In The Hunt
First rule of finding an apartment: Remain calm
Published: August 16, 2010
By April, it’s a safe bet that many college students aren’t just worried about looming final projects, they’re also worried about bathrooms, kitchens—they’re worried about where to live in general. Those with on-campus housing for all four years bite their nails as randomly assigned numbers in a housing lottery decide their fate, and they’re the ones who get off easy. Baltimore schools run the gamut of housing situations, with Goucher College and Loyola University offering on-campus housing all four years, Johns Hopkins University guaranteeing on-campus housing for just the first two years, University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) only guaranteeing on-campus housing for freshman year, and Towson University providing on-campus housing to only about a fifth of its undergraduate student body. In other words, you’re probably going to have to learn to navigate local real estate scene at some point.
The foremost thing to keep in mind is the time frame of your search. Many students seem to be under the false assumption that the earlier they get into the housing race, the better chance they will have of winning it. What tends to happen is a trickle-down effect of stress, beginning in mid- to late March, when the more anxious members of a school community begin to worry about where they are going to live the following fall. When their friends catch wind of this, housing mania starts to spread like an epidemic. By April 1, local landlords are up to their elbows in premature lease applications (and a handsome pile of application fees) while the students around them panic at the prospect of having nowhere to live.
What students don’t know is that the tables will inevitably turn in late April or mid-May when landlords send around their annual “lease-renewal” forms and graduating seniors don’t renew their leases. At this point, those holding the leases now they need to fill those empty spaces. Bottom line: There’s no use panicking over not getting your dream apartment when it’s possible your dream apartment hasn’t even come on the market yet. According to property manager Vita Leon of Real Estate Dimensions, a firm with properties in and around Charles Village, the number of available apartments between its five properties increased from 13 to 34 between the months of May and June this year due to graduation turnover.
Now that you know when to look, the second thing to keep in mind is where to look. What often happens is that certain areas tends to get handed down among members of a group of friends; older students will have younger students over to their house in Neighborhood A and the younger students will inevitably end up leasing a house on the same street. There are many housing options prominently advertised on campus, not to mention what might be more economical options literally just around the corner. A Johns Hopkins student might live in an efficiency right by campus overlooking an alley and pay top price, while a few blocks away he or she could have more space and a much nicer view for hundreds of dollars less.
On a similar note, the quality of your landlord is equally (if not more) important than the quality of his or her properties. Having a good landlord is like having a dependable but distant aunt or uncle: They may not always be hanging around, but if you call they will eventually show up. This brings us to the most unfortunate paradox for the housing search as the only way to really get to know a landlord is by becoming one of his or her tenants. While the experiences of friends can serve to inform, it’s important to keep in mind that few people ever share their good landlord stories. That said, if you’ve heard multiple horror stories from other tenants of an inattentive landlord, that’s definitely a warning sign.
When it comes down to it, a landlord’s job is to answer to the reasonable complaints of his/her tenants. However, it is the tenant’s job to ask, and to keep asking. According to Ben Goldberg, coordinator of Off Campus Student Services at UMBC, “What we tell our students is that good communication is the key to a successful relationship with your landlord and that includes getting things in writing, especially your lease.” Though it can be difficult to achieve the balance between charmingly persistent tenant and a cloyingly parasitic one, having a signed contract will help to eliminate the majority of unpleasantness because it gives both parties an understanding of the situation they can refer back to, therefore allowing you to remain polite but in the right. Preserving the peace with your landlord can be the difference between a stay in maintenance Xanadu and one in maintenance Zanzibar.
The fact remains that there is always somewhere to live, and if you do your research, keep an open mind, and are willing to wait until the right time to strike, you will have a roof over your head and someone to fix it if it leaks.