Avoid the hassle and cost of dorms–move off campus

Imagine this: sitting outside on a sunny day, drinking mimosas and basking in a kiddie pool while Chaka Khan and Rufus’ “Tell Me Something Good” wafts through the air. Your best friends are all around you, everyone is dancing, the day feels endless and just when you think it can’t get any better, someone fires up the barbeque. You are on top of the world.

My point is if you want to have a great sophomore, junior or senior year, rent a house. Not only are the on-campus housing options a financial scam, but there is something degrading about being monitored by an overbearing RA once you’ve survived your first year of binge drinking in the dorms.

Not to mention, paying for your laundry with quarters and having a room number feels like a play version of being an adult with a cramped apartment in New York City. Except, you live in Tacoma. And instead of hearing the rumble of other lives outside your window, your ears will become accustomed to various frat and sorority functions that begin at all sorts of ungodly hours and feature high-pitched screaming and poorly chosen pop songs from two years ago.

Finally, word on the street is that the next incoming class of freshmen will be required to stay on campus for at least two years. The supposed reasoning is that it will help raise GPAs, but we really know that it is in order to force more students to buy overpriced meal plans and spend two years straight going through the humiliation of waiting in the waffle line next to last night’s drunken hook-up. Get out while you can.

So, now that it is established that you should absolutely get an off-campus house, I must give you the bad news that by now it’s too late to get a house that has not recently been occupied by five boys who just discovered where their trash cans are located.

There are two general trends for people living in houses. The lucky ones will move into a house that was recently put on the rental market, they will all get along swimmingly and they will stay there forever. The others will embark on the slow climb up the ladder of hand-me-down houses, beginning with hellholes that have molded over and ending up with a house full of inherited stuff and nice wood floors.

This progression is symbiotically related to your own increasing mastery of the art of taking care of yourself, moving from the “Quesadilla and Overflowing Bathtub” phase to the “Dinner Party and ‘Oh, I just felt like sweeping’ ” phase. No matter what stage you are in, there are two factors you must consider to maximize your experience.

Once you visit a house, it is usually pretty easy to judge if it is livable. There are a few key amenities to watch out for: a dishwasher, a ratio of three housemates to one bathroom, functioning laundry machines, four walls and a door for every bedroom (less common than you would think), working locks and windows and no living things in the walls. Other more luxurious items are thick walls, spacious bedrooms, nice paint and a lack of the ubiquitous poop-brown carpet.

The tricky part, however, is finding a house. For a freshman, it is best if you can find a group of graduating seniors who will leave you their gently used pots, pans, couches and dining room tables. Try to find the houses by word of mouth because usually the houses listed on the Puget Sound website are overpriced. And don’t be shy, if you like the house that you’re partying at, ask the tenants if they’re living in it next year.

Your best resource for judging a house is the current tenants. Ask them about everything: Are the neighbors chill? Is the landlord chill? Are the utility bills chill? But also, observe them critically— do they party? Is their idea of expensive different from yours? Will they leave the house a colossal mess?

The sweet spot for rent is around $400 per person if the house is close to campus. The farther away the house is, the more prices fall. Weigh your options and take into account how willing you’ll be to go to an 8 a.m. class if it takes 20 minutes to get there. Most importantly, look at a lot of houses to get an idea of what would be a good deal.

Once you have settled on a house, it is time to meet the landlord. Dress nicely and be ready to fabricate stories about your academic, professional and hygienic pursuits. After you’ve charmed them sufficiently, find out if utilities are included (sweet) or if the landlord pays them and you pay them along with rent (easy, but suspicious: get copies of the bills) or if you are left on your own to navigate bill paying (hint: do not send cash in the mail.)

Next, ask about the late rent policy; if you space out on the first of the month the penalty can be steep. Finally, be explicit about expectations about getting the security deposit back. Then, after you have signed your lease, avoid talking to them again.

You should also know your rights as a renter. The Northwest Justice Project published a helpful brochure that is available online at the Washington State Attorney General’s website, in the Consumer Issues section. Most importantly, know that landlords must give you a  written notice 48 hours in advance before they come to the house and they also must be prompt about repairing appliances and pest infestations. In most cases, it is good to have your communications with your landlord in writing for the sake of clarity and in case things go south legally.

After the lease is signed, give yourself a pat on the back. You have made the first step into quasi-adulthood. You have found yourself shelter and so you are that much closer to being a proper Homo sapiens.

Get ready for fights about who did the dishes last, listening to your roommate’s shenanigans through the walls and being woken up by impromptu dub step parties at two in the morning. But also look forward to your days in the sun, when you all come together to eat, dance and be merry in your very own house.