The Off-Campus Housing Handbook is a comprehensive guide that provides information about how to search for housing and what information all renters should know before signing a lease.
In becoming a renter off-campus, there are many factors to consider. Until now, someone else in your life has probably handled the details of running a home for you, such as paying the electric bill, shopping for furniture and household appliances, and deciding which area of town to live in. Today, however, you are responsible for making your own housing decisions, and this handbook is designed to help you with this new stage in your life.
What to Do First?
The first step in your housing search is to determine what you want as far as affordability, location, and building amenities.
Determine your priorities and what amenities you think you need in an apartment. These factors may change as you search, but they will provide a base from which you can start looking.
What Type Of Housing Is Available?
Houses usually have the most space, a yard for which you may have the responsibility of upkeep, and perhaps a carport or garage. Houses also afford more privacy than any other form of housing. Groups of students often rent entire houses. Some houses are found in the form of duplexes, in which two residences share a wall but have two separate entrances.
Apartments and condominiums provide the most services and require the least responsibility on your part. The landlord usually takes care of the mechanical systems, yard work, redecoration (such as painting), and repairs. Laundry facilities may be available in the apartment unit or elsewhere in the complex. Condominiums ("condos") are units that are individually owned. A Studio Apartment is a self-contained unit with one main room, one bathroom, and some closet space; there is no distinct bedroom in a studio.
Efficiencies are small apartments with a private bathroom, limited cooking facilities, and a studio-type living room, which also serves as a bedroom. There are many efficiency apartments in older Coral Gables homes.
Room rentals are provided by owners of homes that have extra space. Most owners allow the student the complete use of their homes. Be sure to clarify whether or not you share the utility expenses, have a private bath, have kitchen privileges, and use of such amenities as the telephone, laundry, or pool. Determine how many people live at the address and if you are expected to clean more than your room.
Searching for Housing
The key to discovering your housing options is to use a number of different resources. This way, you are most likely to uncover the greatest selection of possibilities, since some sources only cater to one type of residence. Sources include:
The Department of Housing and Residential Life www.miami.edu/housing.
The Department of Housing and Residential Life Office has listings of houses, apartments, duplexes, efficiencies and guest cottages for rent. Listings are provided by members of the community, and are not personally inspected by the University staff. You can access two online databases; one is for people who have units and are looking for roommates and the other is for vacant units. If you have any specific questions regarding off-campus housing, feel free to stop by the Department of Housing and Residential Life Office in Room 153 of Eaton Residential College or call us at 305-284-4505.
Newspapers The Miami Herald has extensive rental listings for properties all over the Miami-Dade County area. Check the Sunday Real Estate section for their complete listings, or go online at www.herald.com. Once at the site, click on "Apartments" in the left-side column and then click on "Search" under the "apartments.com" heading. The Coral Gables campus is located in Area 1 "Central Dade Cty. (Airport)". Another good source for apartment listings is the free newspaper, The New Times. You'll find it in racks on campus, at MetroRail stations, and at some shopping centers. Limited local listings are also available in The Miami Hurricane and other community newspapers.
The Internet The role of the internet in searching for housing is ever-increasing. We recommend you visit these free-to-use sites: www.craigslist.org (click on "Miami" and then search under "housing") and www.backpage.com (click on "Miami" and then search under "rentals"). While searching online is useful and often safe, we suggest that you do use caution to avoid any type of scam or other fraudulent activity.
Apartment Guides A number of private companies produce apartment guides, which are available throughout the county. These guides tend to cater to the more resort-type apartment and condominium complexes, but you may find something in your price range. They are usually free and distributed out of newspaper dispensers in drug stores, convenience stores, and supermarkets.
Realtors Many realty companies have rental information on homes and apartments. Realtors can supply you with lists of apartments, which meet your needs, and can take you around to view the properties. This service is usually at no charge to you since most apartment listings used by realtors include a built-in commission from the property owner, but it is always best to check first.
For Rent Signs at Apartment Complexes and Homes Landlords of apartment complexes and homes are prompt about posting signs if they have vacancies. You can find these vacancies by driving around the neighborhoods you want to live in. If you see a vacancy listed, stop and check it out.
Word of Mouth If you know students who live in a certain area or apartment/condominium complex that you like, ask them about upcoming vacancies. Many of the most popular buildings don't even have to post a sign or run an ad in the Herald.
Looking for a Roommate
For financial and/or social reasons, you may decide to live with a roommate. Choosing the right person is extremely important for a positive off-campus living experience. The decision of whom to live with is best accomplished if you consider a few important factors. What can you put up with? What can't you tolerate? What are your likes and dislikes? What are your lifestyle priorities? Where can you be flexible? The answers to these questions should give you an idea of what type of person you are and help you to pick a compatible roommate.
