Finances, Housing Advice, JumpOffCampus, Renting, Student Life

Get interest (AKA beer money) back on your security deposit!

Quick description: As a tenant, you’re entitled to interest paid on your deposits to your landlord. 

Why should I care?

As a renter, you probably had to put down a security deposit, right? And maybe last month’s rent, too. So that sucks. But you know what doesn’t suck? Beer. Burritos. And, uhm, books.

So good news: In Massachusetts, you’re entitled to get up to 5% interest on your deposits to your landlord. It’s all thanks to good old Chapter 186, Section 15B of Massachusetts general law.

In plain English

Here’s how it works, without the legal mumbo jumbo (sorry, pre-law geeks):

  • You give your landlord a deposit for last month’s rent and/or security deposit
  • At the end of the rental year, you get back the interest earned (because it’s like the deposit is still your money)
  • Interest can equal up to 5% of the total, or whatever the interest rate is at the bank where your landlord  deposited the money

For instance, if you ponied up $800 in last month’s rent, at the end of the year your slumlord is supposed to cut you a check. Assuming your landlord’s bank pays out 1% interest, that’s $8 you get back. AKA a free lunch. Or 20 lunches, if you count ramen.

Courses of action

What if your landlord doesn’t pay up within 30 days at the end of the year? You have a few options:

  • If you’re staying on as a tenant, you can deduct the amount from your next month’s rent.
  • If you’re done as a tenant, you get 3x the interest earned, plus court costs and attorney fees.

What to keep in mind

At the end of each rental year, keep a lookout for an interest check from your landlord. Or you could be missing out on a little extra cash that’s rightfully yours.

 

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Housing Advice, Landlords, Renting

Why Landlords Should Encourage Renters to Get Renters’ Insurance

For some landlords, it is purely the decision of the tenant on whether to get renters’ insurance or not; for renters, renters’ insurance often seems like an “unneeded expense.” However, by renters not having renters’ insurance coverage, it cannot only hurt them, but it can also hurt their landlords. This is why it is important for landlords to not only educate their tenants on the benefits of renters’ insurance, but to encourage them to get this type of coverage.

First, by ensuring tenants have renters’ insurance, landlords can prevent any unwanted insurance claims being made against them. In fact, according to survey by Joshua Tree Consulting, rental property owners deal with about eight insurance claims like this a year. By helping to educate and encourage their tenants to get renters’ insurance, it can limit the number of these claims and the associated legal expenses that may come with it.

For landlords, renters’ insurance can also help cover their deductible in cases in which their tenant is responsible for damage to the property. In fact, according to a white paper published by Joshua Tree Consulting, landlords pay an average of over $2,400 per property for tenant-caused damage, as compared to just over $1,300 in properties where landlords required tenants to carry renters’ insurance. In this way, landlords can save money by encouraging tenants to get renters’ insurance.

While there are several financial benefits to encouraging renters’ insurance, responsible landlords can also value the importance of having this type of coverage. Incidences like fire and theft are not so “farfetched” in that they are impossible. By encouraging tenants to get renters’ insurance, landlords can help ease the minds of their tenants, so that should these incidences occur, they know they will be covered..

Renters’ insurance for both tenants and landlords is smart choice when renting, as it can save both parties money and stress in the case of fire, theft, or injury on a property. Landlords should remind tenants of the implications that incidences have, and the damage and loss they can inflict. It is important to stress foresight and caution when renting, as accidents can happen. For while renters’ insurance may seem like an unneeded expense now, it is something that will help both landlords and renters get through the times in which the improbable becomes probable.

Reference

“Renters’ Insurance Protects Landlords as Well as Tenants” by Jeffrey Turk

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Housing Advice, Student Life

Tips for Getting Along With Your Neighbors

For many students, living off-campus comes with a greater sense of independence.  However, with this independence comes greater responsibility, and one main responsibility many students often forget is neighbor relations.  While it may not seem like the most important thing on your list, fostering poor relationships with your neighbors is the major reason why students receive a knock on the door from the cops.  This is why we’ve identified some of the biggest problems students experience with living off-campus in terms of neighbor relations and put together some tips to keep yourself from becoming just another one of those “pesky kids.”

