House Rules

House Rules
Tips for first-time renting, living off campus
Published: Thursday, February 23, 2012
By Sam Baker

Whether you are a sophomore thinking about living off campus, a junior or senior trying to wise up about living off campus, or even a freshman who cannot help but dream about living off campus, this list of tips about moving off-campus can help you start thinking about plans for next year.

Finding a House

Looking for a rental unit may feel overwhelming, especially when dealing with school, work, extracurriculars and figuring out summer plans. Luckily, both Macalester and St. Thomas have websites with housing specifically for college students and in the Macalester-Groveland area.

Going through these options, students may want to think about limiting factors that can help narrow their search. How many people will be living in the house? When does the lease start? Will students need to find summer subletters or subletters while studying abroad? Would they rather be subletters themselves before or after going abroad?

After having narrowed down the search results and contacting landlords, it is helpful to come up with a list of questions for the landlord and current residents for the showing.

Some questions are better directed toward the residents to get their perspective. For example: How is the landlord? Is the landlord quick to respond to issues? Are there pest problems in the house? What is the average cost of utilities? How are the neighbors? Since only four people can sign a lease, does the landlord care if more than four live in the house?

Other questions may be better directed to the landlord since he or she will be enforcing regulations regarding the house. How many rooms are legal bedrooms (up to code) in the house/apartment? What is the process with having subletters? What utilities are included in the rent? What storage spaces are open to renters for use? Who is responsible for lawn care and shoveling snow? Keep in contact with the landlord if interested in renting the space. It is also a good idea to see multiple properties in order have some comparison of what houses and apartments in the area can offer. Remember that the landlord will likely require at least part of the security deposit when signing the lease.

Julia Eagles from Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) advised students to think about the energy factor of each property considered. When looking at an apartment, depending on what type of sunlight it gets, which floor it is on, and how many other apartments surround it, heating costs can vary. She suggested checking out the heating and cooling systems, appliances and water fixtures to see how up-to-date they are in energy saving capabilities. She recommended calling Xcel Energy to ask for the average high and low bill before signing a lease.

Signing the Lease

Residential Life Associate Director Peg Olson advised students to get their parents involved with reading the lease if they are first time renters.

Dean of Students Jim Hoppe has similar advice for students. “Make sure you are wary of your lease,” he said. “Have it checked out for what the landlord is going to be responsible for, what you are going to be responsible for.” He said to pay particular attention to the terms of getting the deposit back after the lease ends.

Resources such as Homeline (see others in the resource section) can be helpful to students trying to wade through some of the information regarding renters’ rights. The Office of Student Affairs has copies of the Homeline Tenant’s Rights Book for students interested in learning more.

Be sure to read through the full lease before signing, as this is a long-term commitment and leases can be difficult to break.

Moving In

Olson said that students should look into purchasing renters’ insurance before moving into a new rental unit, as landlords almost never cover personal property. In case of fire, theft or other liabilities, it is a good idea to invest in renters’ insurance to cover personal belongings especially considering that it ranges from just $10 to $25 per month on average, depending on how much the renter wishes to insure. Olson also recommended that students check with their parents’ insurance policy to see if they are already covered under parental insurance, though this is less common.

Students should start thinking about other necessary purchases to be made for a new house. Furniture is often one of the biggest expenses. If moving furniture from a childhood home is not a possibility or parents are not willing to give up that bedroom set, there are other possibilities. Talking to the current renters is often a fruitful endeavor if they plan to move and decide to leave certain pieces of furniture. After this, filling in furniture gaps can be done inexpensively with a trip to Goodwill or Savers. Consider rummage sales in the area that will start popping up as the weather gets warm. Taking walks or bike rides around the Mac-Groveland area around May 31/June 1 may be helpful, as many St. Thomas, St. Katherine’s and Macalester students leave out old furniture for garbage pick-up.

Smaller purchases when moving in, such as small kitchen appliances, dishes, vacuums, cleaners and fans can be a point of stress as they add up, so making a list prior to moving and saving up ahead of time as a household can be helpful. If looking to save money, consider alternatives like homemade cleaning products (better for the environment, too!).

