Becoming an adult means, eventually, living on your own. And no, we don’t mean simply living without parents in a dorm on campus. With Brown Facilities and campus eateries at your disposal, dorm-style living doesn’t exactly constitute an independent lifestyle. So, for those of us with off-campus permission, we bring you How to be a Real Person: bits and pieces of wisdom we’ve picked up on our meandering journey to competent adulthood.
At first, living off-campus seems great. You avoid dealing with the housing lottery’s many changes and delight in the seemingly endless housing choices provided by the Providence real estate market. But then you start calling a few landlords and you realize that if you thought the housing lottery was like The Hunger Games, trying to secure a legit house with your friends can be like trying to buy an extra Spring Weekend ticket.
Most people agree that you have to start looking for an off-campus house about a year in advance. But rumor has it that Brunonians are looking even earlier now. By “rumor,” I mean sophomores are constantly looking at my house to a sign a lease for two years from now.
When a Providence landlord shows you a house, you usually look through a few rooms, explore the common space, and peek into the bathrooms — and then the landlord tells you that three other groups are thinking about the house so you’d better think fast and sign the lease. This fast turnover leaves little time to weigh the pros and cons of each house you explore. What ends up happening is that two years later, you move into your house with your friends and you realize that, as fun as it is to play house [Ed.: really fun], there were a few things you didn’t think about in your scramble to lock down the house. To make that transition as simple and tidy as possible, consider these tips before you move in…
1) Read the fine print: Contracts are inherently boring, but they exist for a reason. When you sign your lease, actually read the whole contract. You’ll be happy you did when you wake up to a blizzard and can refer to the contract to figure out whether you or your landlord is responsible for shoveling the 10 inches of snow outside your door. You might also get a fun taste of your landlord’s writing style: A highlight from my lease states, in no uncertain terms, that “NO ANIMALS, BIRDS, SNAKES OR PETS” are allowed on the premises. (See also #3.)
2) Laundry: Be sure to check out the laundry situation in your house when you take your initial tour. Is there a working washer and dryer? How many people would be sharing the machines? How much is your landlord charging you to do laundry in your own home? Living off-campus means that you can’t use Bear Bucks to do your laundry. You’ll need to stock up on quarters, which means hoarding loose change or (easier) going to the bank to buy $10 rolls of them.
3) House “pets”: While most landlords won’t allow you to have your own pets, some houses come with a few of their own. Not the cuddly ones that were on Wriston earlier this week, either — think centipedes, mice, or termites. If their presence would keep you from sleeping at night, address that with your landlord before you sign your life over and pay the deposit.
4) Broken appliances: Talk to the house’s current residents about whether all of the appliances work and whether the landlord fixes them if they do break. Quirky kitchenware gets annoying real fast, so think ahead: Make sure all the buttons on the microwave work, check the fridge to make sure its shelves are all there (ours is missing two), and if there’s a garbage disposal, make sure it’s in working order — I learned the hard way that if it breaks, the sink can overflow with thick, brown, smelly liquid overnight. The same goes for heating — it may be warm and sunny when you sign your lease, but come winter, you’ll be glad you smoothed out any kinks.
5) Fire safety: This might not be your top priority now, but it will definitely put your parents’ minds at ease to know you’re living in a house with a smoke alarm and fire extinguisher. (You do have a fire extinguisher, don’t you? If not, you gotta have some words with your landlord, dude!) Even though these devices are required by the Rhode Island fire code, you’d be surprised by what some off-campus houses are lacking. In the same vein, if you have a smoke detector that’s broken, it’ll do you no good and just beep incessantly. In theory, the landlord would probably take care of it, but landlords can be flaky. To avoid the incessant beeps, keep a box of spare batteries around so you’ll be ready to change them yourself.
6) Furniture: The girl who had my room before me wanted to sell all her furniture, and, conveniently, I needed to buy all new furniture. It was a win-win … or not. I didn’t do enough research on the bed in question (i.e. I didn’t give it a test-lie-down) and discovered on the first night of sleep that it is actually a bed that has no size. It is not a twin or a queen or even a twin x-long, and my body literally doesn’t fit on it. I’ve taught myself to sleep diagonally and added a lil DIY extension on the end, but I’m hoping this warning will ensure that this does not happen to any other person ever again.