Starting your off campus housing search can be a daunting task, but have no fear! Off-Campus Life is here to help you get through it all. This "Beginning Search" section provides information to help you learn about how to decide if you should live off-campus and where to start in looking for off-campus housing. Be prepared to be persuaded, starting as early as the first couple of weeks of the fall semester, that you should find housing and sign a lease by October in order to have a place to live in Harrisonburg next year. DON'T FALL FOR THIS MYTH! There is NO Housing Shortage in Harrisonburg, thus you have plenty of time you make your decision. There is no need to sign a lease in a hurry. Remember a lease is a legal binding contract between you and the landlord, and signing one prematurely can cause all sorts of consequences, including some extensive financial ones. First and foremost, do not rush into making the housing decision: -Start comparison shopping during the fall semester prior to the year you will start living off-campus. You can start this process at the Off-Campus Life Fall Housing Fair where most off-campus properties come to JMU to advertise what they have to offer in housing, including leasing specials, etc. -Talk with OCL staff, parents, landlords, and potential roommates. It's a big decision in if and where to live off-campus, and one that can be helpful if you have advice.
The Offices of Residence Life (ORL) and Off Campus Life (OCL) encourage students to live on campus for at least two years. Research shows that students who do so are more likely to graduate, are more satisfied with their college experience and are more involved with campus activities. Take the time to think about the positives of living on campus.
Listed below are some of the positives of living on campus:
- No commute (Close to classes)
- Quiet Environment
- Fun Community programs in the Residence Halls
- Save Money (Limited grocery purchases, paying rent/utilities, etc.)
- Campus Events (Movies at Grafton, Funny Freaking Fridays, Late Night Breakfasts, etc.)
- Can walk to Downtown Harrisonburg
- May not have to worry about parking (Unless you choose to bring a car)
- Involvement in campus clubs and organizations
Whether you have no idea where to begin your housing search or you just need assistance visiting properties or choosing which is right for you, Off-Campus Life is here to help. Our office offers House Hunters Services which can provide you with help in each step of searching for housing, from determining what you are looking for all the way to lease signing. Here is an outline of how the House Hunters Services in our office work, and feel free to contact our office for help in any of these areas.
Step 1: Determining What You Want and Need in Housing
If you don’t know where to start looking for housing, Off-Campus Life suggests identifying for yourself what you need and want in student housing. This might include the number of bedrooms and bathrooms you are looking for in the apartment, the proximity to campus, whether or not utilities are included, and amenities offered such as a gym, pool, or the ability to have pets. You can go to our Living Priorities Rubric to help you identify important things you are looking for in off campus housing. You can also come to our office or contact us by phone, email, or through this website for help figuring out your living needs and preferences. Some areas to focus your thoughts on, however, are:
- Consider Your Living Expenses: There is more to pay than just the rent. To live off campus you will be responsible for utilities, groceries, trash pick-up, parking, internet and cable options, possibly even oil used for heating. You’ll want to consider the costs of these additional expenses in order to accurately estimate what you can afford for monthly rent.
- Consider the Location: You will have to get back and forth from classes to your housing. You’ll need to consider the following questions:
- Can you get to campus?
- Do you feel safe in the neighborhood you have chosen? (Make sure to visit the area at night as well as during the day).
- Is the neighborhood conducive to your lifestyle?
- Consider the Condition of the Apartment or House:
- Don’t sign a lease without 1st inspecting the facility.
- Check for safety and security.
- Ask neighbors and previous renters if they have had any problems with the facility or landlord.
Step 2: Identifying Your Top Three Criteria
Once you have really spent some time thinking about what you need and want in off-campus housing, our office recommends that you identify the top 3 things that you have to have in terms of housing. Then you can start searching for properties that meet all 3 of these criteria. *As there are a number of student housing options around Harrisonburg, this can help narrow down the number of properties to explore in finding housing.*
Step 3: Beginning the Search
When you know what you are looking for in housing, you will be able to begin your search. One resource that can help you with this search is the Off-Campus Life Housing Guide. This guide provides a list of various off-campus housing locations in the community and information about what each has to offer. Our Housing Guide 2015-2016 lists: various property management companies in the area, contact information for each of these companies, a map of where various student housing corporations are located around JMU, and a list of complexes with what they have to offer in terms of bedroom and bathroom options and amenities. If you would like a hard copy of this guide, you can stop by our office in the Festival Conference and Student Center to pick one up.
