The Hunt for Off-Campus Housing

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by Kay Helbling

Well, I spent the day doing a mother’s duty, but not one I looked forward to. Setting up household for your college sons sounds like it could actually be exciting and fun. Wrong!

Sure, if you have lots of money to spend on a fancy apartment or townhouse on the skirts of campus. But, not if you’re one of the gazillion parents who are scraping by to simply make the tuition and book fees. Then, you have to settle for something that’s a lot more work and a lot less fun.  You have to be armed with a bucket and scrub brush because, believe me, “move-in ready” for a college landlord does not mean “clean”!

As parents we stepped into the off-campus experience for the first time last year when our first son went from his freshman (on-campus) life to the world of off-campus living. We sent him down in the summer to hunt for his first rental armed with a list of all the necessities to check: do the doors and windows lock; do the faucets all turn on with appropriate water pressure. Is there ample lighting and electrical outlets, and is there computer connection.Then there are the extras you know will make their life much easier: a washer and dryer, dishwasher, within walking distance of campus, and bedrooms larger than a closet. These are considered “nice extras” to much off-campus housing. 

What we failed to arm him with during his summer hunt was the importance of watching for signs of mold, water leakage, or lack of proper insulation that could produce major health and comfort issues in the Oregon winter. What none of us knew was what we should expect for the dollars spent or which landlords could be trusted.

Much was learned in that first off-campus rental. It only lasted four months. About one month into the rainy season,  the health issues from mold became apparent. Christmas break was spent in search of new housing rather than a relaxing stay at home for the holidays.

Before we sent him down with his list of “available housing rentals” from the local paper, we failed to check the BBB report for a list of “bad” landlords. Meaning, the landlord that only shows up when the rent is due and not when the faucets quit working. The landlord who is more than happy to take your deposit, but not so quick to produce it at the other end. And a landlord that promises a move-in ready rental, but upon arriving your first trip is to Fred Meyer to get the jugs of bleach, a hammer, saw, and lots of nail and glue supplies to patch the unrepaired damage left by the last renter.

With all the money that is spent on a college education, with all the resources that are available for students on campus, I think there might be one more area that could be of great help to us all….a course on “how-to rent” if you’re a college kid. 

Kay was an insurance adjuster and executive for 15 years, a small business owner, and a teacher for 10. But, her most fulfilling work has been as a mother of her two boys. She is now enjoying an empty nest with her best friend—her husband.