Guide to Off-Campus Living

 
 

What is most important to SUNY Oneonta when you move off campus?

  1. If you signed a residence hall license to live on campus, the license is for the full year. This works the same as a lease for an off-campus apartment. If you decide to try to live off campus in the Spring semester, you need to apply to be released from Residence Life Housing, with an acceptable reason for doing so. There is an application form you can pick up and complete from Wilsbach Hall. Completing the form doesn’t guarantee you will be released from housing. You should wait until you find out if you are released before signing an off-campus lease.
  2. Your behavior off-campus also falls under the Student Code of Conduct! You represent SUNY Oneonta within the community. If you are arrested, The City of Oneonta Police Department will send us the police report (in most cases).
  3. Each time you move to a different local address (off campus), please make sure to update that information on MyOneonta Webservices. We need to know how to contact you, especially in the case that your cell-phone isn’t working. The College uses this information for College planning, Community safety, emergency communication, and student outreach.
    *Your address is private, however your mailbox information is available through Directory information. If your address is the same as your mailbox and you are concerned about this information being accessible on the College Directory, you can request that this information be made private through the Registrar’s office.

Community Relations: How to Be a Good Neighbor!

Moving off campus is more than just finding an apartment with friends and enjoying the freedom of making all your own decisions.  Living off campus means you must share in the responsibility of living in a neighborhood which might include families with young children, senior citizens, and others who rise early to go to work, school, or class.  Living amicably with such a variety of people can be challenging, yet rewarding.

A positive cooperative effort by off-campus students can lead to eliminating any past negative feelings from problematic student houses. Your behavior will reflect not only on yourself, but on the College as well.  These simple good neighbor behaviors can help:

  1. Introduce yourself to the neighbors.  Exchange phone numbers and encourage them to contact you if they have a question or complaint.
  2. Be courteous and considerate. Contact your neighbors ahead of time if you are having a social event.  Make sure your guests know not to block driveways and where to park their cars. Don’t let them walk on your neighbors’ lawns or property.
  3. Keep noise to a minimum. Keep your windows shut so music doesn’t bother anyone, or violate the city noise ordinance.
  4. Be discreet.  Do not impose your private conduct and/or lifestyle on people who might not share your values.
  5. Keep your property (lawn, porch, etc.) free from garbage or debris. Lawn care and snow shoveling fit in to this category.  Check with your landlord to see who is responsible for these tasks.  Did you know that Oneonta City sidewalks must be cleared by 9:00 am after a snowfall or a fine is imposed on the residents?
  6. Be understanding.   Realize your daily schedule as a student is the opposite of your neighbors.  Try to understand and respect that difference.  
  7. Be familiar with city ordinances and your legal responsibilities as a tenant and citizen.
  8. Make sure you know and follow the ordinances for pets. Make sure you follow licensing laws.
  9. If you witness/learn of dangerous or unlawful activities around your home, you should promptly report it to the authorities. Dial 911 for Emergencies.
    Non-emergencies for Oneonta Police Department (607) 432-1111.

House Parties:

Can I be arrested for having a party?  What about the people who are at the party?

  • Yesif you violate the City of Oneonta’s noise ordinance, which prohibits unreasonable noise between 8:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.  Police may issue appearance tickets or arrest violators.  Fines range up to $250 and/or 15 days in jail for serious or repeat offenders.
  • Yes– if you violate the New York State Alcohol Beverage Control Law for house parties:
    • If you or your guests are under the age of 21, you are prohibited from possessing any alcoholic beverage with the intent to consume the beverage.  Violators are subject to a fine of up to $50 per offense plus 30 hours of community service and completion of an alcohol awareness program ($175-$300).
    • If you give/deliver an alcoholic beverage to any person/s under the age of 21.  Violators may be jailed for up to one year and/or fined up to $1000.
    • If you charge guests for alcoholic beverages without obtaining the appropriate license, you may be jailed for up to one year and/or fined up to $1000.  You may also be fined twice the amount of a license
    • If an organization is hosting a party (social host law of NYS), (e.g., fraternity, sorority, sports team), the responsibility is the same as if you give/deliver an alcoholic beverage to any person/s under the age of 21.  Violators (per tenant) may be evicted, jailed for up to one year and/or fined up to $1000.

I heard that some students got evicted for having big parties in an apartment.  What’s so bad about big parties?