Another resource that can help with the off campus housing search is our Off Campus Partners, LLC listing website. This website allows you to search online for available student housing based on your preferences. You can search by monthly rent amount, pet policy, and much more. The website also shows pictures of the available property, lists amenities, provides contact information for the property owner or manager, and may have links to online rental applications. If you are having any difficulty navigating this website or have questions, feel free to contact our office for additional help and assistance.
When looking for housing, it is also always a good idea to attend an Off-Campus Life Housing Fair. We host these fairs every fall and spring, and our next scheduled Housing Fair is Wednesday September 28, 2016 in the Festival Grand Ballroom. These fairs offer students the opportunity to see what student housing options exist in the area and meet property managers for these locations in a one-stop shop experience.
Step 4: Identifying your Top Housing Options
After you have searched for housing through the means listed above, it’s time to narrow down the options that are right for you. We suggest you talk through the housing options you have seen with your parents and potential roommates to decide on the top three housing options that could provide a living environment off campus that would promote your ongoing growth and development and support your role as a JMU student. If you need more information on the housing options to help you narrow down choices, the Off-Campus Life office has marketing materials like flyers and brochures on most student housing options. You can come by our office in the Festival Conference and Student Center to pick up brochures and flyers about housing options that interest you.
Step 5: Visiting Housing Options
Off-Campus Life recommends that after you have chosen the top three places you would like to live next year, that you visit each of these housing options personally. This will allow you to get a feel for the living environment, to check out safety conditions, to assess the general maintenance and upkeep of the property, to ask any specific questions of leasing agents on site, and to pick up information and a copy of the lease to read and review. You should also ask the landlord or leasing consultant if he or she has a handbook for tenants and ask to have a copy. Often these handbooks will have additional rules and regulations that you will be held to as a resident.
If you do not have a car or have transportation options that would make it difficult to visit properties on your own, you can always contact Off-Campus Life for a tour. One of our office’s student liaison employees can take you to up to 3 properties in the area that you would like to visit. On this tour, they can also answer questions that you might have about finding off-campus housing or assist you in knowing what questions to ask landlords at the property you are visiting. If you would like to set-up a tour, you can email, call, or stop by our office in person to schedule one. You can also complete our and a member of our office staff will contact you about scheduling within 1-2 business days.
Step 5: Making a Final Decision
Once you have seen the properties which would fit your housing needs and preferences and have asked about any questions or concerns you might have, it is time to make a decision about the off campus housing location that is the best fit for you. This is a very important decision, and our office encourages students to talk with their parents about this decision, as well as friends and acquaintances who currently live at the off campus housing locations they are considering. Ask about how they like living at this location, if they feel safe living here, about the noise level at different times of the day, or the responsiveness of maintenance staff. Reports from current residents about their current living experience can be invaluable. The Off-Campus Life office also keeps a complaint log in the office of various complaints made by students and/or parents regarding off campus housing. You can visit the Off-Campus Life office in the Festival Conference and Student Center if you would like to look through this complaint log and see if any complaints are listed for the properties where you are thinking about living next year. Consider all this information and read your lease agreement in full before signing. Also, it’s important to know when to look and sign a lease. Comparative shopping takes time. Off-Campus Life suggests that you start investigating housing options during the fall prior to the year you want to live off campus, but that you don’t sign any leases at least until after winter break. There is a surplus of student housing in Harrisonburg, so not signing a lease in the fall will not result in inability to find housing. Though there are some specific locations that fill spots quickly, most student housing properties have availability into the summer prior to classes.
