Important Questions to Get Answered While Shopping for an Apartment
- What are the terms of the lease? 12 months? Month by month? 6 months?
- Can I sublet the apartment in the summer?
- What is the rent amount? Is this negotiable?
- What costs are included with rent? Water and sewer? Electric/Gas?
- Is there a security deposit? Can this be waived
- Are there restrictions with regard to decorating? Can nails be used for hanging pictures?
- How is maintenance handled? Is there on-site maintenance?
- Are there exercise facilities? Recreational facilities?
- Where and what are the laundry facilities?
- When is the rent due? Is there an extra charge if the rent is overdue?
- Can I be asked to move out before the lease is up? Consequences?
- How convenient is the apartment to shopping, school, etc?
- Do residents complain about the lack of hot water?
- Where are the mailboxes? How many phone jacks? How many electrical outlets?
- How long do residents live here? Is there a lot of turnover?
- What are the typical complaints of neighbors? Is it quiet? How thick are the walls?
Looking For Off-Campus Housing
When to Look
Start looking for housing early. The housing options vary and you want to find the right one for you. Since comparative shopping for housing arrangements takes time, start investigating prospects for the upcoming fall semester now! Although it is good to get a head start collecting information, don’t make a hasty decision.
How to Look
Your living environment will greatly affect your college experience and academic success at SU. It is important to know how to look and what to consider when looking for off-campus housing.
Living Expenses are a major consideration. Consider more than just the rent. Ask how much the average utility bills are and think about how much money that will leave you for groceries, a meal plan or spending money.
Location should be another major consideration. Will you be able to walk or bike to campus, the grocery store or the laundry mat? If not, do you live near a bus route? Winchester’s bus system is an alternative.
Consider the Condition of the apartment or house. Never sign a lease without first inspecting the facility. Use the damage inventory checklist on the page 5 as a guide, but also check for safety and security [windows and door locks, exterior lighting, smoke detectors, etc…]. Ask neighbors if they have had any problems with the facility or the landlord.
Inspect the facility using the damage inventory checklist on page 5 after you have chosen your new living quarters. Mark any problems as you go through the residence with the landlord and make notes of any repairs they agree to make before you move in. Have all future occupants and the landlord sign it and make sure everyone has a copy. Keep your copy with the lease in case questions or problems arise.
Examine the Lease carefully. Some leases are very restrictive. Beware because you are responsible for knowing exactly what the lease says and means. Do not hesitate to ask the landlord about clauses and terms that you do not understand.
Finally, consider your Roommates. How many do you want and are they responsible people? When choosing roommates, decide whether your lifestyles are compatible. Living off campus allows much more freedom than living in a residence hall. Consider the individual’s living and study habits, attitudes toward parties, overnight guests, etc… Having roommates is a good way to cut personal expenses, but you must agree on certain responsibilities. Decide ahead of time if you will allow subleasing and on what terms, whose name will appear on the utility bills, and other potentially difficult situations. This might save you some trouble later.
Things You Should Know As A Tenant
Tenants entering into any rental agreement should make a concerted effort to learn about the legal responsibilities and become familiar with the protection granted to them under the law. The following is not a substitute for legal advice but is provided as a guide for reasonable expectations of landlords.
Leases: What You Sign Is What You Get
Beware because, you are legally bound by the terms and provisions of your lease. By signing the lease you are legally stating that you know what it says and are willing to abide by all the rules in it. Read the lease completely before you sign it and ask questions if it seems unclear. Remember that it is a negotiable document. If it includes provisions or clauses you want to remove, it is perfectly acceptable to ask the landlord about it. If changes are made, make sure they are included on all copies with all parties’ signatures. If you are moving in with other people, try to get separate leases; joint leases are more prone to problems down the line. Finally, oral leases are legal in Virginia but avoid them if possible.
Your Rights & Responsibilities as a Neighbor
After you move in, even as a renter you assume some basic rights and responsibilities within your neighborhood. These are as important as the rental agreement, though probably not specifically defined.