  • The safety of the people who attend the parties is a very big concern.  For instance, if a fire breaks out in a fourth-floor apartment that has only one door and there are 100 people inside, this is clearly a dangerous situation.  If the police receive complaints about a party (e.g., noise) and find that fire codes have been violated, the owners of the apartment may be fined or arrested.
    • Other safety issues include having too many people on a balcony or porch which may collapse or cars blocking the street in case emergency vehicles need to respond in the area.
  • Neighborhood complaints are more likely to occur if party guests urinate on lawns, leave bottles and cans outside the apartment or house, or cars block neighbors’ driveways.  This can generate a lot of ill will that may translate into calls to the police to shut down the party. 
  • The tenants of the apartment or house will be held responsible for the problems that are caused by their guests – the bigger the party, the harder it is to know what guests are doing.  The tenants will also be held accountable for violations of NYS Alcohol Beverage Control Laws. 
  • If a party is very crowded and the weather is nice, guests may party outside.  Guests who are standing on lawns or streets may violate the Open Container Law, which says that it’s illegal to possess an open container of an alcoholic beverage in a public place.  Violators may receive fines that range from $150-$250 or be imprisoned for up to 15 days.

If I want to have a big party, is there a safe way to do it?

Risks can be reduced although not entirely eliminated.  Here are some ways to make a party safer:

  • Ask the Oneonta Fire Department for information about safety practices and managing large gatherings.
  • Designate (in advance) someone who will refrain from alcohol or other substance use during the party and check for fire hazards:  empty overflowing ash trays; look out for cigarettes thrown into trash cans; make sure that smoke detectors are connected and aren’t covered up; make sure exits aren’t blocked.
  • If you are going to drink, alternate alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, pace yourself to one alcoholic drink an hour, eat before and during the party. If you’re drunk, you’re more likely to get hurt than if you have been drinking moderately. 
  • When it’s time to leave, don’t let any of your guests ride with a driver who is drunk.  Don’t offer to drive simply because you think you’ve had less to drink than your friends.  An effective designated driver is someone has refrained from alcohol or other drug use throughout the party.
  • When the party is over, clean up any trash that has been left outside the apartment or house.

Finding the Right Apartment for You!

Determine your needs: Your first step in finding a place off campus is to assess your needs and examine your finances and expectations. Some questions to consider are:

  • How much are you willing to spend on rent each month?
  • Are you willing to pay the entire semester’s rent up front?
  • Are you planning to live alone or with others?
  • Do you want a single room or do you want to share a room?
  • Do you want to live in a house, apartment or single room?
  • Will you purchase a meal plan or be cooking for yourself?
  • How close are you to supermarkets and stores?
  • What appliances do you want in your living quarters?
  • How will you travel to the College? The bus? Can you afford the commuter parking fee?
  • If you own a car, is parking available by the apartment? Are there enough parking spaces for your roommates to park their cars, too?
  • Do you want to live in an apartment house? Some are like a small residence hall and need self-policing.
  • What services do you expect from your landlord? Is having on-site management desirable?

If the cost of the apartment strikes you as being much higher than you had expected to pay, reconsider the benefits of living in the residence halls. It may be possible for you to cut a few corners and live for less, but don't count on it. You should always have some reserves in your budget for unexpected expenses. One of the biggest challenges off-campus students face is managing a budget. Instead of paying for everything up front like on-campus students, off-campus students have monthly bills. Telephone, electricity, water, cable, Internet, laundry and food bills come more often than you think! Plan in advance!

What does the process look like?

How do you begin looking for an apartment to rent for the next year? Follow these easy steps organized for you!

Begin the process:

  • Decide you wish to live off campus
  • Take stock of your financial situation and decide if you can afford to live off campus.  (It’s not as cost efficient as you think!)
  • How many people can you comfortably live with to share expenses?
  • Begin choosing your roommate(s).  The number of people you wish to live with will determine the size of the places you visit in your search
  • Decide what is important to you and your group in terms of amenities and utilities
  • Decide if you need a furnished, or unfurnished, apartment

Where to look:

  • Speak with your friends who already are living off campus.  They can often be your best sources of information
  • Check The State Times, the weekly newspaper at the College, or the local newspaper at www.thedailystar.com in the classified section.
  • Look at neighborhoods in town in which you’d like to live.  Look for “For Rent” or “Student Rentals” signs posted on properties.
  • Contact local rental agencies in Oneonta, such as Cornerstone Properties or a real estate agency.