When looking for a roommate, you will first need to know the number of roommates you are looking for. This will help you determine what housing options best meet your need for roommates and the cost of monthly rent. When roommate searching, it is also important to consider living styles that both you and your roommate have, and the compatibility of these styles. You will want to consider living and study habits, attitudes towards parties, expectations related to overnight guests, etc. You will even want to consider expectations related to how chores, utility bills, and grocery shopping will be divided. If you are needing assistance in knowing what to discuss with a potential roommate to find out if you might have compatible living styles, we encourage you to download our Roommate Priorities Rubric which helps you to look at important living style areas.
The Roommate’s Bill of Rights
- To read and study undisturbed in his or her own room.
- To sleep without interference from roommates or guests.
- Respect of personal property.
- Clean living environment.
- Personal privacy.
- Allowing guests (as long as they respect the rights of other tenants).
- Free from fear of physical or emotional harm.
- Share the phone.
- Honor payment procedures.
It can sometimes be helpful to enter into a signed roommate agreement with your roommates, especially if they are people you don’t know. Roommate agreements are intended to describe basic duties, responsibilities, and expectations that you may have of one another. They outline rules, regulations, and policies, so that if there is a dispute, you will be able to refer to your roommate agreement. Some things to include may be cleaning responsibilities and schedules, pets, noise and party guidelines, study times, and overnight guests. Here is information on some other areas that might be included in a Roommate Agreement:
Payment of rent: If you have signed a group lease, it is particularly important that all roommates understand the full amount due to the landlord and the portion for which they are responsible. Additionally roommates must understand when payment for rent is due.
Payment of utilities: When utilities are not included in your rent payment, it must be agreed whose name shall appear on the utility bills and that all other roommates must make their share of the payment to that roommate in a timely manner. The agreement should discuss what penalties will occur if roommates are late in their payment or neglect to give their share of payment including late fees, fines, or legal action.
Early termination of lease: This section should discuss the procedure to be followed in the event that a roommate wishes to be released from the lease. Include days of notice to be given, whose responsibility it is to find a replacement roommate, action to be taken in the event of outstanding debt, and damage fees.
Domestic Responsibilities: Include how chores will be divided up, which items shall be shared, payment of items for the apartment, etc. It is also a good idea to come up with a common standard for what is considered “clean” so that everyone has the same expectations.
Pets: If one or more roommates will be bringing a pet which has the potential to affect other roommates, responsibilities for its welfare should be discussed in this section. Additionally, it would be advisable to require a certain period of notice before additional pets are brought into the house. You may wish to require agreement by all roommate that the pet shall be permitted before it is acquired.
Study hours: If study/ quiet hours are desired by roommates, specific times should be designated for studying, during which the house shall be quiet and free from distractions.
Overnight guests: Roommates should discuss policies on overnight guests including whether or not they will be permitted and for how many nights a guest may stay.
Parties and noise: Roommates should come to an agreement on whether or not to allow parties and if so, the terms associated with them (when, how many people, how much notice is required, clean up policies, etc.)
The OCL office has sample agreements for you to fill out or use as a basis for your own. Communication around these responsibilities and expectations prior to moving in together is key. If you would like a sample Roommate Agreement, you can stop by the Off-Campus Life office to pick one up or you can download a copy of the Roommate Agreement Form here.
- Compatible lifestyle: If, for example, you prefer a smoke-free environment, but your roommate is used to smoking in the house, it is unlikely that your living situation will be optimal. Try to find a roommate whose lifestyle meshes well with yours and both of you will be happier!
- Social habits: If one of you prefers for you house to be a quiet refuge, but the other is accustomed to frequently hosting many visitors, you may not wish to become roommates.
- Noise level: Noise levels should be agreed upon for both weeknights and weekends.
- Cleanliness/ neatness: If you know that untidiness irritates you, try to find a roommate who shares your desire for a consistently clean environment. Conversely, if you tend to be disorganized, you won’t want a roommate who is bothered by this.