Another purchase to consider, particularly if housemates are storing their belongings for the summer or if the house has particularly dry conditions in the winter, is the investment in dehumidifiers and humidifiers. If basement or attic spaces are muggy and damp, a dehumidifier can help save stored clothes and furniture from accumulating mold and mildew.

Living Off Campus

Okay, this is it. After a fabulous summer internship or semester abroad, finally moving into that first house or apartment can be exciting. You may feel free at last and like an adult in every sense, but that annoying reminder from parent—that more freedom means more responsibility—has never been more applicable.

“Some people find that living off campus isn’t as cheap as they thought it would be. I think it can be inexpensive, but … it’s an art to manage that,” said Hoppe. “If you try to live off campus as you do on campus, you might find that it costs you just as much, if not more.”

Gordie Starr ’13 said that he wishes he had known that “making a kitchen feel full is expensive” before moving off campus, but that one of his favorite ways of saving money is “dumpster diving at Breadsmith.”

It is important to remember that living off campus requires more time commitments and thus better time management. While maybe not the biggest concern of living off-campus, students should think about how to fit in grocery shopping, cleaning, and possible lawn care into their schedules. Another adjustment for students living off-campus is the transition from on-campus dorm socializing to potentially hosting off-campus parties. Hoppe said that Macalester has a good relationship with the community, but at times especially notorious party houses can get on neighbors’ nerves, and regardless of the turnover of renters, neighbors finally get too frustrated with noisy houses and file complaints.

“Lots of folks, I think, want to move off campus to avoid some of the restrictions of being on campus,” Hoppe said.

“There’s just the same types of restrictions often off campus.” “A St. Paul police officer coming to your door, [is] very different than an RA,” Olson said.

Students should be aware of the Social Host Ordinance in St. Paul that makes it a misdemeanor for hosting any gathering where individuals under 21 possess or consume alcohol, regardless of where they obtained it. The “social host(s)” does not need to be present at the party to be criminally responsible; they just need to be knowledgeable of the event. Consequences of this ordinance can include up to 90 days in jail and/or $1000 in fines per person responsible.

“It’s hard for neighbors to distinguish that houses turn over every year, and really, they don’t care,” said Hoppe. He explained that even though four out of five complaints about properties close to Macalester do not actually involve Macalester students, from the neighborhood perspective, it can be assumed that Macalester students are responsible.

Hoppe reminds students that for some community members, “past nine o’clock is considered late.”

To avoid having to deal with such a situation, students living off campus can take a few precautions. First, establish a good relationship with neighbors. Renters can introduce themselves when they move in and provide phone numbers to be contacted at in case of a noise complaint. This can ensure that neighbors talk to the renters first rather than immediately resorting to contacting the police. It may also be wise to let neighbors know about planned parties beforehand so they are not surprised by excess noise.

At the party, be sure to know all of the guests coming into the house; this is also a safety precaution, as Macalester students have had items stolen from their buildings while hosting parties. Make sure people stay in the house rather than congregating noisily outside the building. This is especially important in warmer weather when neighbors’ windows are open.

“Don’t make a Facebook group if you don’t want other people to invite other friends,” said Bo Scarim ’13.

Lastly, if a party becomes too noisy or crowded, send people home. Hoppe said, “One of the hardest decisions you sometimes have to make is, ‘OK, this is starting to get out of hand, so I’m going to end my party.’ Unfortunately, that’s often the only choice you have.”

“Overall, we really do have a pretty good relationship with the St. Paul police,” Hoppe said. “It just may not feel like it at 2 a.m. on Saturday morning.” The consequences of getting in trouble as a “social host” should be reflected upon before hosting that first party of the semester.

Many aspects of living off campus just take a bit of common sense and reflection. Figuring out what works for one student as opposed to another may take a bit of trial and error, but it should not be a difficult endeavor if thought about ahead of time.

“Most people make an adjustment just fine,” Hoppe said.

The Office of Student affairs is planning upcoming outreach, such as monthly off-campus newsletters, a housing fair in March and a panel discussion from current seniors about what they wish they had known before moving off campus.

Most importantly, figure out a lifestyle that enables you to enjoy living off campus, because as Olson noted, “Someday everybody is going to live off campus.”