The search for off-campus housing

    After time spent comfortably adapting to dorm life, you are moving off campus. It seems like a frightening step outside of a secure set of surroundings, and it is true that you will be leaving established relationships with suitemates, prepared hot meals and a close-knit environment of peers. It may be that the thought of finding an apartment and suitable roommates might be causing you obscene amounts of stress. There is no need to panic. With some helpful advice, the future move can be an exciting and enjoyable experience.

    Before beginning a search of appropriate living spaces, consider who you can trust to be your roommates. A best friend does not necessarily make a good roommate. If your buddy is a television addict who falls asleep to reruns of “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” and you are a light sleeper, you might want to think twice about living together. The Off-Campus Housing office gives further tips about picking roommates. In one of the workshops it sponsored, Student Legal Services advisor and education coordinator Elyce C. Morris warned of the joint and sever liability. It is a measure to consider that stipulates that “roommates are financially bound to each other,” or put more simply, if one roommate runs off, the other is responsible for shelling out all of the cash for rent and any damages.

    Once you assemble a safe group, figure out what type of unit you are looking for, the living situation, the maximum rent you are willing to pay, the location and transportation. La Jolla offers the perk of close proximity to the campus and the beach, but rental prices tend to be steep.

    John Muir College junior David Miller remarked that University City, which is a tad less pricey, is not as close as La Jolla, but it is no more than a five- to 10-minute drive to campus.

    “It’s actually sort of nice that it’s not so close,” Miller said. “One cool thing is that people here who aren’t students are on average 40 years old, so they’re not that anal about noise.”

    He also mentioned that University City seems to be at the center of everything. “You can just take [highway] 52 to [interstate] 5 or [interstate] 805, and get pretty much anywhere,” he said.

    The less expensive regions, like Clairemont, Mira Mesa, Hillcrest and the beach communities, are within 20 minutes of campus and each provide a unique mix of living space and entertainment. Clairemont and Mira Mesa consist mostly of single family homes located near restaurants and shopping venues. Hillcrest gives the illusion of living in a city with a thriving atmosphere and restaurants galore even though the region is located north of downtown. Communities near the beaches, including Pacific Beach, Mission Beach and Ocean Beach to the south of La Jolla and Del Mar to the north, can be more costly and typically experience heavy traffic. However, the possibility of stress-reducing nightly walks and daily excursions to the ocean might outweigh the expense.

    Several resources are at your disposal once you determine a set of preferences. Off-Campus Housing, located in Student Center, has daily updated listings of housing complexes (mostly of areas closer to campus), roommate listings, and a referral service on their Web site at http://offcampushousing.ucsd.edu. It also provides samples of tenant resumes, leases, and rental applications, maps of shuttle and bus routes, and phone numbers of landlords. Keep in mind that a student ID number is needed to use the customized search engine. Erin McMurry, a member of the Off-Campus Housing staff, said the advantage of using their service is that “we get people who are sympathetic to students and know that they are posting to students.”

    The classifieds section of newspapers, or a quick drive around the neighborhood that is of interest to you are two other good options. If you have friends who live off campus, do not forget that they might have valuable information.

    McMurry suggests that if you want to move in during the summer, or if you want to secure a spot for the fall and do not mind paying rent over the summer, now is a good time to start looking for housing. Otherwise, a search during the summer months should also be productive. However, some apartment complexes, particularly those in the areas close to UCSD, have wait lists, and you need to visit their lease offices independently. McMurry stressed that the “important thing is to keep your options open” and not rush because you don’t want to sign a binding contract before making a sound decision.

    A lease is a contract under which the landlord agrees to give the tenant ownership of a housing unit for a specific number of months as long as the tenant abides by prearranged regulations. Two types of leases exist: a periodic (or monthly) lease and a stated lease. Under a periodic, the tenant can leave after paying for the last month or may be asked to leave by the landlord, as long as both give a 30-day notice. A stated lease requires the tenant to stay and pay rent for a preset number of months. Subletting is a temporary option that must be approved by the landlord. It allows tenants to rent a part of their place to someone else for a specific amount of time.

    Once you find the perfect place, there are several legal matters you should keep in mind. Landlords may charge a holding deposit, which can range from $150 to $300. These deposits are nonrefundable if you don’t occupy the residence. Other landlords may ask for a security deposit with first month’s rent. According to Morris, this amount cannot exceed the amount of two month’s rent for an unfurnished rental unit or three months’ rent for a furnished unit. Within 21 days of moving out, you should get your money back, a statement citing deductions, or a bill requesting extra money for damages. If the landlord fails to provide any of these, immediately request a refund in writing, and if that does not work, contact Student Legal Services at (858) 534-3670.

    Prior to signing a lease, make sure you understand your rights as a tenant. The Student Legal Services Office offers Landlord-Tenant Legal Workshops on Thursdays at 11 a.m. You need to reserve a space by calling (858) 534-4374. You can also set up an appointment to have an attorney at the office look over your lease.

    Before you haul your suitcases into your new dwelling, bring an inventory checklist and make note of the condition of the premises. If there are any problematic spots, take pictures to have proof of defects, and try to bring a few witnesses along. Get a written acknowledgment of any needed repairs from the manager or owner. This will save you from paying for something that was already damaged when you arrived.

    Remember that as a tenant, you always have certain rights. For example, if an apartment ceiling develops a leak, the landlord is responsible for the repair, and if he does not comply within two weeks, you can legally withhold your rent. If you have any problems or questions, contact either the Off-Campus Housing Office at (858) 534-3670 or the Fair Housing Council at (619) 699-5888.

    On May 14 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., the housing office will sponsor an Off-Campus Housing Fair at Price Center Ballroom. The assortment of local apartment complexes and furniture rental companies gives you an opportunity to narrow down your search and pick up forms with facts about locations, transportation and rent prices. On May 19 at 2 p.m., the Off-Campus Housing Office will host an informal workshop and question and answer session with a representative from Student Legal Services. The workshop provides more in-depth advice on how to find a home, as well as information about rental agreements, rental insurance, and landlord and tenant responsibilities.

    You have enough resources within your grasp to guarantee yourself an ideal living space for the coming school year. Start your search in advance, go to the Off-Campus Housing Office, attend the workshops and housing fair, and sign an acceptable lease once you find the choice location. Then all you have to do is enjoy your newfound home and lose that dorm room mentality that is so passé.

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