- Trustworthiness: It is important that you find a roommate who you can trust. Maybe not with your most embarrassing secrets, but you should be able to trust them to respect you, your belongings, and the terms you agree upon in your roommate agreement.
- Conflict resolution skills: No matter who you live with, occasional minor conflicts are inevitable. Try to find out in advance how your roommate handles conflict, openness and cooperation are crucial!
- Responsibility: Responsibility is a key trait to look for in a roommate, particularly if you have signed a group lease and you are all jointly responsible for rent and utilities. In such cases, if your roommate has not paid their portion of the rent, it may be up to you to make up the difference or risk being evicted!
- Pets: It is important to know whether your roommate will be bringing a pet, or if you have one, that they are aware of yours. If possible, try to arrange a meeting between the pet and the roommate beforehand in order to avoid any potential problems. It is also important to understand that, even though the pet may be your roommate’s responsibility, they may enlist you to help care for it from time to time. So if your roommate has a snake and you’re frightened of them, or if your roommate is allergic to your dog, problems could potentially come up.
Whether you are looking for an apartment, signing a lease, already moved in, or on your way out safety is a major concern! Below is a list of tips on how to make your apartment a safe environment so that you can enjoy your time living Off Campus to its fullest!
JMU’s EFFORTS TO KEEP YOU SAFE:
- JMU has created a Safety Task Force to analyze possible solutions and changes to be made to keep the community safe.
- Public Safety has 4 officers assigned to off campus patrols, not including the 25 officers assigned to on campus patrol.
- Safety escorts are available to any student on campus, free of charge. Escorts are provided by carefully screened and trained student employees known as the Campus Police Cadets. Cadets are on duty 7pm – 2am Sunday-Wednesday, 9pm-2am Thursday, and 9pm-3am Friday and Saturday. Police officers will provide any escorts outside of those time periods.
- JMU SafeRides is a student run, non-profit organization whose mission is to create a safer community for the city of Harrisonburg. Members work to prevent drunk driving by educating JMU students, fundraising to help support our mission, and providing free rides home for JMU students. If you are a JMU student and need a ride home over the weekend, please feel free to call us at 540.JMU.RIDE (540.568.7433)! No matter where you are in Harrisonburg, we are here for you!
- Public Safety offers educational crime prevention opportunities throughout the year.
- Timely Notifications are issued by the James Madison University Police, giving notice of acts that could pose as a Possible Threat, that reportedly occurred on or near the campus of James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia. Until the investigation of the specific act has been concluded, it can be assumed that conditions continue to exist that may pose a threat to members and guests of the community. It is the duty of the institution to warn of possible “dangerous conditions” on its property; an “affirmative duty” exists to warn of possible peril at the hands of some third party.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP:
Secure your property
- Utilize door locks whenever possible. If you have lost a key, please contact your property manager to receive a replacement.
- Close and lock all windows and sliding glass doors. Place wooden dowel in sliding glass door track. (You can purchase wooden dowels at a local hardware store.)
- Utilize blinds and shades, especially at night.
- Place all valuables out of site when parking your vehicle. Secure them in the trunk and lock your doors. Try to leave vehicle parked under a light.
- Call the police, if uninvited guests won’t leave.
Host a safe party
- Report suspicious people or activity immediately to the police. Be a witness, don’t be a hero.
- Register your party with the Harrisonburg Police Department – 540.434.4436. Instead of sending an officer out for the first noise complaint, HPD will call the host to correct the problem.
- Have a guest list – know who is in your home.
- Call the police, if uninvited guests won’t leave.
- Have a sober host on the premises at all times.
- Keep it small. Be aware occupancy limits. Beware of overcrowding wooden decks.
- Lock doors to private areas (i.e. bedrooms) and secure or hide valuables.
- Limit the alcohol consumption of guests.
- Provide non-alcoholic beverages and food.
When attending a party
- Trust your instincts. If you feel uncomfortable, leave the area.
- Report suspicious people or activity immediately to the police. Be a witness, don’t be a hero.
- Stay with friends. Look out for each other.
- Know the hosts of the party you are attending.
