Tenant Union answers apartment-hunting questions

Erica Magda

Erica Magda

By Bonnie Stiernberg

Maybe it’s the sounds of construction at 8 a.m. or drunken freshmen screeching in the halls at a much later hour. Or maybe it’s the roommate whose dirty laundry is slowly seizing control of the room. Maybe it’s just time for a change.

Whatever the reason, with a little less than a month before most places go on the market, now is traditionally the time that students desperate to escape another year of dorm life begin apartment hunting.

However, issues like where to search for apartments, when to sign a lease and what to look out for have always plagued students’ hopes of finding that perfect place to live. The Daily Illini caught up with Esther Patt, coordinator of the Tenant Union, for answers to some common questions.

How should I decide which company is best to rent with?

Do your homework. “Check landlord complaint records,” Patt said. “Students complain about the same landlords every year. It breaks my heart to see students complain about going weeks without hot water just because they signed with a bad landlord.”

How crucial is it that I see the exact unit I’m going to rent?

In a word, very. While the units in a building may be identical, the degree of wear and tear in each one isn’t. Patt suggests bringing along a list of common problems. “See the exact apartment you’re going to rent, and bring a checklist of things to look out for,” she said. “Do the windows leak air? Is there any evidence of mold? These are things you can only find out by seeing the apartment yourself.”

When should I sign my lease?

It depends on what sort of apartment you’re looking for. Patt said location is major factor in how early people sign. “The people who want three or four-bedroom apartments super close to the Quad usually end up signing in October,” she said. “Lots of one or two-bedroom apartments are on the market longer than that, and people who don’t care about being close to campus can usually find an apartment as late as March.” Patt also said signing too early can be risky. “A lot of people falsely believe that you have to sign in October or you won’t find anything,” she said. “If you sign in October for a place that you won’t be living in until August, you’re risking a radical change in the apartment you saw.”

What if I’m interested in an apartment complex that’s currently under construction?

“Beware of buildings not yet built,” Patt said. “What’s going on right now at 309 East Green is not uncommon. Realize if you sign a lease at a new place there’s a chance it might not be ready for you in the fall.”

What if I’m not sure whom I’ll be living with next year?

Figure it out as soon as possible, because there’s no way to get out of a lease once you’ve signed. “Make sure your roommate situation is solid,” Patt said. “It’s like you’re married. It’s everyone’s problem. For freshmen, that’s an especially big risk because oftentimes after fall grades get released, someone will decide to transfer to another school or be asked to leave the University. The landlord’s not going to give you back that person’s portion of the rent.”

What if I’m torn between two apartments? How should I decide?

Go back and check those complaint records again. “Pick the better landlord,” Patt said. “It’s more important than any other factor. You can e-mail us (the Tenant Union) landlord names, and we’ll get you the complaint records. There are plenty of landlords that have zero complaints, and you should always try and find the best landlord possible.”