Back to School – College Housing Contract Basics

This is the first in a series on Back to School from The Life Skills Network. Check out what’s coming up!
Tuesday: Back to School Savings Challenge at My Dollar Plan
Wednesday: 17 Good Habits for a Successful Life at My Super-Charged Life
Thursday: How to Be a Frugal College Student at Frugal Dad
Friday: simple mom AND Marc and Angel Hack Life

The DormsNext to tuition, housing costs are one of the biggest expenses associated with sending a student off to school so it pays to make wise choices that help you know and understand what all goes into the expense of college housing. Whether you begin your college career living in a dorm on campus or in an off campus apartment, signing that college housing contract means you agree to follow the rules. Break those rules and the penalties can vary from fines or fees to actual eviction, so follow these basic guidelines to insure your experience with college housing will be free from big surprises. Eviction can follow you on your credit report for quite some time.

College housing contracts are serious.

On many college campuses, parents are forced to sign the housing contract for their student. I’d be very surprised if that policy was open for negotiation. Getting the parents on the hook insures that the college can recover any financial penalties if junior doesn’t pay the bills or damages something, and since many colleges now require freshman to live on-campus, the details of these housing contracts are very important to review.

Always read the fine print

Here are some common features of on campus housing contracts:

  • Residency, or exactly who’s gonna be living here? You agree to live in and occupy the room and not to sublet it to others.
  • Right of entry, or don’t bother to clean up, we’re just looking in on you. Residential staff and other college officials have the right to enter your room with or without notice, though they generally will give you some notice. In certain states, advance notice is required, but by signing the housing contract, it’s possible you waived this requirement. In some cases, the school may need to perform repairs or maintenance and those needs will take priority over your need to take a nap. You also agree to NOT change the locks.
  • Forbidden items, or you aren’t warming up that pizza are you? These can vary, but could include candles, incense, halogen lamps, grills (fire hazards) and pets. Schools could also forbid outside refrigerators, toaster ovens, hot plates, electric skillets, or microwaves but allow you to rent those items from an approved company. Many colleges require on-campus students to purchase a meal plan, and restricting the student’s ability to produce substantial amounts of food insures the need for that meal plan.
  • Housing assignment, or be ready to move if our mood changes. Many schools reserve the right to force you to move to different accommodations. I’ve seen this happen when the dorm became uninhabitable due to plumbing, electrical, or HVAC problems.
  • Roommate assignments, or The Odd Couple was our favorite show! Most schools reserve the right to change your roommate assignment for any reason. I knew a dorm mate that paid extra to have a room to himself, only to find that the school ran out of rooms and assigned a student to his dorm room. He wasn’t happy, but there was nothing he could do and the school refunded his additional payment.
  • Damages, or you break it, you buy it. You agree to pay for any damages to the room or its assigned furniture. You won’t be charged for normal wear and tear but will be charged for damaging your room, the furniture, fixtures, mechanical systems, or the common areas.
  • Services provided by the school, or what WE provide. The contract usually lays out the school’s responsibilities, which include providing heat, water, electricity and other services such as repairs and maintenance.
  • Contract termination, or break the rules and you’re outta here. Your housing contract can be terminated for not following the school’s housing policies. You may or may not receive a refund, depending on the terms of your contract and the reason(s) you were expelled from your dorm.
  • Running a business, or this isn’t your warehouse or business office. Not all contracts contain these restrictions but some do. Believe it or not, some colleges forbid businesses and even online businesses on college property. How they would find out you were running a blog, an Ebay business, or another online store is questionable, but it pays to read the fine print and know up front.

Off-campus leasing details

Just like an on-campus housing contract, a lease for an off-campus apartment is also a binding contract. Virtually all landlords today will require parents to co-sign the lease unless the student is employed in a full time job. Read it top to bottom, front and back. Twice. Slowly the second time. You will probably be surprised what you’re required to sign.

Always, ALWAYS insure your belongings

Your campus housing contract or apartment lease will specifically disclaim any responsibility for the loss of your personal items, so renter’s insurance is a must. But occasionally, parent’s homeowner’s insurance may cover a dependent student while at college. Make sure by calling the insurance company or checking the policy before leaving for school. The deductible may be so high that the theft or loss of an iPod or even a laptop may not be covered.

BUT, there are some insurance policies specifically designed for dorms and these are becoming popular with students and their parents. For a couple of hundred dollars a year, your belongings are covered on campus and on school sponsored trips (including study overseas), usually with a very low deductible of $25 or $50.

Things get stolen from dorm rooms with surprising frequency. If a student leaves a door open, even for just a few minutes, cell phones, iPods and laptops get taken and 90 percent of the time it is someone living on the floor or someone who is visiting someone who is living on your floor.

To protect yourself from theft, loss and damage, it’s important to have some type of insurance coverage, whether from a homeowners insurance or campus insurance policy.


Know what’s in your housing contract before you sign on the dotted line. Know what’s expected of you and what you can expect from the school. The school knows, you should too.

photo credit: celebdu

[tags]back to school, college housing, dorms, housing contracts, off campus housing, on campus housing, renters insurance, college costs[/tags]

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