By BIANCA LOPEZ
Maybe it’s the freedom, maybe it’s the pricing, maybe it’s the recent change in the housing policy, whatever the reason, off-campus housing has it’s fair share of enticing features. While flirting with the idea of personal bathrooms, pet adoptions, real kitchens, and detachment from the long arm of the UT administration, it is easy to overlook the work that goes into moving off-campus.
So before you say au revoir to your dorm room and the twin-xl bed sheets you’ve had since freshman year, make sure you know the proper steps to take so you can feel confident in your decision to trade in your RA for a landlord.
Is Off-Campus Housing for You?
Do you get up at a reasonable hour? Are you willing to walk, drive, bike or bus to classes? Are you accountable for adult responsibilities like, dare I say, bills? Will you continue to be involved on campus?
While not deal-breakers, these are a few things to keep under consideration. Living off campus, regardless of proximity, can separate students from the campus community and social activities. Also, many apartment options force students to sit through traffic before classes or leave much earlier to make it to class on time. While this may not seem like a big deal, it is a stark contrast from taking five minutes to walk from your bed to your seat in class. Even still, Vice President for Operations and Planning Linda Devine claims that upperclassmen often choose to live off campus because they are at a different point in their lives than they were when they started at UT.
“[Upperclassmen living off campus] makes sense, as they have mastered the collegiate rhythms, developed skills to navigate campus and Tampa, and are focusing on graduate work, career readiness, and general ‘life after UT’ skills,” Devine said. “As students become more immersed in major studies, their needs and wants change.”
These “needs and wants” are important to think about when considering off-campus housing. Ask yourself: how could you personally could benefit from moving into an off-campus apartment?
Dana Kuchta, a junior allied health major with a concentration in medical science, currently lives off campus, however, last semester she lived in Jenkins hall.
“I decided I wanted to move off campus way before this whole housing ordeal came about,” Kuchta said. “For starters, on-campus housing is way more expensive than some off-campus apartments. Another reason being I am a picky eater and I do not enjoy campus food, I find myself eating more and more off campus because I can’t find something I like to eat. Also, I hate all of the annoying students I have to live with who scream at two in the morning down the hallway, the walls are paper thin and it distracts me.”
Joe Wynn, off-campus coordinator for UT, reminds students that because everyone is different, everyone will have their own reasons for living off campus and, thus, look for different things when selecting housing options.
If you think off-campus housing is for you, check out The University of Tampa Off-Campus Housing Resources Facebook page.
Money, Money, Money. Ain’t it funny.
The first step is to sit down with your prime financial investor (Maybe it’s a parent. But if it is you, kudos; it’ll be a lonely sit down, maybe bring a mirror). Now it’s time to crunch some numbers- exciting, I know.
Wynn suggests giving yourself at least a month or two set aside to research apartment options.
“If [renters] plan ahead months in advance, start saving money towards the deposit, start asking around how much stuff costs, it makes for a better experience,” Wynn said. “I think when people are rushed to do stuff last minute, that’s when it gets stressful.”
A good place to start is by drawing two columns on a paper writing out what you are currently paying for your on-campus housing first. For the rows, factor in meal swipes, average amount spent eating off campus, laundry, cable, wifi, transportation, utilities and just about every cost you can think of. Now, for every apartment you look into, you can fill out that second row to compare prices. Keep in mind, the numbers shown on websites are not always the most accurate and they typically do not include things like cable, wifi and utilities like on-campus housing does.
Here is an example comparing a single in Straz or Palm (4 bedrooms) with a 3 bedroom apartment in Vintage Lofts, a popular choice for nonresidential students:
|Costs:||Straz/Palm (4 bedroom single/ 1 bath)||Vintage Lofts (3 bedroom apartment/2 bath)|
|Baseline Cost||$8,376(per person cost for fall and spring semesters = approx. 7 months)||$9,128 (approx. per person cost for 12 month lease)|
*Meals, laundry and transportation offer too much variability. Information found on udr.com and ut.edu.
Wynn insists that determining the minimum and maximum you are willing to spend on rent is essential before continuing through your search. Wynn also reminds students that off-campus housing includes fees such as application fees, a deposit and/or security deposit. For students that are unemployed, decide if you are using a co-signer.
Many UT students rely heavily on financial aid such as the need-based aid that the school calculates for each student based on how much they expect the student to be able to pay. Housing changes can affect this need-based aid, so contact your financial aid counselor before canceling your on-campus housing.
You may have thought the roommate thing would be over and done with as soon as you left your dorm behind. However, despite the possible annoyance of another person or other people sharing your space, having roommates can dramatically cut down on costs and keep you from turning into the full-on-hermit/Netflix-zombie you would become by living on your own. Don’t even try to say you wouldn’t.
Wynn has many options for those seeking off-campus roommates, including roommate fairs throughout the year posted on both the Facebook page and UT’s website. Interested students can also request access to the UT Off-Campus Roommate or the USF/HCC/UT Apartment- Roommate Request/Sublease groups on Facebook.
Wynn offers Roommate Profiles that you can fill out explaining your preferences on cleanliness, cooking, studying, smoking, drinking, entertaining, sleeping, dating and even music preferences.
As a safety precaution, do not exchange personal information with potential roommates and be sure to have your initial meeting in a public area.
Make a list with your roommate(s) of the things you absolutely cannot live without for an apartment in order of importance. For some people, having separate bedrooms and/or bathrooms is a must, others are willing to share to pinch pennies. Decide if you need complimentary parking, wifi and laundry on-site. How close or far are you willing to be in relation to campus? Do you need to bring Fido along, or do you want to avoid a place that allows pets? Do you prefer the quiet crowd or the party people? Do you need to live south of campus?
There is no perfect place, so be prepared to settle on a few of your preferences but try not to settle when it comes to your top three.
Talk to the landlord, a lot. Write down questions about rent, roommates, security, crime rates, rent periods and paying for utilities. Go to Wynn for a full list of questions to ask landlords and ask trusted friends and family members that have rented if they have any additional suggestions.
The Hillsborough County Renters Resource Guide reminds renters: “Before you move in, do a walk-through with your landlord. Check off any damage and imperfections and take pictures and/or video. Put the findings in writing, and make your landlord sign.”
If you appear well-versed when approaching a landlord, they will take you more seriously instead of passing you off as just another college student.
“Approach the situation in a professional manner,” Wynn said. “Then it’s [the landlord’s] job to impress you and not the other way around.”
Leases can be daunting, especially if you have never really signed contracts before. Wynn suggests having a lawyer or trusted friend or family member that is well-versed with leases look over everything before your pen touches the dotted line.
Ask questions about the lease- check if there are shorter lease options for people who will not be staying in town over the summer, ask about subletting, lease obligations, guarantees, escalator clauses and lease termination.
“Don’t sign the lease until you’re satisfied with everything,” Wynn said. “A lot of people try to rush into it.”
Hopefully you feel a bit more secure in your search. Of course, there is so much more information out there. Please reach out to Joe Wynn at JWYNN@ut.edu to learn more about off-campus housing.