After determining what's important to you in a roommate, meet your prospective roommate on neutral territory. Meeting at one of your homes may make one or both of you feel uncomfortable. Instead, try the University Center or a local restaurant. The goal of this meeting is to get to know your prospective roommate, to let the person meet you, and to talk about your living habits.
A word about good friends: good friends do not always make good roommates. To ensure that you and your friend can live together compatibly, you are encouraged to discuss living habits as though you did not know each other.
One of the most important factors to consider when embarking on a housing search is location. Where you live will affect your commuting time, accessibility to services and recreational opportunities, personal safety, and living costs. Miami offers a variety of neighborhoods and communities, each with their advantages and disadvantages. Some strategies you can utilize to assure that you pick the right place for you include:
Below are some brief descriptions of Miami communities. This information is designed to give you some insights on the neighborhoods, but nothing equals a personal visit.
Coral Gables Coral Gables is home to the University of Miami main campus. It is primarily a residential area, with some houses, duplexes, apartments, condos, efficiencies, and guest cottages for rent. Coral Gables has very low crime, quiet streets, and is home to some of Miami's best restaurants and little art galleries. There are several city bus routes that stop in front of the UM campus, at the University Metrorail stop.
Coconut Grove Coconut Grove is north of Coral Gables and is typically a five to ten minute easy commute to campus. "The Grove", originally settled in the 1800s, remains a charming, bayside village within the urban dynamic of Miami. The pedestrian friendly village center is filled with sidewalk cafes, galleries, parks and bars. Coconut Grove is home to the famed Coconut Grove Arts Festival. There are houses, duplexes, apartments, and condos for rent.
South Miami South Miami, located minutes south of the University's main campus, sprawls across US-1 in a combination of residential and commercial areas. The busy downtown area, centered east of US-1 at Sunset Drive and Red Road, has several restaurants and shops, as well as The Shops at Sunset Place, an outdoor mall with many well-known stores, restaurants, and a large movie theater. A variety of affordable residential options extend from the periphery of downtown, as well as to the west of US-1. There are bus routes serving South Miami that connect with the South Miami Metrorail station (one station south of the University station) and that also travel along Red Road, a perimeter road of the University.
Brickell/Key Biscayne Both the Brickell area and Key Biscayne are considered to be very nice, safe, and clean. Brickell is primarily a high rise condominium and apartment based area. It is approximately ten minutes north of campus and can be an easy commute when traffic is low. Key Biscayne is off Brickell Avenue, accessible only by the Rickenbacker Causeway. The area is known for its beaches and Crandon Park. There are many condos for rent on Key Biscayne, as there are on Brickell Avenue; however, these rentals tend to be more expensive than other parts of the city mostly because of their locations. In fact, many units are bought as investment properties, and the area attracts many buyers/tenants from Europe and Latin America.
Kendall Extending west from US-1 down Sunset Drive, Kendall Drive, and the Killian Expressway, Kendall is a sprawling suburb of apartment complexes, housing subdivisions, and strip malls. A large number of UM students live in the apartment complexes close to Dadeland Mall (a very large and newly-renovated mall). From Dadeland there is easy access to the Metrorail or a fifteen to twenty minute commute to campus on US-1. Renting further into Kendall is typically reasonable, and the more west you are willing to go, the more likely that you will get a higher quality place, in a relatively safe neighborhood, for your money. Unfortunately, you will not be the only one commuting east in the morning and west at night, and the commute to UM can be up to forty-five minutes at peak traffic times.
South Beach South Beach is the center of art deco design, nightlife, and culture in Miami-Dade County. Many students choose to live on South Beach for at least part of their academic careers to experience the area's unique lifestyle and environment. The commute can easily take thirty minutes by car at peak traffic times. Also, parking on South Beach can be difficult, as many apartment buildings do not have parking for their tenants. However, most people who live on South Beach have city issued permits for street parking. Without a car, the commute to campus can take well over an hour, as bus service connecting the island to the mainland is minimal.
As you go about your housing search, you will also want to keep in mind issues pertaining to your commute and the transportation options available to you. Your transportation options, the costs, and the accessibility of those options are all important factors to weigh when deciding where to live.
Cars Students (except for freshmen), including residents and commuters, are permitted to purchase permits to park their cars on campus. Visit the Department of Parking and Transportation Services' website www.miami.edu/parking or call 305-284-3096 for information regarding parking permits and campus shuttle services, as well as maps of campus parking.
