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January 21, 2017

Renting first apartments can be a real hassle

On the evening of Feb. 23, a group of students gathered to attend a crash course about off-campus residency. The group was tightly packed into the small space of a reserved room in the Franklin Dining Common.

“Renting 101: What you should know about renting your first apartment” was the title of the first of its three sessions. Bernadette Stark, the senior staff attorney, presented the joys and mysteries of renting an apartment to the students. The room became so packed that extra seating needed to be found, a sign that the renting apartment communities of Amherst will soon have a great deal of clients.

The meeting covered a variety of topics such as selecting a roommate and how to move out of an apartment.

More importantly, students learned all the possible motives for a lawsuit against their potential future landlords. These lawsuits must be, of course, backed up by concrete facts and arise from problems encountered during the residency.

When given a chance to ask questions, however, students inquired mostly about the various illegal practices of landlords; each of these questions was answered by a referral to the Office of Student Legal Services. That office, located at 922 Campus Center, is ready to assist any aspiring tenants. As it turns out, most students are misinformed about the renting process and are therefore potential baits for scams. 

The prospect of living off-campus may be tempting, but as the audience listened to the attorney’s advice, one could not help but wonder about all the drawbacks of renting that first apartment. Though the crash course is aimed at helping students avoid these mistakes, the amount of petty details is somewhat overwhelming. 

Before students can surrender the keys to their dorm in exchange for the keys to their new apartment, they must, in most cases, find a roommate. One could also consider rooming alone, but that is relatively expensive. The roommates should be reliable in paying the rent and in keeping their share of the lease agreement. The ideal scenario presented in the television sitcom “Friends,” though appealing, is rarely the case in real life.

Most of the hassle comes from the formalities required from each person that will be living in the apartment. The standard paperwork includes a rental application and lease contract guarantor form. A guarantor is most likely a parent or a guardian who will ensure the payment of the rent if the student does complete the minimum income requirements.

The standard rent application asks information such as residence history, employment information, bank references, amount of vehicles owned and questions pertaining to the residence, such as the number of pets.

Pets could be an issue. Squire Village, for example, does not allow residents to have dogs in their apartment complex. Other paperwork that is sometimes required are forms from the University releasing disciplinary records from the students’ on-campus residency.

Students soon find that, as residents, they do not have as much authority as they thought:  the apartment owners, well aware of the abundant student population, often treat student tenants with disdain. Service calls often go unanswered and the apartments remain in imperfect conditions.

The residential problems do not end there, however. After the lease has been terminated, there is also a procedure to be followed upon moving out. Because most leases are year-round, there is also the work of subletting the apartment during the summer months, which requests its own effort. The details of all or any of these aspects of residency may be acquired at any of the crash courses at the times listed below.

The next session of “Renting 101: What you should know about renting your first apartment” will be held on March 9 at the Berkshire Dining Commons at 7 p.m. Students will have a chance to put all their new knowledge to good use at the Apartment Rental Fair on March 25. 

Still unsure where to live? There is a variety of housing options both on-campus and off-campus. The dorms located on-campus are an option, as well as the North Apartments, which are owned by the University and living there does not require a lease. There are numerous apartment complexes in Amherst and the surrounding area for off-campus living. Individual postings, available on websites such as umoch.org, offer students a place to call home.

With all the information about future residency available to them, students should have no trouble finding a space. Those willing to find lodging, however, should hurry: available apartments fill up fast.

Yevgeniya Lomakina can be reached at ylomakin@student.umass.edu.

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