When you look at an apartment:

  • Call (don’t email) the landlord of a property you are interested on looking at.  Ask specific questions about the property.  If still interested, set up a time that your entire group can meet with the landlord to look at the rental.
  • When you meet the landlord, realize that first impressions are important.  Dress to impress them and treat them with respect.
  • Arrive on time for your appointment, or even a little early.
  • If your schedule changes, make sure you call as soon as possible to explain and set up a new meeting time.
  • Be organized.  Bring a checklist (reference the one we have provided further in this booklet) and pencil so you can make notes.  Also reference the housing conditions checklist provided further in this document.
  • Consider taking pictures so you can look at them later.
  • Do not allow the landlord to push you into signing anything until you are ready.
  • Confirm the next step in the process. When will the landlord contact you (or you contact them) to sign the lease? Who will need to be there, and what will you need to bring?
  • If you decide you are not interested in the property, be courteous and polite and inform the landlord.  This might help you should your paths cross in the future.

Helpful Hints on Leases

  • It is the duty of the landlord to give you a signed receipt for payment made in cash stating the date, amount paid, and identifying the premises for which the rent was paid. (NYS Real Property Law, Section 235-e)
  • Every lease written after November 1, 1978, is to be written in non-technical language and in a clear manner using words with common, everyday meaning and appropriately divided and captioned by its various sections. (NYS General Obligations Law 5-702)
  • All landlords are to return all but 1% of the interest earned on a tenant’s security deposit when the interest is kept in an interest bearing account.  If your apartment is in a complex consisting of six or more units, the landlord must put the deposit in an interest bearing account.  Interest must be paid when the lease expires (NY General Obligations Law 7-101 to 107)
  • It is unlawful for landlords to interfere with the rights of tenants to form or participate in the lawful activities of tenants’ rights groups and organizations (NYS Real Property Law, Section 230)

Safety Concerns – Protect Yourself!

Be checking these items for your safety:

  • Does your new apartment have working smoke detectors on every floor?  Near every bedroom? In every bedroom?
  • Did you know it is YOUR responsibility to make sure the smoke detectors are operational at all times? When batteries are beginning to fade they will “chirp”.  Replace the batteries, don’t just remove them.
  • If smoke detectors are not present, the landlord is required to install them by current NYS Fire Code.
  • Does your unit have a carbon monoxide detector?  If your new apartment is an older one, the landlord might not be required to provide one.  However, ask him/her anyway.  If they will not, consider installing one yourself.  Carbon monoxide is a silent killer and can come from a malfunctioning furnace.
  • Are your windows painted shut? Especially if you live about the first floor, make sure you have easy access to fire escapes.

Get Renter’s Insurance.

Protect your belongings from fire, water, theft, and more. Purchasing renter’s insurance is a sound decision if you are moving off campus, especially if you have expensive electronic equipment such as laptops, tablets, televisions, gaming equipment, and more.
Renter’s insurance is relatively inexpensive.  Most renter’s think the owner of the property is responsible for any losses they suffer.  This is not true.  Owners are responsible for losses due to the owners’ negligence, but renters are responsible for the financial burden of losses created by their own negligence. For example, if you should start a grease fire in your own kitchen, you are responsible for the losses to the apartment, as well as any damage to units next to your’s.

The “Jointly and Severally” Clause.

Most landlords want the money generated by their investment property. They do not necessarily care who is living in the apartment as long as the residents pay their bills, are considerate of their neighbors, and don’t cause damage to the facility.  The jointly/severally clause protects the landlords and can often cause difficulties for the students.

A jointly/severally clause often reads something as follows:

“If in the event one or more of the below signed tenants does not fulfill the obligations outlined in this lease then the remaining tenants jointly and severally agree to find replacements or pay any outstanding balances owed the landlord.”

This statement is legal and binding, and one of the main reasons students seek legal advice during the year.  It essentially means that if the landlord rents to 5 people on a lease, and 2 do not return to the apartment the second semester, then the remaining 3 tenants are responsible for the amount the 5 would have paid the landlord.  This can be thousands of dollars!

What are Your Rights?

Fair Housing

The Federal Fair Housing Act (Title 8 of the 1988 Civil Rights Act) states that it is a policy of the United States to provide Fair Housing for its citizenry, within constitutional limitations.  Discrimination in the sale, rental or financing of dwellings on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin is specifically prohibited under this law.  Similarly, New York State’s Human Rights and Real Property Laws prohibit discrimination based on disability, marital status, family composition (presence of children), sexual orientation, military status, creed, and age, as well as the above.