Noise.  One of the biggest problems students experience when it comes to living off-campus are noise complaints.  Oftentimes students will have a party or just have few friends over and the cops will get called because of the noise.  However, this is highly preventable; it is easy to turn down the music, especially after a certain time of night.  The general rule of thumb is turn down the volume earlier on Sunday evenings and during the week, and later on Fridays and Saturdays.  However, many communities will have noise ordinances so you may want to check on these times for your specific community.

Parking.  Another problem students experience with their neighbors is parking.  If someone has parked their car blocking your neighbor in, your friends have parked illegally, or there are just too many cars on the street, the cops could get called.  You want to make sure that the people you are inviting over are also courteous of your neighbors as you are.  When you have your friends over, make sure that they aren’t parked so that they’re blocking your neighbors in and that they aren’t parked on someone else’s property.  You may also want to ask your friends to carpool to your house so there won’t be too many cars parked on the street.

Trash/Furniture.  One ordinance many neighborhoods have is related to trash and indoor furniture being outside.  These ordinances maintain that trash should always be in the bin or dumpster, and that indoor furniture should not be left outside (if it’s left to the elements, it’s basically considered trash anyway).  If you have grouchy neighbors, you may be receiving a nice big fine for not complying with these types of ordinances.

Yard Maintenance.  In many cases your landlord will take care of yard maintenance.  However, if they don’t offer this, you should pitch in to make sure the yard is looking nice.  While this also may not be at the top of your list, in many cases your neighborhood will actually have ordinances in relation to overgrowth.  Not only could you get slapped with a fine, you could have other problems with letting the plants and grass in your yard get too big.  These added problems could be an increase in the population of bugs in and around your house (ewww!), as well as interference with power lines.  The best course of action here is to make sure the grass is cut, there aren’t too many weeds, there isn’t any garbage hanging around, and nothing is around the power lines.

Overall, the best way to avoid problems with your neighbors is to introduce yourself when you move in.  This is important because . . .

  1. It puts a face to the new neighbors.  By introducing yourself you are setting yourself apart from many of the other student tenants that have gone before you.  This reduces the likelihood that your neighbors will lump you together with those tenants, and you can build your own relationship with your neighbors.
  2. By introducing yourself and letting your neighbors know that they can come talk to you directly if they ever need anything or have a problem, you are saving everyone a lot of grief.  You will be less likely to get a knock on your door from the cops and your neighbor will no longer get woken up at 3 am by loud music.
  3. Your neighbors can be your biggest resource; they know the area because they’ve lived there longer and they can help you out if you ever run into any problems of your own.

By introducing yourself to your neighbors and by heading off any issues before they arise, you will not only have a better off-campus experience, but you will most likely prevent the cops being called.  It’s best to maintain a good relationship with your neighbors because it not only saves you all this grief, it is also makes you more independent, and demonstrates that you can be a mature young adult.

Other articles referenced:

Good Neighbor Relations Guide by Liveable Neighborhoods for Kansas City

Good Neighbor Relations Among Students & Community Members by Melissa Emerson

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Housing Advice, Roommates

Roommate Sharing 101

If you’ve never lived with a roommate before, it can be slightly daunting.  It’s strange to think that you’ll be sharing a home with someone whom you may have never met before.  There is certainly a lot to navigate when it comes to understanding how you will share that space and the things in it.  This is why we’ve come up with some ideas on how you can make sharing with your new roommate(s) easy.

Sharing Space

In an article we read by Catherine Walsh at Suite101, she explains that allocating storage for each roommate in the kitchen, fridge and bathroom is a great start.  You will also want to discuss with your roommates how the common areas will be used.  Are they primarily for hanging out and relaxing, or are they for studying, or both?  When will you have quiet hours?  You want to be sure that you identify those things with one another before you begin the school year.

Another thing you want to identify are the restrictions and guidelines for guests and overnight guests.  This is often the biggest problem roommates face, so be sure to to give plenty of notice when overnight guests are staying and establish beforehand what the terms will be.  This includes how long they can stay, if and how they can use shared space and items.

Sharing Food and Other Items

Establish beforehand with roommate(s) what items you will be sharing and how you will label those that are not.  This is especially important if you plan to share food items like milk, eggs, and condiments, as you want to establish a plan for purchasing them.  To do this, you may even want to establish a schedule to determine whose turn it will be to buy the shared items and when.  This way no one feels like they are the ones buying the food for everyone all the time.