Ways to Avoid Conflict
- Introduce yourself to your neighbors
- Be conscious of your noise level, especially during the week
- When you have several guest at the same time, let them know where to park
- Offer to assist your neighbors with special projects
- Make sure your landlord maintains the appearance of your house/apartment so that it meets neighborhood standard
- Help keep your property and yard clean and tidy
Your Rights & Responsibilities as a Roommate
It can sometimes be helpful to enter into a signed roommate agreement with your roommates, especially if they are people
you don’t know. Some things to include may be cleaning responsibilities and schedules, pets, noise, and party guidelines, study times, and overnight guests.
The Roommate Bill of Rights
- To read and study undisturbed in your own room
- To sleep without interference from roommates or guests
- Respect of personal property
- Clean living environment
- Personal privacy
- Allowing guests [as long as they respect the rights of other tenants]
- Free from fear of harm [physical or emotional]
- Share the phone
- Honor payment procedures.
According to the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (1994), a landlord must make all repairs and do whatever is necessary to maintain a dwelling in fit and habitable condition. Specifically, a landlord must:
- supply running water and reasonable amount of hot water at all time, air conditioning (where installed) and reasonable heat in season;
- maintain a good and safe working order all electrical, heating, plumbing, sanitation, ventilation, air conditioning, and other facilities and appliances supplied, or required to be supplied, by the landlord;
- keep all common areas clean and in a structurally safe condition, and provide and maintain appropriate waste receptacles in common areas shared by two or more rental units; and
- comply with the requirements of applicable building, housing, health and fire codes.
According to the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (1994), a tenant has the obligation to maintain a clean and safe dwelling. Specifically, the law states that tenants must:
- conduct themselves and require any individuals on the premises with the tenants consent to conduct themselves in a manner that does not violate the peace and enjoyment of the neighbors;
- not deliberately destroy or damage any part of the dwelling or allow any other person to do so, whether known by the tenant or not;
- abide by the rules and regulations set forth by the landlord in the rental agreement;
- use in a reasonable manner all utilities, facilities and appliances;
- keep all fixtures as clean as the condition permits;
- regularly remove all garbage and waste and dispose of them in the appropriate facilities;
- keep the part of the premises occupied and used by the tenant in a clean and safe condition; and
- comply with all applicable housing and fire codes.
Tenant’s Right to Privacy
In the Commonwealth of Virginia, all information regarding the tenant’s right to privacy is contained in the lease agreed to by the landlord and the tenant. In most cases, leases will specify that the landlord shall have reasonable access to the rental until upon adequate notice. Generally, notice should be given at least 48 hours prior to entry by the landlord, and entry should be made during normal working hours as specified in the lease.
- Get all agreements and commitments in writing and signed by all parties involved, and don’t forget to keep copies of everything for yourself.
- Keep good notes, including date and time of all communications with your landlord. Having too much information is much more preferable to not having enough.
- It’s a good idea to see the actual apartment you will be renting. Although this is not always possible, it is helpful to determine the condition of the apartment before signing the lease.
- Once you sign the lease, you have accepted the apartment and all the terms of your lease. Don’t be hasty and be sure you understand everything you are agreeing to.
- Each lease is different in terms of cleaning requirements, damage deposits, responsibility, and security deposits. Your lease is your best reference.
- Consider renter’s insurance when looking for off-campus housing options. Check with your insurance provider to see what options they have for renter’s insurance.
Almost all leases require a security deposit. The deposit is held by the landlord for the length of the lease to guard against losses incurred due to damage not resulting from normal wear and tear or from a tenant moving out before the lease expires. The security deposit is usually equal to one month’s rent and is paid in advance or with the first month’s rent. It should be returned within 30 days of the end of the lease if there have been no problems. The landlord is required to provide an itemized list of any deductions from the deposit. If your lease is for a period of 12 months or more, the landlord must pay interest on the deposit if not returned with 30 days of the termination of the lease.
Federal law prohibits discrimination by a lessor in the rental of housing. Under the law, landlords may not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, disability or age.
As a member of the community, you need to check if there are parking restriction in your neighborhood. Many complexes require that you register your vehicle with them and display a permit in order to be able to park in their lots.
