Housing Advice, Roommates, Student Life

How to Deal with Roommate Issues

Let’s be honest here:  You and your roommate(s) are never going to see eye to eye on everything.  Whether it is about doing dishes, who’s buying the paper towels, or whether they can have friends over at 12 am on a Tuesday night, things are going to come up that you just won’t agree on.  However, you certainly don’t want to end up in a bickering match or giving each other the silent treatment for the rest of the year.  This is why you need to be prepared before it comes time for you to have a talk.  In an article we read at MSN.com, they gave some tips on how to talk with your roommate when problems arise:

  • Avoid passive aggression.  The sticky note you leave your roommate detailing their wrong doings never goes over well (beware not get yourself on this site!).
  • Emphasize the positive.  Before you talk with your roommate, be sure to make a list of their positive qualities.   This will help to remind you what you like about them, and it will help keep you positive when you talk with them.
  • Consider how you could be contributing to the situation.  Usually issues in a relationship are never black and white.  Maybe your roommate never does the dishes because you never do.  You will want to consider how you could make changes too.
  • Be prepared.  NEVER GO INTO A SITUATION LIKE THIS UNPREPARED.  I repeat:  NEVER GO INTO A SITUATION LIKE THIS UNPREPARED.  This is perhaps the most important item on this list.  If you go into a situation like this with your roommate and you have not thought about what you are going to say beforehand, a myriad of (not-so-good) things can happen.  However, what will most likely happen is one of two things:  1) you won’t actually say what you meant to say, or 2) you won’t say it right and it will cause more friction between you and your roommate.  Be prepared!  Think about what you want to say and how you want to approach the situation.  You’ll also want to consider their possible reactions and how you will approach their responses.  You may even want to write down some notes and practice what you’ll say beforehand.  You don’t have to be afraid to talk with your roommate; you just have to be prepared.
  • Pick a comfortable location and time to talk.  You want to pick a time and place where both you and your roommate will be relaxed.  You may even want to set up a time with your roommate to talk with them.  This will help to prevent any outside influences (work, school, etc.) from affecting the outcome of your talk.
  • Be tactful, even-tempered, and clear.  Be clear about what you want to change, and make sure there are no “grey” areas.  You want to keep a cool head and be strategic about how you say what you need to say.  At least then one of you will be levelheaded.
  • Use “I” statements versus “you” statements.  Be sure to avoid focusing the discussion on what your roommate is doing wrong.  Instead focus on how the situation and their behavior makes you feel.  This way you’ll prevent them from shutting out what you are saying.
  • Don’t wait too long to talk to them.  Talk to them within a reasonable amount of time.  If your roommate had a party while you were away, you don’t want to wait 3 months after the fact.  Talk to them within a couple days of when you return.  This way it will be fresh in both of your minds, and it will prevent any future incidents.
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Housing Advice

Don’t let the bed bugs bite!

Bed bugs, up until a few years ago, seemed like a pest of the past, and the saying “Don’t let the bed bugs bite” just seemed like something your grandmother would tell you before you went to bed.  However, infestations have become more and more common and it seems like the bed bug has made its comeback in the developed world. I don’t know about you, but bed bugs give me the heebie jeebies, and while it isn’t a pleasant subject it is certainly something to consider when you’re renting.  This because bed bugs not only survive on the blood of mammals (i.e. us!), but they also can completely infest your home.

Photo from bedbugdefense.com

According to an article we read at BedBugDefense.com, before DDT was banned, it was used to kill bed bugs, as it was highly toxic to them and would remain in the application site for more than a year to prevent resurgences.  However, it was banned as it was determined that DDT caused cancer, and since 1995, bed bugs have made a rather surprising comeback and have infested homes all across North America.

According to the EPA, bed bugs are considered a public health pest, although they are not known to transmit or spread any disease.  However, because they do feed on blood, they can cause allergic reactions at the bite site, whether it is simply a small mark or a whole body reaction.  According to the CDC, bites can also cause secondary infections of the skin, and may even cause affect the mental health of those they infest.  People who have experience bed bug infestations may experience things like anxiety, insomnia, and systemic reactions.

However, what I think may be the scariest thing about them is that you can pick them up anywhere.  All it takes is one brush of the arm from someone on the subway, sleeping on your friend’s couch, or staying in a hotel to pick them up, and once you have bed bugs, they will get into everything: in curtains, couches, beds, and electronics.  This is what makes them so difficult to get rid of (also accounting for the fact that they actually live longer in the cold and love warm temperatures!).  And while you think that it can’t happen to you, think again.   No place is immune to the bed bug.  Your home doesn’t have to be “dirty” for you to have a bed bug infestation.  They can infest even the cleanest of places.