You may also want to establish how these items get used, so you don’t run out of them before your next shopping trip.  While you don’t want to be “nitpicky” about how everyone will use the ketchup, maybe you want to establish a rule that if you are the last one to use it when it runs out, then you are the one who has to replace it.

Sharing Chores

This often tends to be another major problem roommates face:  who will clean what and when?  Establish a timeline or a schedule for when cleaning and other chores will be done and who will be responsible for what.  Maybe you want to break it up by week and switch off duties, or maybe you would prefer breaking it up by month; that is up to you and your roommate to decide what would be fair.  However, you want to be sure that everyone has a task and that the tasks are broken up evenly, so no one feels like they are left with all the dirty work.

Sharing Expenses

This is another tough subject for most roommates.  Especially if you are sharing one lease and sharing utility expenses, it can get difficult when it comes time to make those payments.  Our suggestion is to sign your own lease, rather than sign one lease between all the roommates (if your landlord allows it).  This way you won’t be responsible to make up the difference if your roommate doesn’t pay their rent on time.

If you can’t sign your own lease, we suggest that you establish one person who will be collecting utility payments and establish a schedule for when they will be collected (before the bill is actually due).  You may even want to switch off whose duty it is to do this, so no one feels like they are the “bad guy” all the time.  You could even establish some penalties for when someone neglects to make their payment on time.  This way everyone has an incentive to make his or her payment on time.

In terms of splitting utilities, that can be tough to do.  Use the same strategy as you would with your rent payments.  Be sure that everyone makes their payments on time so one person isn’t stuck with the bill.

The key to roommate sharing is really just establishing house rules beforehand, and making sure that everyone is complying with them.  Overall, roommate sharing can be simple, just as long as you are considerate and are able to have open communication with one another.

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Housing Advice, Renting

How to Make Yourself a More Attractive Tenant

The deadbeat tenant:  perhaps the most-feared in the landlord community.  This person is the tenant who never pays their rent on time, or at all, and will often leave their landlord with financial and/or physical damages that the landlord will have to take care of.  It is often for this reason that landlords will place prospective tenants through a rigorous screening process.  It certainly makes sense; you wouldn’t want to have to pay thousands of dollars in damages that were caused by someone else!

Well for those of you who consider yourselves good tenants, you have to let yourselves shine.  However, it can often be hard when the process is so rigorous and there may be plenty of other tenants out there who claim to possess the same qualities as you.

The first thing you want to consider is a credit check.  Often landlords will conduct a credit check on each of their prospective tenants, especially if they’ve experienced deadbeat tenants in the past.  For college students renting on their own, this can be an issue as many students either have bad credit or no credit at all.

In an article we read by Kay Miranda on eHow.com, she explains that you should include a cover letter with your application that honestly explains your credit situation.  You will also want to include information in this letter about what would make you a good tenant, and explain that you will be willing to work with the landlord to make sure they are comfortable with the situation.  Miranda explains that this could be agreeing to pay via direct deposit, or paying a higher security deposit.  You will also want to include any personal references that could vouch for your reliability and responsibility.

Many landlords will also request a face-to-face meeting or interview with you.  You want to prepare for this meeting like you would for a job interview.  You should be prepared to answer all potential questions they could ask, including those related to your finances and credit history.  You should be open and honest with them about this, as it is important to be honest with them and address their concerns.  You should be aware that your reactions, your demeanor, and your appearance will all play a role in determining whether the landlord chooses you or not.

As with any interview like this, you should also be upfront regarding your concerns.  Be prepared with questions that you may have for the landlord.  Their answers to these questions will also help you to gauge their reaction to you, as well as how willing they will be to work with you.

Overall, it is important to develop a good rapport with all of your previous and future landlords.  While the most important part of being a good tenant is complying with the terms of your lease, it is also important to keep the premises clean, tidy, and well kept.  This is because the way in which you maintain the space and leave it when you move out will prove to your current and any potential landlord (should your previous landlords give you a reference) that you are a good tenant.