- Drink responsibly. Do not drink to excess.
- Secure a safe way to get home, such as a bus, taxi or JMU SafeRides (540.568.7433).
- Carry only the ID and money you’ll need for the night.
- Be considerate of others and respectful of property.
Traveling by foot
- Use well lit and well-traveled areas: Avoid dark and deserted areas, such as railroad tracks, or shortcuts.
- Do not walk or jog alone.
- Utilize the sidewalk at all times. If there is no sidewalk and you must walk in the roadway, always walk facing traffic.
- Do not approach an unknown car if it follows your, or the driver beckons you while you are walking. Instead, turn and quickly walk the opposite direction.
- Do not resist or attempt to fool a robber.
- Do not make it easy for thieves. They are on the lookout for items left unattended. It takes only seconds to grab your property and get away.
- Use common sense. Trust your instincts and listen to that gut feeling.
- Report all crimes: When reporting a crime or suspicious activity, give the dispatcher all the information you have. If the crime is occurring during your call, stay on the line until the officer arrives.
Report Suspicious Activity Immediately
- Look out for your neighbors and call the local police immediately if you observe suspicious activity.
JMU Police 540.568.6913
Harrisonburg & Rockingham County Police (Emergency Communications Center) 540.434.4436
Call 911 for EMERGENCIES!
For additional public safety information visit JMU Public Safety’s Website.
To see a comprehensive list of JMU Timely Notifications visit Public Safety’s Incident Listing page.
To see reports on criminal activity throughout Harrisonburg visit the Crime Reports website.
Follow us on Facebook at JMU Off Campus Life for more tips.
Starting your off campus housing search can be a daunting task, but have no fear! Off-Campus Life is here to provide support and help through each step of this search process.
This section provides information to help you know how to begin the process of finding housing. We have information about what to expect in beginning this search, including things to be looking for in housing and help and resources available for this search.
Making the decision to live off-campus, and are not sure how to make it work financially? Check out JMU Financial Aid’s website for information and contact numbers to discuss options and if current loans or scholarships can be used to cover off-campus living costs.
In addition to resources provided by the Financial Aid Office, Off-Campus Life hosts monthly budget workshops to help students learn ways to create a basic budget, save, and pay back debt. Check student emails for information on dates and times of these “Mo’ Money, Less Problems” Budget Workshops!
Thinking about studying abroad? Graduating in December? Might transfer to a different school? If these apply to you, then signing a 12 month lease is NOT your best option, nor something that Off-Campus Life recommends. Search for a sublet, month-to-month lease, or a six month lease to ensure that you are not locked into a 12 month contract, as there is no guarantee you will be able to find someone to take over your lease for the time you will not be living in Harrisonburg!
Off-Campus Life is more than willing to help you in your search for one of these options. Contact our office and we will provide you with a list of sublets, as well as information on which complexes and units in the area offer short term leases.
How Do I Go About Subleasing?
- Obtain permission from your landlord
- Ask what fees may be involved in subleasing (You can also refer to your original lease for clarification)
- Does the landlord use a specific agreement form?
- What are the requirements for rent payment?
- Remember that YOU are still responsible for your lease.
- Use a written agreement. This should include all the terms of YOUR original lease. Attach a copy of your original lease and rules.
- Take a written agreement: you and the subtenant should inventory the condition of the unit (use a Damage Checklist supplied by OCL).
- Prepare the list in triplicate (allowing for copies for the landlord, the subtenant, and yourself).
- Arrange financial responsibilities with care. Determine whether the subtenant will pay you or the landlord directly, decide if the subtenant will pay for the security deposit and/or the last month’s rent.
- Obtain a security deposit.
- Obtain a security deposit from the subtenant to protect you from any damage costs during the sublease term.
- Synchronize sublet term with your lease.
- Make sure the sublease is not longer than your original lease.
- Prepare the sublease in triplicate.
- Make copies for you, the subtenant, and the landlord.
- Get References
- Get a reference with address and phone number, and get parent’s name, address, and phone number.