Landlords may not refuse to rent and/or renew rental agreements or otherwise discriminate against any person or group of persons because of the factors cited above. The only exceptions are rentals in a building of two dwelling units and the owner lives in one of them or the rental of a rooms(s) by the occupant of a house or an apartment. There is no law forbidding discrimination against students due to their status, but all other elements do apply.

Sexual Harassment

Under New York State Human Rights Law all individuals are protected from sexual harassment by their landlord.

Tenant’s Rights

New York State law provides a Warranty of Habitability which states that in every rental agreement there is an implied guarantee that the house or apartment is safe and livable.

“…the premises so leased or rented and all areas used in connection therewith in common with other tenants and or residents are fit for human habitation and for uses reasonable intended by the parties and the occupants of such premises shall not be subjected to any conditions which would be dangerous, hazardous, or detrimental to their life, health, or safety.” (NYS Real Property law, 235-b)

The City of Oneonta has a Code Enforcement Office, which works to ensure safe and decent living conditions for tenants. If you have a question or concern over the habitability of your unit, please call the Code Enforcement Office at 607-433-3435.
More information is available on the following website: http://www.oneonta.ny.us/sidebar-nav/code-enforcement/

When I moved out of my apartment, I didn’t get any of my security deposit back.  Can my landlord do that?
According to the “Tenant’s Rights Guide” a landlord may use the security deposit: (a) as reimbursement for the reasonable cost of repairs beyond normal wear and tear, if the tenant damages the apartment; or (b) as reimbursement for any unpaid rent.

You can pick up a copy of the “Tenant’s Rights Guide” at the State Attorney General’s Consumer Helpline at 800-771-7755 or at http://www.oag.state.ny.us/sites/default/files/pdfs/publications/Tenant_Rights_2011.pdf

The stove in my apartment doesn’t work and the landlord won’t fix it. Do I have to have it fixed or does he?

Landlords are required to keep appliances such as refrigerators and stoves in good and safe working order.  You can call the City of Oneonta Code Enforcement Office at 433-3435 to report unsafe conditions and code violations.

My apartment needed painting and the landlord wouldn’t do it.  I painted it and she doesn’t like it.  She says she’s going to make me pay for damaging the apartment. Can she do that?

First read your lease to see if it says anything about painting.  If not, you can contact the Office of the State Attorney General (Albany: 518-474-7330; Binghamton: 607-251-2770) to clarify your rights.  The Student Association lawyer is available for consultation at 3:00 every Tuesday at Hunt Union when classes are in session. 

The Perfect Roommate

You’ve made the decision to move off campus, but with whom are you going to live?  You really need to think about your roommates, because there is much more at stake, and no one (like RAs or RDs) to assist you when relationships falter.

Things to consider when looking for the ‘perfect roommate’:

  • Do you share similar interests and values?
  • Do you share similar budgets with which to work?
  • Do you share similar sleep/study habits?

General concerns:

  • What gender of student do you wish to live with? Does it matter if they are in a serious relationship?
  • How many students do you wish to live with?
  • Do you care if anyone has pet(s)?
  • Does age matter? Do you wish to only live with other college students?
  • Do you care if anyone smokes? Use drugs? Do they have heavy party habits?
  • Do you agree to have parties at your apartment?  How often?

Topics to discuss:

  • Rent and/or utility payments – whose name will these be under, who will make the payments each month, and how will this person collect from each of the residents each month?
  • Cleaning responsibilities- kitchen, bathroom, taking out garbage – who shares this responsibility, how often?
  • Sharing food – do you shop only for yourself? Together? How do you pay for food?
  • Guests and significant others – set guidelines ahead of time – how frequently can someone stay?
  • Personal possessions – what kind of common use policy do you want to have?
  • Mail – where do you want this placed for everyone?
  • How will you handle conflicts and disagreements if they arise? Do you want to generate a written agreement ahead of time?
  • Will one person handle conversations with the landlord and then share all information with other tenants?
  • What will each tenant be bringing for furnishings?

 

Useful Tools

  • Monthly budget sheet 
    Printable PDF | Word Document
  • A Renter’s Checklist – Evaluation 
    Printable PDF | Word Document



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