Moving off campus is a big decision for a student to make, but learning about the housing process can be difficult.
After making the decision to move off campus, Frances Wallace, a junior majoring in integrative neuroscience, said she ran into some problems with a lease and decided to inform herself before signing.
“I’ve had some odd issues with leases in the past,” Wallace said. “It took me a bit to understand the wording and what my rights were. Once I got a hang of it though, I started looking for key phrases to make sure I fully knew what I was signing up for.”
Throughout the process, Wallace and her future roommates came up with questions for their landlord.
“After reading over a lease and having it checked by all of our parents and ourselves, we realized there were a few things we were uncomfortable signing with,” Wallace said. “There were a few clauses that we questioned, so we drafted up an email asking about the issues we had with some parts of the lease.”
For students looking for more information about living off campus, Off-Campus College (OCC) can provide information, resources and free legal advice on how students can make a safe transition from dorm life to an off-campus residence. Due to coronavirus restrictions, OCC is only offering remote services to teach students how to become familiar with a lease, local and state laws and zoning information through their legal clinic.
L.C. Coghill, interim director of Off-Campus Programs and Services and director of fraternity and sorority life, said that students should take advantage of the OCC’s legal clinic, which is funded by the Student Association (SA).
“In any given semester we have two to three attorneys who agree to provide brief legal assistance to our students,” Coghill said. “During [COVID-19], they have provided support through email and phone. If the issue requires more than a brief conversation, the student will need to secure their own legal support.”
Student can also visit an upcoming housing fair the OCC is hosting with a third party listing service called Rent College Pads. The virtual fair will take place on Oct. 13 and aims to educate students on their options when moving off campus.
Additionally, Coghill said that it is important for students gain a full understanding of what it means to move off campus and to learn to adjust accordingly.
“When moving off campus, students should consider the complete cost and not just the rent,” Coghill said. “Off-campus living can often mean paying for your own gas and electric, cable, internet and sometimes trash and water. You will also be responsible for your own food costs and preparation. These are things that are often taken for granted when living in the residence halls.”
Coghill stressed the importance of understanding a lease as a binding and legal document.
“Students need to understand a lease is a legal contract between the property owner and the renter, and it does not involve Binghamton University,” Coghill said. “Once you sign a lease, it is very likely you are going to be required to pay rent for the duration of the lease, even if you decide you no longer want to live there.”
However, it may not hurt to try adjusting a lease if a student finds themselves in an unhappy renting situation, according to OCC’s website.
“While a landlord has no legal obligation to agree to modify a lease or offer such terms, some may be willing to do so as a business decision,” the website states.
Nate Weinberg, owner of Nate Rentals, a Binghamton, New York-based student rental company, said COVID-19 changed the game for landlords, but he is working around it to keep business as usual.
“[COVID-19] has presented a few challenges both in terms of showing apartments and signing leases,” Weinberg said. “We’ve implemented a policy that requires prospective tenants to wear masks when viewing properties and have accommodated our current tenants’ COVID-19 related requests regarding bringing prospective students into their houses.”
Among other landlords, Weinberg has found himself having to adjust to the new era of remote communication while still finding ways to provide students with similar services such as house tours.
“In preparation for [COVID-19], we took video tours of most of our properties and posted them on our website allowing prospective tenants the ability to get a real life look at the house without ever going inside,” Weinberg said. “We actually had our first-ever group this year contact us, view a property and sign a lease all without ever meeting in person, as everything was done virtually. We are looking forward to returning back to normal so that we can provide a more personable off-campus living experience.”