Office of Residence Life

Considering the three Cs: Comfort, cost, and convenience

As you prepare to move into a new apartment, it's very important that you take the location's comfort, cost, and convenience into consideration.

Comfort


Apartment layout

Here are just a few things to keep in mind when looking for an apartment:

  • How many roommates will you have, and, if you'll be sharing the apartment with at least one other roommate, will each of you be able have a separate bedroom?
  • Will there be enough room for each of you to have your own computer setup and study space?
  • Is there enough room to eat in the kitchen if you convert the dining room into a computer/study room?
  • Do any of you have special needs?

Apartment conditions

Look for any obvious problems with the apartment, such as peeling plaster, cracks in the walls or ceilings, or broken windows. In addition, check for stains in the ceilings, as these may indicate water leaks from the roof or plumbing on an upper floor.

Run the water briefly in the bathtub or shower and in each sink to see if it drains quickly or backs up, and check under each sink to see if there are leaks in the drains. Make sure that the water pressure seems adequate, and that the hot water is warm enough.

Check to see if each room contains at least one set of electrical outlets, and whether or not they are more modern three-pronged outlets or the older two-pronged ungrounded outlets. Ask the landlord to show you the electric fuse box or breaker box and explain if the apartment has adequate electrical service for your computer and electronic equipment. Also find out if the apartment is wired for telephone/internet and/or cable television.

Open kitchen cabinets and drawers, and check behind appliances and in garbage storage areas for roaches and vermin droppings. Also look to see if a covered container for trash/garbage storage is available.

Appliances

Make sure that the apartment has a working stove and refrigerator, and that each appliance has all of its working parts, such as shelves, control dials, and trays. If the utilities are on, check each burner on the stove and see how cold the refrigerator and freezer unit are. If the apartment contains any other appliances, check to see if they are also in working order.


Cost


Rent

While affordability is relative, it's nevertheless very important when considering getting an apartment. One way to assess whether or not you can afford an apartment is to compare the cost of staying in a school dorm with living off-campus. Remember, rent isn't the only expense associated with living in an apartment, so be sure to figure in the additional costs of things like heat and utilities, cable television, telephone, and computer/internet connections.

Similarly, compare the cost of a campus food service meal plan with the cost of buying and preparing your own meals. If you have not done this before, you should consult your family and other students who have lived off-campus in order to gauge the time and expense of grocery shopping, cooking your meals, washing the dishes, and falling back on fast food (which can be very expensive!) when you are too busy or tired to cook. And don't forget about the additional costs for furniture and kitchenware such as pots, pans, dishes and silverware!

For most non-students, paying 25% or less of your monthly income is considered to be an affordable rent level, although many people consider 30-35% of one's monthly income for rent and utilities to be a more realistic ceiling for rental affordability. If your rent is 40% or more of your income, the likelihood increases that you will be unable to pay your rent at some time during your tenancy, which would then lead to your eviction.

Rent is due on the first day of your rental month, which typically -- but not always -- coincides with the calendar month. Late fees must be reasonable and have a grace period, usually from five to 15 days.

Heat

If heat is included in your rent, then you can afford to pay a higher percentage of your income for rent. However, if you have to pay your own heating costs directly, there are a number of factors to consider:

  • The type of heat and fuel. Most apartments have either hot water heating systems (large cast iron radiators or baseboard copper pipes with aluminum fins) or hot air systems (metal grates in the floors, walls and/or ceilings that blow warm air). New homes or recently-rehabbed homes typically have electric baseboard heat.
  • The fuel type affects affordability. For example, electric heat is much more expensive than natural gas or oil. Electricity and natural gas are supplied by a regulated utility company; National Grid serves Troy and the surrounding Capital District. Home heating oil is supplied by a number of private companies, and the price per gallon varies similar to variations in gasoline prices. However, both National Grid and the local fuel oil companies offer budget plans that enable you to pay the same amount per month during both the summer and winter, based on your projected usage.
  • Heating a large apartment can cost well over $300 a month in December, January, and February. Weatherization -- such as insulation in walls and ceilings, tight-fitting windows and doors, and storm windows and doors -- can make a big difference in heating costs. You can also make small changes in your personal lifestyle by wearing heavier clothes while in your apartment, and by turning down the heat at night and if you will be out of the apartment for an extended period of time. Having said this, however, do keep in mind that you shouldn't turn your thermostat off or below 55 degrees during the winter months; you need to keep the temperature at a reasonable level in order to prevent the pipes from freezing, even if you will be out of the apartment for an extended period of time.

Truth in Heating Law: New York State requires that building owners provide the actual heating bills for a rental unit for the previous two years to a tenant/prospective tenant free of charge, but only upon request. Be sure to request this before signing a lease or rental agreement.

Utilities

The city of Troy receives its electricity from National Grid, and your monthly cost depends upon the appliances that you use and how you use them. For example, air conditioners can be very expensive to operate).

Water/sewer costs are almost always included in the rent. Regardless of who pays for those utilities, make sure that there are no leaks -- including dripping faucets or running toilets! -- and request immediate repairs for leaks/dripping faucets in your lease or rental agreement. If water is not included in the rent and you will be responsible for it, ask to see the actual water/sewer bill from the Troy Water Department for that building for the previous two years, prior to your signing a lease or rental agreement.

