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How to navigate East Lansing's off-campus housing

February 27, 2020
<p>Illustrated by Hope Ann Flores.</p>

Illustrated by Hope Ann Flores.

The complexity of off-campus leases can be confusing to students who think an apartment or house is the next logical step after living in the dorms. 

Students can feel pressured to sign their off-campus lease by November to avoid “missing out” on apartments.

However, this fear is unnecessary, said Erik Maillard, assistant director of student life at Michigan State.


“There’s usually a big push by a lot of our (housing) vendors off-campus to get people signed up before October,” Maillard said. “My main thing is to make sure that students are shopping around and they understand that there is no shortage of apartment living. There may be a shortage of houses, but in terms of apartments, there are plenty of options out there.”

Students often don’t realize the permanence of signing leases, said Suchitra Webster, the community liaison for off-campus housing.

“I think people don’t realize sometimes that a lease is a legal binding document,” Webster said. “So we also have students who will find something and then a few days later or a week later go, ‘You know, I don’t want to do that.’ They’re really disappointed to find out that it’s a legal document.” 


Leases can have wordy and confusing language, which can put students at risk of being ill-informed on what they are agreeing to.

“The first thing I was surprised by was, for my apartment at least, there was an $800 security deposit,” human biology freshman Gabby Wilson said. “That kinda confused us because we didn’t know if we each had to pay $800, which is an extreme amount of money.”

Wilson, who will live at Old Canton Apartments next school year, said even though she felt rushed by friends to sign her lease early, she consulted her parents and asked questions to ensure she understood the terms of her lease before signing it.


Finances are another important aspect of leases that students sometimes fail to consider, Webster said. 

“I also encourage students to sit down and look at your finances and divide everything out by the 12 month period, unlike the nine-month period,” Webster said. “That’s something people need to think about to make sure they are budgeting not only for meals but — if they are deciding they want to drive to campus — you might want to think about where you’re parking, are you going to have tickets, what’s that going to cost?” 


Maillard said he encourages students to take advantage of the MSU housing fair and other resources on campus that are there to support them in their off-campus apartment search.

“We do have free legal services for our students on campus,” Maillard said. “Student legal services are provided by (the Associated Students of Michigan State University) and (the Council of Graduate Students). It’s free fore students and one of the main things they work on is lease reviews and when students get their lease they should bring it into student legal services for a free consultation.” 

Above all, students should be mindful of what they are signing, and they should weigh all their options before deciding on an off-campus apartment.

“Just make sure your parents are okay with it and that you have good roommates if you are going to live with roommates and that you know what you’re getting into before you get into it,” Wilson said. “Once you sign a lease, you can’t really do much to get out of that lease, so just be cautious and prepare for all circumstances.” 

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