American University

Before You Decide

Look Before You Lease

Deciding to live off-campus in an apartment, housing complex, or private house is an appealing and exciting option for many college students. Of course, living outside of your university system has its advantages and disadvantages, freedoms and responsibilities. Getting all the facts before you sign that first lease is an important decision and requires proper planning.

Living Off-Campus: Pros and Cons

Before you decide where you want to live off-campus ask yourself how you study and live, and of course who you want to live with. There are tradeoffs living off-campus. For example, the experience of having more freedoms living off-campus might come at the cost of noisy neighbors. Consider the following pros and cons:


  • It might be cheaper living off-campus than living on campus.
  • You’ll enjoy more freedoms, space, privacy, and independence.
  • Having your own place can be quieter and less distractions, which is better for studying.
  • Being responsible for a rental agreement will give you real world experience and will build credit for you when you want a place after graduation.
  • You’ll have the option of making your own healthy, delicious meals!
  • You can usually leave all your personal items at your secured apartment or house during semester breaks.


  • It might be more expensive. You’ll have your security deposit down payment and possibly pay for utilities, furniture, appliance, cleaning supplies, groceries, and transportation.
  • Internet and cable connections may not be included in your apartment.
  • You’ll probably be more responsible and liable if something goes wrong.
  • You might spend more time walking to class, cooking meals, grocery shopping, and doing house chores.
  • You will have to spend time searching for someone to sublease your place during the summer months, since most leases are usually are a year-long.

We understand everyone has their own personal living preferences. These pros and cons may be different from your list. Take some time to put together your own list of pros and cons and compare what is most important to you.

Searching for the right apartment or house is exciting but as you might be finding out takes time. To make it easier on you we have gathered reliable information you need to make the right decision. Take a look around at what housing options are out there! If there is something you cannot find on Off Campus Surfer or you have a general question, email us at and we’ll have your question answered in 24 hours!

Where to Find Listings

  • Off Campus Surfer: We have taken a very local approach to answering off-campus questions and providing reliable information on unbiased prices, living arrangements, room layouts, and things to know for students and parents. We make it easy to compare prices and living arrangements in a couple of clicks. The best part is that it is FREE to everyone! We suggest that you begin your search for off-campus living now, as rooms fill up. Students residing off-campus may wish to purchase renters insurance. We do not inspect the housing options listed on this site—that is the responsibility of the potential tenants.
  • Landlord and Real Estate Agents: Landlords and real estate agents will give you advice about when to start searching, what measures to take if you experience discrimination in your housing search or lease agreement, and how to effectively deal with differences or problems you have with your landlord or fellow tenants. Real estate agents can have fees that are considerable more for giving advice or resolving differences between the landlord and tenant. Check your university or off-campus housing agencies to see if they provide free advice or offer reductions for students.
  • Search the Web and other listings: Use a search engine to find online real estate listings in the vicinity of your college. Also check your campus as students or landlords will put signs in the dining halls, library, and other locations on campus. Local newspapers and apartment guides may have additional information.

Search Tips

The competition is intense and you’ll be offered plenty of incentives. Make sure you let the landlord know what is most important to you. The more questions you have answered before you start your search, the better prepared you’ll be to know what options are best for you.

  • Start your search early—remember your not only competing for the best price but with other students looking for similar off-campus living options as you. We recommend that you begin your search 4-6 months before the lease begins.
  • Be able to afford the security deposit, budget early. Always get receipts or documents stating you paid.
  • Be prepared to provide the following documents: social security number, photo identification, last year’s tax return, contact information, and copies of all documents. (you might be required to provide more documents not listed here)

Signing a Lease

A lease is a binding, legal contract granting use or occupation of property during a specified period in exchange for a specified rent. The lease is formed between you and the landlord. It highlights the rights and responsibilities of both parties. It is very important that you and your parents read it over and make sure you understand everything in it before you sign it.

Make Sure it’s in Writing

Negotiating is part of the lease agreement process. Don’t be afraid to ask for something that is not written in the lease. The landlord can add to the agreement if both parties agree. The landlord can only offer the very basic of services that are required under housing laws. If you want something in your lease agreement—ask for it and get it in writing. Remember the following tips:

  • Make sure everyone living the in apartment or house is legally binding and equally responsible for the responsibilities and liabilities. If not, you might be responsible to pay the total rent if your roommates fail to pay or leave.
  • Make sure you know the terms of renewing or terminating your lease agreement, what needs to happen to receive your security deposit, and subleasing your apartment.
  • Is everyone named in the lease responsible for damages if one person causes them? Can each tenant sign separate leases? Who is responsible for making rent and utility payments?
  • Are you responsible for repairs or is that the responsibility of the landlord? What types of additions or improvements can you make to the apartment or house?
  • If you have questions about rent guidelines, maintenance codes, or your rights and responsibilities, contact your state attorney general’s office.

Off Campus Surfer: Advice from Students

“My junior and senior year I lived in a private house and continued to get a campus meal plan. I lived with 5 other roommates with different living habits and friends. The students living in the house before us destroyed carpets and walls, so we had to sit down with our landlord and discuss what he would fix and what type of reduction we would receive. Communication is important and having a friendly relationship with your landlord is important.”


“I decided to live off-campus next year (my senior) mainly because I wanted to have more freedoms and responsibilities since I’m graduating this year and will need real world experience. I absolutely love where I will be staying, and the website was great for comparing prices!


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