Many students decide to either bring a pet from home or get a pet to keep them company while at school. Although animals are great, the decision to get a pet can greatly affect your living situation and the amount of security deposit returned to you. Even the best-behaved animals can cause sufficient damage to eat up your security deposit and possibly that of your roommates. Also, remember that keeping a ‘secret pet’ can void your lease and cause you to be evicted.
Living off-campus can present new concerns about home security. The following are a few rules to follow when securing your home:
- Lock all doors and install deadbolt locks if possible. If you find the locks are broken, contact your landlord.
- Patio door guard. If you have a sliding glass door, in addition to locking it, make sure you place a wooden stick or block in the lower track to avoid forced entry. If you do not have an old broomstick, you can go to any hardware store and ask for a patio door guard.
- Secure windows. Contact your landlord if your windows do not lock properly.
- Stop your mail if you’re on break or vacation. If mail and newspapers pile up, potential burglars will know you’re gone.
- Keep lights on. Keep some lights on in the house when you go out so it will appear that someone is there. Attaching a lamp to a timer is a good idea.
- Answering machine. Keep your message general and do not be specific in mentioning your whereabouts.
- Noise. Leave a radio or television on to give the appearance of someone being in residence.
- Valuables. Keep all valuables (stereos, televisions, bicycles, etc..) out of sight while you are away.
Alcohol – Host Liability
Unfortunately, many complaints to the police department involve public disturbances and most of these involve alcohol. Illegal or excessive consumption of alcohol can put you, and others, at risk.
It is illegal to be in possession of an alcoholic beverage if you are under the age of 21. This includes not only holding or consuming the beverage, but it is also retroactive if you are picked-up on a drunk-in-public charge.
It is illegal to possess any uncapped or open container of any kind which contains an alcoholic beverage on or in any public street, public sidewalk, public park, public playground, public park, public playground or public school ground.
It is you responsibility when hosting an event to be aware that by serving alcohol to persons you may be liable to a third party injured in an accident caused by an intoxicated person(s).
Newcomer’s Guide: utilities, services, schools and more
Phone: (540) 667-4424
Phone: (540) 665-4500
Lord Fairfax Community College
Phone: (540) 869-1120
Fire, Police, Rescue Squad
Virginia Employment Commission
Phone: (540) 722-3420
Winchester Medical Center
Phone: (540) 722-8000
Division of Motor Vehicles
Phone: (540) 869-4777
Northern Virginia Daily
14 West Boscawen Street
Phone: (540) 662-5868
The Winchester Star
2 North Kent Street
Phone: (540) 667-3200
City Police Department
Phone: (540) 662-4131
County Sheriff’s Department
Phone: (540) 662-6162
Phone: (540) 662-2553
Private and Special Schools
Powhatan School, Boyce, VA
Phone: (540) 837-1009
Grafton School, Berryville, VA
Phone: (540) 955-2400
Timber Ridge School, Cross Junction, VA
Phone: (540) 888-3456
The Handley Library
Phone: (540) 662-9041
Public School Systems
Winchester Board of Education
104 N. Braddock Street
Phone: (540) 667-4253 /p>
Frederick Co. Board of Education
1415 Amherst Street
Phone: (540) 662-3888
Phone: (540) 667-1815
Phone: (540) 665-5681
Phone: (540) 954-6222
City Bus Lines
Phone: (540) 662-3982
Winchester Regional Airport
Phone: (540) 667-5786
City, Water and Sewer
Phone: (540) 667-1815
County, Water and Sewer
Phone: (540) 665-5690
Electricity, Potomac Edison
Phone: (800) 654-3317
Natural Gas, Shenandoah Gas Company
Phone: (540) 869-1111
City, Judicial Center
5 North Kent Street
Phone: (540) 667-1815
19 Court Square
Phone: (540) 665-5660
Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center
Phone: (540) 665-4118
Damage Checklist (Tenant’s Copy)
Tenants: Fill out this form carefully. It will help protect your security deposit. Carefully note the exact condition of each item; be descriptive. Append as many sheets as necessary to fully inventory the apartment.
Outside & Entrance
- Porch & Railings
- Door Glass
- Door Lock
- Door Screen
- Trash Can
Hallways & Stairways
- Furniture (list)
- Furniture (list)