12-month lease means paying for the property over summer break and living in Richmond during that time, or subletting. Those who plan on leaving over the break and returning to look for new housing should look for a 9-month lease.

Price: This can range anywhere from $500 to $2000 per month, depending on the number of bedrooms. Divide this number by the amount of people who’d be signing onto the lease, and then add utilities if they’re not already included.

Bedroom number: This ranges from studio all the way up to five bedrooms. If sharing the property with more than the amount of bedrooms on the listing, it’s important to make sure that the landlord allows that amount of people on the lease. Doing this can also save a substantial amount of money, and can get the price of the  lease below $400-per-month.

Building type: Students can choose between getting a house or apartment, and everything in-between. This is really a matter of preference, as there’s a healthy mixture of both around the VCU Campus. Because a lot of the apartments near campus are located on or near Broad Street, the prices can often be higher than expected. Houses typically offer more bedrooms, which is good for larger groups looking to all split the bill. One problem is their tendency to have lower security when compared to dorm-style or apartment living.

For students, the search for off-campus housing should begin as soon as possible. All of the above things should be taken into consideration, and tenants should be wholly confident before committing and signing a lease.

Often, realtors will ask for a security deposit before allowing anyone to move into the space. These are often the first month’s rent, but can also just be a fee that’s completely unrelated and can’t be waived.

Some landlords will provide utilities to residents, including water, electricity, heating, and air conditioning. To find out whether or not a property offers any of those, it’s best to contact the owner and ask.

Once students find a space that seems promising within their price-range and looks good in photographs, the next step is to see it in person. If there aren’t any open-house events that to attend, anyone can usually schedule a tour with the property owner at no cost. If they’re generally unwilling or resistant to showing the space before committing, that should raise a red flag.

Once a lease is signed, future tenants are going to have to wait until the property is vacated before they’re allowed to move in. Depending on the timing, this can be a month before classes for the Fall 2015 semester begin. If this is the case, they can either move their items in and return home until classes, or live in Richmond until then.

Living off-campus requires much more responsibility in maintaining a living space. it’s important to establish an open communication with landlords. They control rates, which utilities are provided, and can help with many issues tenants might run into on their property.

At the end of a lease, tenants will be given the option to renew. If they choose to do this, they won’t be forced to vacate the space and can continue to live there. Otherwise, they may leave and choose a different place to live for the following academic year.

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