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Tips For Making Housing Decisions

Having just arrived a mere month ago on Grounds, you start to hear it everywhere: "you need to start signing leases for the next year, or you will be left out." In the rush to find that perfect spot, or perhaps out of fear of being left without choices, many students –especially first and second years—sign leases with people they do not know well, for apartments that may not be nearly as great as they sounded when their friends first told them about them.

Yes, renting off Grounds can be an opportunity to make new friends, learn adult skills, and explore Charlottesville. For some, however, it turns into a very stressful experience that can negatively affect grades, mental health and social life. That friend of a friend doesn’t always make for a compatible roommate. Leases come with legal and financial strings that don’t care whether you change your mind or want to study abroad in January. Locations that sound great on the surface may not be, depending on whether you have a car, for example, or whether you like a lot of noise (or quiet). All these things take time to figure out. It can make the difference between a fun, productive year and a stressful, expensive, drama-filled one.

So before you sign that lease for next year. You might take time to ask yourself:

1. Who do I know who would be compatible with me?
It’s more than about being friends: Sleep schedules, noise expectations, kitchen cleanliness, clear understanding about shared responsibility for the space, and differences in how everyone conducts their social lives all matter if you want your college home to be a refuge rather than a source of stress.

2. How many people do I really want to live with?
For extroverts raised in a big noisy family it may not be a big deal to share an apartment with 6 or 10 other people. Others might need something a little less complicated.

3. What are my options?
Check out the on and off-Grounds possibilities for yourself, rather than going by word of mouth. The Cav Daily’s 2017-18 Housing Guide or Housing and Residence Life’s Comparison Guide: Deciding Where to Live Second Year are good places to start, but nothing beats doing the research and the financial math for yourself. Also, regardless of what you hear in the ads, there is a lot of rental housing in Charlottesville within a mile of the University, and you do not have to sign a lease by October 31st to avoid being homeless come next Fall semester.

4. What do I need to know before committing to a lease?
It’s more than how much your monthly rent will be. Ask someone with experience to help you before you commit yourself to a legal obligation worth thousands of dollars.

5. Who do I think should be in charge of paying shared housing-related bills every month?
It’s important to be able to trust the roommate in charge of paying shared bills, and for them to be able to trust you. Talking about it and agreeing on (and even writing down) a plan, rather than assuming everyone understands, makes for much happier housing arrangements.

6. If I don’t want all the hassle of dealing with a lease, or I want to live with only one roommate, what are my options?
For a lot of students, staying on Grounds makes sense. If you are the kind of person that needs life to be simple in terms of bill paying, mobility, or roommates, there are plenty of options on Grounds, that are significantly cheaper than some of the apartment options out there. Best of all, you have lots of time to decide about where and with whom you will live. And if you do decide to study abroad, unlike a commercial lease, you do not have to pay for your room while you are away.

Learning how to make a stable supportive home environment is one of the great lessons of college. It can be the thing you most remember 15 years from now. Best wishes and may you take the time this year that you need while planning for next one!

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