So I’m sure by now you’re probably freaking out and wondering how you can stop these intruders before they attack.  Well, there are certainly some precautions you can take to ensure you don’t have a bed bug infestation.

Photo from allbedbugs.com

The first thing you’ll want to do is to inspect your apartment for bed bugs before you move in.  You could either hire someone to do this or do it yourself.  In either case, you’ll want to do this before you move in because bed bugs can go undetected for months.  If you do choose to do this yourself, you’ll want to be sure to go through The Bed Bug Inspectors checklist.

  • Check for telltale signs.  You’ll want to check the floors and other surfaces for small black spots, shed bed bug skins, egg shells, live bed bugs (if you don’t know what they look like use the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene checklist), and bloody or rusty stains.  Another sign is a sweet or offensive musty odor.
  • Uncover their potential hiding spots.  Take a flashlight and a magnifying glass and thoroughly inspect window and door frames, cracks and crevices, carpet tack strips, baseboards, behind outlet and switch plates, smoke detectors, thermostats, loose wall paper, molding, and wall junctions.

Once you made sure there are no signs of bed bugs, you’ll want to be sure to “bed bug proof” your home.  While you can’t prevent everything, there are some precautions you can take.  The first thing you’ll want to do is be sure to elevate your mattress off the ground.  You will also want to protect your mattress by using a protective mattress encasement, as well as protective pillow encasements.  You may consider using climb up interceptors on the feet of your bed frame.  These will help prevent and trap bugs from climbing onto your mattress.  You may want to monitor your home by conducting regular inspections and by placing bed bug traps around your home.  While this won’t solve the problem, it will certainly give you a definitive answer if your home is infested or not.

In order to prevent future infestations, you will want to be sure you are careful of where you stay and who is staying with you.  When you go on vacation, you can check the hotel you’ll be staying in by going to BedBugRegistry.com to see if there have been any bed bug reports.  You will also want to be sure to conduct an inspection of your room before you place your belongings down, and you will want to keep your belongings elevated off the floor at all times.

To ensure that your friends don’t bring bed bugs to your home, help them to inspect theirs.  Make sure they are as careful as you are about inspecting their home, and staying clear of places that could potentially have bed bugs.  With what you learn, you can help protect themselves too.

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Roommates

7 Topics You Want to Discuss With Your Roommate(s)

Whether you’re subletting this summer or looking to move into a new place in the fall, you are bound to run into some issues with your roommate(s).  However, there are some things you can discuss with them beforehand that will help you nip some of these potential issues in the bud.

Music/TV

According to an article we read on ApartmentTherapy.com, if you’re sharing a room, you will want to discuss your tendencies when it comes to listening to music and watching TV.   Some people would prefer listening to music or watching TV with speakers, and other people would be fine with headphones.  You’ll want to see what each other’s preferences are and maybe come to a decision as to what times the speakers can be used.

Even if you aren’t sharing a room you want to be sure that you establish the use of the TV and/or stereo.  How will time be divided up amongst the roommates?  Will you have quiet hours?

Shared Items

In an article we read by Missy Slink in Yahoo! Voices, she explains that you will want to determine what items will be for community use and what items will not.  Will you share food?  If so, what foods will you be sharing?  Will you be sharing things like a vacuum?

You’ll also want to determine how and if you will be sharing things like toilet paper, paper towels, and cleaning products.  Will you each buy your own?  Will you be splitting this, and if you do decide to split this, how will you divide the cost amongst the roommates?

Sleeping Habits

If you’re sharing a room, this is especially important to discuss beforehand.  If you’re roommate goes to bed at 10 pm and you go to bed around 3 am, you’ll want to establish how you will manage this.  Does this mean you’ll switch to a desk lamp to study?  Can you watch television when they go to bed?

If you each have your own room, you will still want to discuss this so that you can properly set quiet hours.  This way you won’t be disturbing someone while they are trying to sleep.

Guest Habits

When you’re sharing a space, you’ll want to figure out what the guest policy will be for your room/apartment.  If you plan on having a lot of friends over, or you have a significant other, you will want to figure out when they can come over, when they can’t, and when guests should go home.  You may also want to determine what the ground rules will be for guests in terms of using shared items.

Security

As someone who has had roommates who leave all the doors unlocked, this is definitely something you want to discuss beforehand.  If you are someone who likes to make sure everything is locked up when you run to get coffee, or when you go to bed at night, you will want to talk about that beforehand with your roommate.

Decorating

If you’re sharing a room, you’ll want to determine if you want to share room decorations, or you want to set up your own spaces.  If each have your own separate bedrooms, you will still want to establish decorations for the common areas.

