Tips for Parents

A College Mom’s Safety Tips for Renting off Campus

By Diane Thomas

When my kids were young, I fantasized about a day in the future when I wouldn’t worry about them anymore. By the time they entered college, I accepted that day as mythical, but an occasional break would be nice. Like when the second semester tuition bill is paid and the students settle back into their dorms after winter break, I should be able to kick back and congratulate myself on a job well done until summer, right? But that’s when they always toss the off-campus housing bomb at me and bam, my mom-alert status resets to high.

Some students choose to live off-campus because their colleges don’t guarantee four years of housing, and sometimes it’s just a less expensive option. Whatever the reason, the search for off-campus housing begins as early as February for the following fall. As soon as your student starts answering internet apartment ads and arranging to meet with strangers, their safety will be your top concern.

As the parent of five college students who have moved into off-campus housing at some point, these are my tips for keeping them safe while hunting for off-campus college apartments. Feel free to add your own tips if you have any to share!

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  1. Use the Buddy System
    Tell your student to take a friend with them whenever they go to see an apartment. It doesn’t matter if the potential roommate they are meeting is also a college student or a friend of a friend of a friend—safety in numbers cannot be overstated. They should also let someone else know exactly where they are going, with whom they are meeting with, and when they can be expected to return.
  2. Download a Safety App
    There are many safety apps that college students can use to get help in emergencies. They shouldn’t take the place of bringing a friend to each appointment, but we all know that advice will be ignored by at least a few eye-rolling undergrads.
    Safety apps allow students to program their cell phones to track their GPS co-ordinates at specified times, send out alerts to pre-selected people, set off alarms, and call for emergency assistance when necessary. The app my daughter recommends uses a panic button that a student holds down when they feel threatened. If their finger comes off the button, they have a short window of time to enter a disarm code before 911 is dialed. Other safety apps allow users to set a countdown timer when they begin an activity such as walking home or taking a cab ride. If they don’t check in when the timer ends, designated contacts are alerted to the user’s GPS location and possible danger. Many of these safety apps are free and others offer paid premium monitoring services making choices available to fit every need and budget.
  3. Guard Contact Information
    Students should not give their personal contact information to strangers. Ask them to set up a special email account for their apartment hunting activities and advise them to use a Google Voice account instead of sharing their phone number. A Google Voice number will forward calls to their cell phones as well as send them text messages.
  4. Investigate Neighborhood Safety
    ForRent.com suggests that renters check out neighborhood safety by visiting CrimeReports.com as well as the National Sex Offender Registry. This is a good idea for both students and parents, but don’t panic when you see the results. Compare the results to where your student is living now and other neighborhoods that you’re familiar with. Crime is everywhere; sometimes we just need to be made aware of it to behave more safely.
  5. Ask the Right Questions
    College students can come up with some creative living arrangements so it’s important to find out if the landlord knows what’s being offered. If your student is about to rent an illegal sublet, for example, they could end up on the street. Ask your student who is collecting the rent money, another roommate or the landlord? Although some students do give their money to one designated roommate who pays the rent for all, this arrangement can also signal that the landlord is being kept out of the loop. Make sure that you and/or your student reads the lease before committing to anything. As difficult as it is to put the brakes on a student who’s afraid of losing a good deal, it’s best to not to court trouble in the long run.
  6. Use a Realtor
    Asking your student to use a realtor may help put your mind at ease, but they can charge some hefty fees, particularly in metropolitan areas where the competition for apartments is high. If you’re in a position to help your student with the extra money, it can save you some headaches; if not, rest assured that your student is learning valuable life skills.

The hunt for an off-campus college apartment signals that your student is becoming independent, and that’s a good thing. Once they move out of the dorm, you can help them learn to budget for their rent, groceries, transportation and other needs. You’re not obsolete yet!

Diane Thomas is the mother of three college grads and two undergrads. She writes about college life and career paths, and manages the College Moms Facebook page.

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