3 Unexpected Expenses That Go With Moving Off Campus

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Thermometer, sign that says "furnished apartment for rent," and Coca-Cola sign, all hanging in window

You may not have to buy new furniture, but there are other expenses to be aware of when renting your first apartment.

This fall, my daughter is moving off campus with her friends. Of course, this process started in the spring, when they went on a waitlist for an apartment complex they wanted to live in.

When they reached the top of the list, they had 24 hours to accept the available unit … or drop back to the bottom of the waitlist. So yes, “we” started paying rent on May 20—three full months before she’ll actually move in.

And while those extra months of rent proved to be an unexpected expense, they were far from the only one students moving off campus face.


Lately, it seems like I have co-signed or guaranteed too many leases for my college-aged kids, who have had enough of college dorm life. This makes me somewhat of a reluctant expert on the subject of rentals and leasing, from the eyes of a tenant (or, rather, the eyes of a tenant’s parent).

If you signed on the dotted line for a place to live this fall, you’re likely excited to get away from your folks and move in with your friends. However, first and last months’ rent payments might not be the only expenses awaiting you. Here are three others you need to be aware of before packing the moving truck.

1. Surprise Deposits For Utilities

By the date your lease begins, you and your roommates will need to show your landlord proof that you have transferred all the utilities into one of your names. Talk with your roommates about how to manage these costs—you may want to each take responsibility for a specific utility. Paying a bill in your name and on time is a good way to build your credit score.

But be warned: Some utility companies require an initial deposit. When my daughter signed up with the local electric company, it surprised us both that they required a $250 deposit. If you have to deal with a deposit as well, decide whether you will pay it yourself (and get all the money back some day) or split it equally among your roommates. If you choose the latter, keep track of how much everyone chipped in.

2. Insurance May Be Mandatory

My daughter’s landlord required proof of $100,000 in liability insurance for all tenants, in case something crazy happens, such as a person getting hurt or the property getting trashed during the lease period. This unexpected insurance cost added another $129 to the annual expenses of renting.

And in case you were wondering, liability insurance does not cover your personal property. For that, you would need renters insurance. (Considering how my son’s stuff was ruined in a flooded storage unit, I can attest that the extra expense of renters insurance can be worth the money.)

3. You Must Complete A Property Condition Form

This one is to prevent future unexpected expenses from coming your way.

When your lease begins, you have a short period to let the landlord know of existing damage or problems with the unit. It is really important to fill out this property condition form by the deadline, as well as to take pictures of any existing wear and tear. That way, you and your roommates cannot be held responsible for any existing damage.

My son’s very inexpensive rental house in the Rocky Mountains came complete with broken glass and screens, dirty carpets, holes in walls, mold, rodents, and more. When I saw the squalor, I was appalled he was going to live in such a place. I also thought we’d never get his share of the security deposit back, but we did—thanks to the property condition form.


There are a lot of other details to manage with signing a lease and all the startup activities. But once you have it all done, you and your roommates can get to work on the more fun part, like hunting for good used furniture, stocking your fridge, and scheduling your house warming party.

Have you signed a lease with your friends? Let us know in the comments what surprises you encountered in the process.

(Photo: turkeychik)

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  1. Danielle July 18, 2014 / 12:12 am

    Even if you’re paying the rent three full months before official move-in did you think of getting a short term sublet in the meantime to recoup that expense?

  2. Sarah Barker July 18, 2014 / 9:09 am

    Great question, Danielle! Some landlords do allow subletting but not all. In this case, it was a possibility but it was complicated, because the students took possession of the unit after they had left town for the summer. If the girls decide to keep the same apartment next year, they will have a better shot at subletting it next summer. However, any new tenant, (even short term), would have to be approved and added to the lease, and later released from the lease for a fee of $200. Wish it were a simpler process!

  3. Garry Russell August 20, 2014 / 5:41 pm

    Be very cautious about signing leases for multiple roommates. We learned the hard way. The apartment was 4 bedrooms. My son’s 3 roommates were all from out of state. The lease was “Joint and Several Liability”. This means all roommates are responsible to the landlord as one. One of my son’s roommates dropped out of school and moved back to his home state 4 months before the lease was up and refused to pay his share of the rent. The other 3 of us had to pay his share of the rent along with several hundred dollars of his late fees. To make this worse the deposit that each roommate put up(Two months rent) is refunded by the landlord with all 4 roommates names on the check. The roommate that flaked out has no deposit owed him due to not paying, so we are in the process of figuring this piece out. Why did we do this. The supply and demand of rental units makes it tough. Here is a good website to check out if you are considering this type of lease. http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/free-books/renters-rights-book/chapter6-2.html

  4. Sarah Barker September 2, 2014 / 12:52 pm

    Garry, thanks for writing. (I’ve been offline while moving my daughter into her apartment with her 3 roommates.) Sorry your son had a tough situation with a roommate and here’s hoping it gets resolved soon! It can get very complicated when signing a lease with friends. But as you noted, local supply and demand of rental units in the market leave few other options. Good luck sorting out the last details of your son’s situation.

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