Concerns

You want to establish beforehand how and when you will raise concerns with one another should they arise.  It may be a little awkward to establish this beforehand, but you don’t want to be that roommate who leaves passive aggressive notes around when they get frustrated.  That won’t end well.

By establishing some ground rules beforehand and making sure you can live comfortably together, this will help you have a better roommate experience.  Just remember:  the space belongs to both of you.

For tips more tips on how to ensure fairness between you and your roommate(s), check out Splitwise and their blog at http://blog.splitwise.com/

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Housing Advice, Renting

Subletting Your Apartment for the Summer

If you are going home for the summer or taking that internship in New York, you may want to consider subletting your apartment.  That way you won’t be paying for an empty apartment you’re not staying in.  However, there are some things you may want to consider before you do.

1.    Check with your landlord to see if you can sublet.  Not all landlords like people subletting their units, and if you sublet without their permission both you and your tenant could be evicted.  However, if they do allow subletting and/or you have a good relationship with them, they may let you.  In an article we read on eHow.com, they explain that you should only be subletting what you have the right to sublet.  This means that, for example, if you have a month-to-month agreement with your landlord, you want to make sure that your are subletting on a month-to-month basis.

2.    Talk to your friends to see if they would be interested.  It will be significantly easier for you to sublet for a few months to a friend rather than a stranger.  That way you can leave some of your personal belongings behind and you don’t have to worry about it.  It may also be easier for you to address your concerns with them, and for them to address their concerns with you.

3.    If you can’t find a friend, you may want to post up your sublet.  At JumpOffCampus we post sublets for anyone looking to sublet their apartment.  You can also post up your sublet around your campus to see if anyone at your school would be interested.  There may be someone taking summer classes that needs a place to stay for a few months.

4.    Set a reasonable rental price.  In a blog post we read by Kathleen Corlett on HerCampus.com, you want to set a price that won’t scare off any potential renters.  You have to be aware that you probably won’t get the full rent, so you want to take that into consideration.  You will most likely get about 75% of the actual rental cost.

5.    Whether your roommates are staying for the summer or they aren’t, you want to be sure in considering their opinions.  If they are staying for the summer, you want to be sure that they have a hand in deciding whom you will sublet to.  As they are the one(s) who will be staying with this person, you want them to be just as happy with your decision as you are.  If they aren’t staying for the summer, you want to be sure that you set ground rules togehter for the renter that both of you will be happy with.

6.     Meet the prospective tenants.  This way you can see who you will be renting to.  According to Corlett, there are a lot of rental scams out there.  You want to be sure that the person who you are renting to is legitimate and someone you feel comfortable with.  You can think of this process as kind of like a job interview.

7.    You want to be sure to draw up a written and binding agreement between the renter and yourself.  You want to be sure that the tenant agrees to pay the agreed amount each month and that they abide by the terms of your lease that you and your landlord had agreed upon.  In this agreement you may want to consider including any ground rules that you have established for the tenant.  Be sure to check with your landlord to see if they too have any additions to this agreement, or any additional paperwork they may need you or the tenant to fill out.

8.    Get a security deposit from the tenant.  This will ensure that you’ll be covered if there is any damage done to your apartment while your tenant is there.  you’re not left with a hefty bill or lose out on your own security deposit.

9.    Arrange for the tenant to send you money.  This way you will make sure the rent is paid directly to your landlord.

10. Make sure to clean up your place before you leave.  Cleaning before you leave is considerate, and is a great way to make sure none of your possessions get damaged or lost.

11.  Take photos before you leave.  That way you can verify what the apartment looked like when you left before the subtenant moved in.  You want to be sure to date this photo if it is not already time-stamped.  This is just in case any problems arise with damages or other incidents.

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Apartment Hunting, Housing Advice, Renting

Finding A Sublet For the Summer

If you are looking to sublet a place for the summer, there are some important things you need to consider.

1.    Know what you’re looking for.  When you start your search, you want to have an idea of what you would want in a sublet.  In a blog post we read by Kathleen Corlett at HerCampus.com, there are some important questions you want to ask yourself.  Is your ideal sublet furnished or unfurnished?  Is it in walking distance to your work or near a bus stop?  Do you have roommates?  Do you have your own bedroom?  Corlett even suggests putting together a checklist to compare them side-by-side.

2.    Be flexible.  In a blog post we read by Juliet O’Reilly on GradGuard.com, she suggests keeping an open mind when looking at sublets, as a place may not be exactly what you had envisioned, but it may offer you more opportunities than you had expected.

