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Northwestern University

Living Off-Campus: Up-Front Costs

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There are a number of things to keep in mind as you evaluate potential apartments. Security, condition of the property location. The Office of Off-Campus Life provides a very helpful Property Checklist. You can use this list as a guide of things to examine in properties you visit. You can also use this pre-move-in; add any pre-existing issues and sign-off on it with your landlord. You should also review the Questions to Ask about an Apartment document. You need to make sure you ask your landlord important questions like "How do I submit my rent payment?" and "How do I report maintenance issues/requests?"

Make a list of what features you desire most from your apartment, then prioritize them based on importance. This will help you  when looking at apartments and comparing your various options. Some concessions will be made, so deciding on the "dealbreakers" now will save you time later.


Sheldon Cooper on "The Big Bang Theory" is probably what most people would consider to be a nightmare of a roommate. He is the prime example of a high-maintenance person who devised a very thorough list of expectations and rules with his roommate. When is comes to roommates, keep the following in mind:

  1. Choose your roommates carefully! When you sign your lease, you are individually and collectively responsible for complying to the terms of the lease. 
  2. Devise a “roommate agreement” to get some dos and don’ts out in the open BEFORE you move in together. This will help avoid conflict later. How will the space and personal items be shared? Who will sign up for which utilities? How will you submit rent payments? How will you divide other expenses? Lay out some ground rules for things like entertaining, significant others and overnight guests, and sharing or not sharing groceries. We all know what our hot buttons and pet peeves are, make sure to get those out in the open from the beginning.
  3. Choose a roommate who has similar or complementary living style to your own. (privacy, allergies, cleanliness, entertaining, significant others, etc.)

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Even though your lease will not start until some time in the future there are a number of up-front costs that you will need to prepare for now. These common costs include:

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A lease is your legal agreement between you and your landlord. It outlines the commitments to which you are both agreeing. Unless you have a “month to month lease” it will outline a specific timeframe to which this contract applies. You are responsible to pay rent for that timeframe. It is vital that you understand of all the terms and conditions of this agreement. It is crucial that all tenants are included on your lease. Relying on some sort of agreement outside of the lease is dangeous and will only lead to problems later. Get everything in writing.

You can review a sample lease provided by the Office of Off-Campus Life for an idea of what to expect and what you should look for in a lease.

When reviewing your lease, you should keep in mind and look for certain items that you know are important to you. What are the penalties and obligations if you need to end your lease early? You cannot sublet your apartment unless you have explicit permission from your landlord. If this is important to you, make sure it is added to your lease. You should also make sure your lease lists the amount that is charged for late rent payments. There is no maximum amount in Illinois for late payment charge, so make sure this is written on your lease. 

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