Going off to college is stressful enough but adding to that is the challenge of living on your own for the first time. Whether you’ve just left home or are moving from a dorm, there are things you need to know before you step out into the world of rentals. Mistakes can be costly, not just financially, but can hinder your progress at school while you sort out roommate problems, leases and landlords. Here are some common questions and answers to off campus living!
Q. What should I consider before searching for a residence?
A. Take a look at your lifestyle. Some people thrive having company and others prefer to be alone. How many roommates do you want? There is a wide difference between an old 5-bedroom Victorian and a new 2-bedroom condo. Ask yourself if a modern kitchen is important to you. Do you want your own bathroom? Is there storage? A laundry room? Do you have a pet? Do you want a yard where you can sun yourself? Do you want to be walking distance to the college or rely on the bus? Is it important to you that your car is under cover? Answer all of these questions before you start your search!
Q. Is there a difference in Bellingham’s neighborhoods?
A. Some neighborhoods are more residential, while others cater to students. If you’re noisy, you probably won’t be popular anywhere, but maybe you’ll be more at home in a student neighborhood near the college. Rents vary by neighborhoods, too, so do your research.
Q. When is the best time to rent?
A. May and June are good times, but pretty much anytime in the summer is going to be better than the rest of the year when school is in session. It doesn’t hurt to find a place you like and sign a lease before the place comes open. If you wait, you probably won’t get it. Rentals go fast in Bellingham. Do NOT wait until the last minute to start looking for a place to live.
Q. Does it cost to apply for a rental.
A. Windermere Property Management charges an application fee, but if you don’t get your original rental it may be switched to another one for up to 90 days.
Q. Will I need a cosigner?
A. Most students do, and most ask their parents. Windermere Property Management looks for good, established credit, so if you only have a student loan, it may not be enough. We look at five areas when approving a rental applicant, including credit history, criminal background, rental and eviction history, and income. If you have multiple cosigners, they are ALL liable for the amount equally. Be sure your cosigners understand this.
Q. What kind of rentals are the most popular?
A. We get a lot of requests for houses that 5 or 6 students can share. Rental home owners aren’t usually thrilled to have a large group share a home. It can be chaotic, especially if one roommate decides to leave and the others are on the hook for the entire rent. In addition, city regulations do not allow more than 3 unrelated persons living at a rental property.
Q. What if my rental doesn’t seem safe?
A. The city has specific regulations on rental safety. One of the advantages of renting from a reputable property management company is that they work hard to comply because they want to stay in business. Sometimes unscrupulous landlords don’t put the money into fixing up their properties so they can make more money. Here are some city regulations you should know: https://www.cob.org/services/safety/education/pages/landlord.aspx
Remember that the landlord isn’t a law enforcement organization and isn’t responsible for your safety beyond those improvements. It’s up to you to take reasonable precautions.
Q. Are there apartments or condos just for students?
A. While there are places that target specifically for students, most are a mix of residents.
Q. Don’t all landlords use the same leases?
A. NO! In fact, read your lease very carefully before signing it. You may discover you don’t have a parking space, or your visitors don’t. Whoever signs the lease is liable for the rent.
Q. If I’m late with the rent will I be thrown out?
A. Again, your lease should have specifics about the grace period and extra fees for being late. Windermere Property Management asks you to call so we know what’s going on. We may be able to work with you. The last thing to do with any landlord is avoid talking to them.
Q. What if my roommate and I disagree about something.
A. Remember, the landlord is not your parent or law enforcement. If you have a serious problem with your roommate, talk to Whatcom Mediation. They can help! https://www.whatcomdrc.org/mediation-overview
Q. When I move out can I just leave things I don’t want for other people?
A. No. You must leave your rental clean. Don’t leave furniture by the dumpster or on the sidewalk. This WWU website offers lots of ideas for what to do with your stuff and the schedule for the Office of Sustainability “Move Out Madness” pick-ups. https://wp.wwu.edu/offcampusliving/moving-out/
Q. How can I find out Bellingham city rental regulations?
A. Visit the website at: https://www.cob.org/services/housing/landlord-tenant
Q. What else should I know?
A. Check out Windermere Property Management’s “first time Renter” checklist: https://www.rentalsbywindermere.com/first-time-renter-checklist/