Another major part of being a good tenant is keeping open communication with your landlord in regards to any repairs, damages, questions, or concerns that may arise.  In another article we read on eHow.com, they suggest also keeping a record of all of your correspondence with your landlord, just in case a problem should arise.  It is always important to let your landlord immediately (and in writing) about any problems or maintenance that must be taken care of.

It is relatively simple to make yourself a more attractive tenant in the eyes of potential landlord.  All it takes is being open, honest, and demonstrating responsibility and reliability.   Just be sure to address concerns they may have regarding your credit history and any other concerns they may have.  Keep in mind that fostering good relationships with any landlord you have cannot only provide you with a great reference for any potential landlord, but it will make your renting experience that much better.

Other articles we referenced:

http://www.ehow.com/how_4731666_good-tenant-rental.html

http://www.ehow.com/how_2062599_spot-potential-deadbeat-tenant.html

http://www.ehow.com/how_8455475_interview-prospective-tenant.html

http://www.ehow.com/about_4674958_deadbeat-tenants.html

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Ask the Expert

ASK THE EXPERT: Why Invest in Student Housing?

In an article we read by Amy Wolff Sorter at GlobeSt.com, the student housing sector has become a rather popular one in which to buy and sell due to rising enrollment rates and diminishing supply of on-campus options.  To get an insider look at some of the other draws (and disincentives) for landlords, property owners, and investors when it comes to student housing, we spoke with RI student property manager, Diane St. Laurent.

What do you believe sets student housing apart from other types of investment properties?
As an investor, student housing is desirable because rent payment is reliable especially when the landlord has the parents of the student secure the terms of the lease.  Another positive is that demand for student housing is always high.

Is there an advantage for investing in smaller scale properties for student housing versus larger scale properties?
When the landlord can establish a relationship with the students, so open communication can exist, then problems as they arise can be easily resolved.  Building communication is easier with smaller properties.  Large properties can impact the landlord-tenant relationship that is so important to build trust and mutual respect.

What amenities do you think are essential for student-leased properties to offer?
A fixed rent price that includes utilities is beneficial, if possible.  This helps students manage their finances and ensure the property is being maintained in terms of heat and electricity.
Students sometimes require furniture to be supplied, so if basic bedroom furniture, living room and dining room furniture are supplied, the number of prospective students may increase as a result.  This opens the door for exchange students from different countries and/or out-of-state, because these students may not be able to travel with this type of furniture.

What would you say is appealing about investing in student housing?
Steady increase in student demand.

What would you say is unappealing about investing in student housing?
Some undergraduate students (freshman, sophomore, junior) are not really ready for this type of responsibility.  Student choices usually reflect in them not taking care of the property; additionally, their social lifestyles sometimes lead to damage to the property and them being a nuisance to the neighbors.

What are some of the pitfalls associated with student housing?
When the landlord and student’s expectations, regarding respect of the property, are out of sync.

How do you believe the recession has impacted these kinds of investments?
My experience is that supply and demand has changed related to rent prices.  On one hand, there is an increase in student demand, but at the same time, students have fewer dollars to spend on rent.  There is a lot of competition for investors of student housing.  First, on-campus housing (dormitories and university apartments), private on-campus housing, off-campus housing, and finally student computers.
It comes down to what the student can afford and the individual student behavior.  Essentially, what are students looking for in housing?  This places added pressure on the investor to find ways to differentiate their property from all the rest.  Additionally, what student market the investor is looking at targeting has to be answered as well.

Do you believe that making an investment in student housing is worthwhile?
Yes I do.  It needs to be managed as a business, but at the same time, investors have to embrace the responsibility of helping students make good choices so they can assimilate to independence, maturity and advance their knowledge all at once.

What should property owners and investors know when it comes to owning and investing in student housing?
Students are young adults finding their way to independence, and sometimes their lifestyles are incompatible with the expectation of the landlord and the rules of the house.

What are some difficulties you often encounter when interacting with student tenants?
Sometimes the student is just not mature enough to be living in something other than a dormitory.

What are some important things to consider when interacting with student tenants?
Take on the mentor role by treating students as adults and hold them accountable for their decisions.
With that being said, I would emphasize student safety as the top priority.  This means landlords should have house rules documented, fire alarm inspections, routine heating and electrical system maintenance checks, and door locks changed between tenants.

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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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