Truth in Heating Law: New York State requires that building owners provide the actual heating bills for a rental unit for the previous two years to a tenant/prospective tenant free of charge, but only upon request. Be sure to request this before signing a lease or rental agreement.

Security deposit

Although not required by law, it is customary for landlords in the Capital District to charge a security deposit of one month's rent to cover possible damages to the apartment during your tenancy. It is your money which your landlord holds in escrow and which he or she will return to you as soon as you vacate the apartment. Note that normal wear and tear items are not to be deducted from your security deposit, but that you are responsible for any damages which you or your guests cause to the property. Also keep in mind that, unless you and your landlord expressly agree to do so, the security deposit is not to be used for rent or as payment toward any other fees or charges.

Please refer to the section on moving out voluntarily for what to do if you believe that your security deposit is being withheld unreasonably.

Telephone and cable television

While monthly telephone and cable television costs are almost always the tenant's responsibility, the landlord should pay for the installation of any equipment or lines that remain in the building because they are permanent and increase the value of the building. However, you should always get the landlord's approval before making permanent improvements and get an agreement -- in writing, preferably -- if the landlord will pay for such improvements. It is critical for you to know what types of connections you need for your computer/electronic equipment in order to negotiate this.

Sharing costs with your roommates

This is a matter to be determined amongst the tenants, but if rent or a bill is owed, keep in mind that the landlord, National Grid, the fuel oil company, and telephone service and cable company are only interested in getting paid. If any bills are not paid due to disputes/confusion amongst roommates, these vendors will use eviction (in the case of the landlord) or termination of services and collection procedures against whoever has contracted with them. If more than one name is on a bill, a vendor can demand and collect full payment from any one of those named. It will be up to the roommates to determine how to equitably share these expenses. Getting this agreement in writing and signed by all roommates can help avoid problems later.

If disagreements or confusion over these matters persist, it is best to get help from a dispute mediation service to resolve them to avoid costly losses to all the roommates. If that doesn't resolve the issue, you have the right to go to small claims court to sue for any payments due you. Please refer to the section on handling legal matters for more information about small claims court.

Preparing a budget for basic living expenses ahead of time and revising it each month should help you control your costs and make whatever adjustments that may be necessary before serious financial problems arise. See the Appendix for a basic budget outline.


Convenience


Location

Location is everything when considering a new apartment. Will it be near campus or work, as well as within convenient distance to any businesses and/or services that are important to you? For example,is there a grocery store nearby, and can you reach all of the necessities you need if you don't have a car?

Public transportation

If you don't have a car, it's possible that you can make use of the local public transportation to get around. Check the Capital District Transportation Authority's website for local bus routes and schedules, and take note of evening and weekend bus availability. You can also contact CDTA by phone at (518) 482-8822.

If you and/or your roommates have a car, you should check for any parking limitations on the streets around your apartment. Drive by the property, particularly during the evening hours when most people are home, to see if parking may pose a problem. If off-street parking is available, ask the landlord if you have to share it with other tenants, and find out what arrangements he or she may have for snow removal. For example, find out if the landlord shovels or plows the lot him or herself, or if they call a plow service when needed. In either case, try to come to an agreement with the landlord as to when the lot should be cleared so that you can get out in time to make it to class, etc.

The neighborhood

Not only does the city of Troy have many diverse, interesting neighborhoods, each with its own culture, it is also surrounded by different types of communities...from rural to suburban. When you're looking for an apartment, it's important that you reside in an area which best matches your lifestyle to ensure that you are as happy living there as your neighbors are to have you there.

For instance, if you are looking for a place where you can expect to party, or have lots of friends in and out, you would likely be happiest in a neighborhood with lots of other students around and not in one surrounded by working families who expect quiet nights and little traffic to disturb the safety of their children. Alternatively, if you need a quiet place where you will be undisturbed by neighbors, you will not want to live on a kid-filled street or near the local school or playground. To check out a neighborhood, drive by at different times of the day or week, or contact a neighborhood association (a list of Troy neighborhood associations is attached), or ask other off-campus students what their neighborhoods are like.

Pets

If you have a lease which expressly states that no pets are allowed within the building, then you may not have a pet without the landlord's written consent. If you do not have a lease, you should still ask your landlord about having a pet, since it is irresponsible to adopt an animal that you may not be allowed to keep.

If you are allergic to cat or dog dander, you also need to check to see if other tenants in the building have pets.

Smoking

Whether or not smoking is allowed in a building is something for you to discuss with the landlord. If you have smoke allergies, check to see if other tenants in the building are smokers before you sign a lease.

Noise

Ask the landlord about their policies regarding how quiet he or she expects you and your roommates to be. Similarly, let the landlord know how quiet or tolerant you expect the building's other tenants to be.

Storage

If you need or want storage space in a basement, attic or yard, get agreements with the landlord about this in writing, particularly if this space is shared with other tenants. (Security is more easily compromised if common areas are shared with others.) The landlord is responsible for keeping any common storage areas in good repair.

Last modified: Apr 29, 2013