3.    Cover all ground.  O’Reilly advises that while you don’t want to get overwhelmed in your search, you want to be sure that you are looking at all of the opportunities and not limiting yourself.

4.    When you find an ad you like, make sure to get all the info.  Ask for more photos and more information on the rental first before you go to see it.  That way you won’t waste your time viewing a place that won’t fit your needs.

5.    Review crime statistics for the area.  If you don’t know the area very well, you want to be sure that you look at the crime rates for an area.  You want to be sure that the place you live is safe.

6.    Narrow it down.  Narrow your search down to a few places your like the most.  These will be the places that you want to tour.  You may also want to be sure to have a few backups just in case the places you see don’t work out or aren’t what you are looking for.

7.    Check out your top picks.  You don’t want to sign a lease before you’ve seen the place for yourself.

8.    Choosing a place.  Make sure you choose the place that fits your needs best and is somewhere you can see yourself living.

9.    Make sure you read the sublease carefully before signing.  You want to know what you are committing to, if there are any special rules, or if you need clarification on something.

10. When you move in, make sure to take time-stamped photos of the place.  This will prevent you from getting stuck with the bill if there are any damages.

11. Collect all the contact information for the person you are subletting from.  You want to be sure to get all this information before they leave so that you have some way of contacting them.


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Housing Advice, Student Life

How to decide between on or off campus housing

We know it’s a big decision to make whether or not to live off campus, and we hope to be able to guide you through the decision process.  There are a few major questions to ask yourself when you are looking at the two options and seeing which is right for you.

First you have to look at the costs associated with both.  If cost is important to your decision (which for a lot of people it is) you have to make a list of all the costs that both options would entail.  For on campus housing you would need to look at the cost of the actual housing, meal plans if you would need one, and any other board fees associated with being on campus.  For off campus housing, you need to consider the actual rent (this is going to involve some research, rents vary greatly between areas), the utilities (if they are not included) and other costs such as furniture, internet, cable, parking, groceries, and transportation costs to get to campus, etc.  Once you are able to estimate the costs of both options, you will have a better feel for which option will be more viable for you.

Other things to consider when looking at the two options are what you are getting for your money.  If you are getting a tiny room in a dorm and you have to share with a roommate, compared to a larger room to yourself in an apartment that can influence your decision.  Or if you are able to get a really nice on campus townhouse style suite then it might not be that bad of a deal to stay on campus.  Also, you should consider factors associated with meal plans, like if you feel you do not eat in the dining hall enough for a meal plan to be worth it, then maybe grocery shopping for yourself in an apartment would be a cheaper option.  But on the other side, if you typically eat your parent’s out of house and home, then maybe an all-you-can-eat dining hall would end up being cheaper in the long run.

Once you have weighed the costs of both options and how they compare with each other, there are other things to consider with both options.  Convenience is another big thing to look at.  For example, an article discussing Boston University’s off campus housing discusses how off campus housing is often way more convenient for students.  (Read the full article here). The article talked about how for some students it is easier to live off campus because of scheduling, study abroad, and other reasons.  For some, because of classes or other activities, it is more practical to live on campus. Like if you have all of your classes spread out throughout the day, and would have to drive back and forth to campus a couple of times a day it might not be worth it to live off.  For others, it is more convenient to live off campus, like if you would otherwise always miss dining hall hours because of a late activity that runs through dinner then maybe it is easier to live off campus and cook for yourself when you need to.

Either way you decide to go, as long as you make sure you plan ahead and do your research, you’re going to have a great school year with your friends and hopefully JumpOffCampus made the process a little bit easier for you all.

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Housing Advice, Renting

How to protect yourself when you rent

Renting an off-campus property can be an overwhelming task, to say the least.  We try to help, but how do you know you’re making the right choice when you rent?

In a recent article by Jessica Hickok (http://www.foxbusiness.com/personal-finance/2012/05/15/how-to-protect-yourself-as-renter/), she identified some very specific things renters can do to protect themselves when renting a property.  Here is the breakdown of that list:

  • Checking the state’s landlord/tenant laws
  • Watching for red flags on a lease, including changes to monthly charges within the time of the agreement, can you make repairs yourself if the landlord does not respond to repair requests, will you get reimbursed for making those repairs, how will your security deposit be settled once you leave, and are there any eviction procedures that could take place
  • Make sure the owner isn’t in the foreclosure process with the property
  • Be sure to have an exit plan just in case

A lot of the time students may often forget they too have rights as renters.  This is why it is so important to point out some things you can do to protect yourself when signing an agreement because you just never know.

To find your state’s Tenant Rights Handbook, go to http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/topics/rental_assistance/tenantrights.

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