Some people prefer living in a large apartment complex and some feel happier in a room, in a private home or a small apartment building under individual management. The novice apartment resident who doesn't want to worry about heat, light, parking and repair bills may do better at the large units near campus that rent exclusively to university students. No one can guarantee how efficient the management will be about repairing a broken washing machine or shoveling snow off the sidewalk in winter, but you'll still have certain built-in advantages. These buildings offer an easy way to make friends. They are located within walking distance from campus, the buildings are fairly new, they're furnished and they contain their own laundry facilities, garbage disposals and other assorted conveniences.
If you're more experienced or adventurous, you may be interested in renting a room or an apartment in one of the many large complexes adjacent to the university. Three or four students can go together and share the expenses and responsibilities. This way you live like any other group of private citizen.
Many people rent rooms in private homes. This is often the least expensive answer to the question of where to live. Your landlord lives in the same house and so he assumes the cost if the plumbing has to be fixed and he replaces the screens with storm windows in the winter. People can afford to live alone (without three roommates to help pay the rent) in a private home and, yet, there are other people in the house in the case of a personal emergency.
The least common possibility is for two students (in Slippery Rock, the law says not more than two) to rent a house and live like a family unit. Be prepared to take on the responsibilities for everything from feeding the furnace to cutting the lawn and shoveling snow.
There are good and bad points about each type of living situation. It's really a personal thing.
When and How
If you're planning your move in the Fall, it wouldn't hurt to start looking during the previous winter. This is the time to begin asking friends and even enemies, how they like living at their present address. Word of mouth is still the best salesman and it's probably the most accurate way of knowing what a landlord is really like. Ask all kinds of questions about cost, living conditions, noise, size, etc. If you really want a particular place (like Boyd House, for instance), get your name on their waiting list--the sooner, the better!! The older apartments and single houses are generally inherited by those who belong to the right sorority of fraternity, or through generations of friends. So if you know someone who is living in a place you like, act fast and use a lot of charm and persuasion.
Though word of mouth is the best source of information, the Residence Life in Rhoads Hall maintains a listing of off-campus housing. The list gives the name, address and telephone number of the landlord. It tells the type of facility to be rented and gives the approximate rental fee. The housing on this list has not been checked or approved by the university; it simply is a list of convenient places whose landlords have signed a non-discrimination statement.
Once you've found the place you intend to rent, there are a few important things to do before you go any further. First, make sure you read the following section of this page on leases and contracts so that you can understand what you're getting into. If you enjoy research, get a copy of How to Live Cheap But Good, by Martin Poris. It costs $6.95 in hardback and $3.95 in paperback. This book has a number of practical suggestions for anyone who is living on a tight budget.
If you have a hard time finding a landlord who will rent to you, or if any individual landlord flatly refuses you housing because you're a student or because you are the wrong race, sex or religion, call the Butler Human Relations Commission or the Slippery Rock University Office of Residence Life.
The next step is to talk to your perspective landlord. Take the time to ask specific questions like:
*How long must you live there? If the lease run for 12 months rather than 9, may you sublet the apartment over the summer?
*What are the policies on deposit and refund?
*Are pets allowed?
*Who pays the utility bills?
*Is parking space provided and do you pay extra for it?
*Are there rules governing the tenant's conduct? (Like entertaining the opposite sex or throwing beer parties) If there are written rules, be sure to obtain a copy and read them before signing the lease.
*Who repairs malfunctioning equipment -- you or the landlord?
*What painting and decorating are you allowed to do in the apartment?
Inspection of Off-Campus Facilities
A thorough inspection of any living facility, which a student is contemplating renting, is certainly necessary before signing the lease. Living facilities should be judged, in part, by the extent to which they conform with, and do not violate, the housing laws designed to protect tenants. It is of "prime" importance that a tenant make a written survey of damages and needed repairs, before occupying the living facility, to present to the manager or owner for written verification and commitment to repair.
Choosing Roommates When Living Off-Campus
Selecting your roommate or roommates is an important matter. Since you want to enjoy your apartment, not just endure it, choose your roommates carefully. Here are some topics for discussion with prospective roommates that might save you a lot of unhappiness in the long run. Communication is the key to success. Irritation with roommates focused on the topics below is somewhat preventable with discussion prior to moving in. Misunderstandings are still likely to occur and can be resolved only if you take the risk of communicating your discomfort and concern to your roommate.
NOTE: Feelings of disaffection with roommates while centered around issues of finances, food, etc., may have more to do with concerns regarding the quality of your friendship. Sudden changes in relationships can often occur as a result of developing romantic interests which change time priorities and often leave other roommates feeling somewhat deserted. Expecting your roommate to cool his/her romantic entanglement to spend more time with you, although a natural reaction, is unreasonable and unworkable. A more viable alternative is to expand your own social contacts, commitments, and activities.
Standards of cleanliness - sloppy and dirty are not the same thing. Will everyone be responsible for cleaning up after themselves? Will a schedule for cleaning common areas be needed? What standards has everyone been used to?
Food - are you going to be sharing food or eating meals together? Will you be sharing cooking, shopping. clean-up responsibilities? This item often turns into a source of contention between roommates.
Habits and preferences - what kind of study habits do you have? Can you study while others are watching TV or listening to music? What kind of noise level are your prepared to live with? How is partying and entertaining going to affect you? Are you a night or day person?
Consider general attitudes about alcohol, drugs, and cohabitation. Are parties OK? Where do you stand on overnight guests? Is everyone willing to compromise.
Emotional style - are you fairly independent or must you have the company of others to be happy? Are you moody? What degree of privacy do you require? Will you be able to stand up for yourself when things get tense in the apartment?
Borrowing - another very important thing to consider is borrowing; borrowing items of clothing, food, personal items, books, records, cars, etc. Items borrowed that are returned late or in bad condition can become a sore spot among roommates.
Finances - what standard of living is each group member accustomed to? How much can you afford to pay for rent, phone bills, utilities, etc.? Will there be anyone coordinating payment of the bills. Will everyone be able to pay bills on time? Be aware of the matter of joint liability. Many students take for granted that when they sign a lease, they are only responsible for their share of the rent. If everyone signs a separate lease, each individual will be responsible for their share; however, if you and your roommate(s) sign one lease, all parties are responsible. With a joint lease, if one person moves out, the others must come up with his/her share of the rent.
Final Hints For Living Off-Campus
Inspect the apartment before paying a security deposit. If someone other than the owners shows you the apartment, find out who the landlord is. Talk to the owner to be sure the apartment is really for rent and when it will be available. Find out about parking arrangement if you have a car. If you will be paying for heat, talk with the last tenant, if possible, to find ou the actual monthly heating and utility bills. You may also want to get their opinion of the landlord and/or the agent, and their overall view of the apartment itself.