Metrorail Extending from Kendall to Medley, the Metrorail is Miami-Dade County's rail system, and it is primarily a north-south route. If you live close to a Metrorail station, or to a bus that can get you to a station, Metrorail can take you directly to the University (via the University station, south of the Stanford Drive entrance to UM). You can pay each time you ride, or you can purchase college student Metrorail passes and monthly Metrorail parking permits at the TicketMaster window at the first floor of the Whitten University Center. You must have your 'Cane Card (Student ID) with you to purchase these special passes, and the purchases are cash only. For more information about these passes, call the University Center Information Desk at 305-284-2318. For more information about the Metrorail, visit www.miamidade.gov/transit or call 305-770-3131.
Metrobuses In addition to the Metrorail, Miami-Dade Transit offers 100 bus routes, which crisscross Miami-Dade County daily. Many buses connect with the Metrorail, and the cost is included in the college student Metropass. Several bus routes travel down Ponce de Leon Boulevard, the street in front of the University of Miami campus. Copies of bus route maps are available at the Information Desk on the first floor of the University Center, at the University Metrorail station information desk, as well as online at www.miamidade.gov/transit.
Bicycles Bike racks are located throughout campus. To protect yourself against bicycle theft, lock your bike with a high quality lock whenever leaving it unattended. It is also helpful to register the bike with the campus police to assist with theft recovery. Visit www.miami.edu/public-safety or call UMPD at 305-284-6666 for registration and bike lock information.
Electricity Many apartments require that you make arrangements for your own electrical hookup. Florida Power and Light (FPL) is the local power company and can be reached at 305-442-8770. FPL should be contacted a few days before you move. The company often requires a deposit to hook up a new service, which can be around $150. FPL can also arrange for "budget billing" which can help you avoid large summer bills.
Phone, Internet, & Cable TV Many companies provide phone, internet, and television services all in one package. You should make arrangements to have these services installed around your move-in date. BellSouth (www.bellsouth.com) and Comcast (www.comcast.com) provide many of these services in the South Florida area. However, Miami Beach service is provided by Atlantic Broadband (www.atlanticbb.com). These companies may have a set-up fee or require a deposit, which can range from $100-$200.
Common Lease Questions
A lease agreement is a voluntary legally binding document. You should fully understand your legal rights and obligations before signing a lease. If you do not understand any portion of the document or it is unclear, do not sign it. When you are ready to sign, make sure all blanks are filled-in or crossed-out completely. Remember to always get a copy of your lease agreement or any other contracts you sign, and keep your copy of the signed lease and any other important papers in a safe place.What is a rental application? A rental application is merely a page of information about yourself (and your financial status), which the landlord uses to decide whether or not he/she wants to rent the unit to you. However, the landlord is prohibited from discriminating against you on the basis of race, sex, religion, ethnic origin, family status, or disability. When filling out a rental application, the landlord may also require you to pay a deposit or fee for running a credit check on you. This deposit is probably not going to be returned to you, so make sure you are very interested in the unit before paying this charge. Also, read the application carefully to ensure that it does not place any obligation on you if you decide not to rent.
What is an agreement to hold a unit? When you look for a unit during the spring that you do not plan to occupy until fall, sometimes you can sign an agreement and pay a deposit to hold the unit until fall. Make sure you know if this agreement is an actual lease or only an agreement to hold the unit. Examine a blank copy of the lease before you sign the holding agreement so you know what you will be expected to sign in the fall. You should insist that a holding agreement be in writing, and be sure to make a copy of the "hold check" and a copy of the hold agreement for your records.
Is it possible to get a 9-month lease? Most landlords require a 12-month lease; nevertheless, some landlords will give students a 9-month lease term. However, they may assess a charge for this, so be sure to discuss any additional fees with the landlord and read the final lease agreement carefully before signing.
How should I make changes in the lease if there is a clause that both the landlord and I have agreed should be changed? The process of changing the lease is rather easy. Simply cross-out any items to be deleted and/or write-in any additions in simple sentences. Make sure all additions and deletions are in ink and are written on all copies of the lease. Also make sure both you and the landlord initial and date next to all changes.
What happens if I drop out of school or must leave Miami for some emergency? Unless your lease contains a clause specifically making it an exception, leaving school for any reason except military service does not terminate your lease. If you must leave, talk to your landlord about subletting or terminating your contract. Much depends on the seriousness of the breach; however, from a legal standpoint, a lease is an enforceable contract. This means you are responsible for the rent owed for the duration of the lease.
What happens if the building is sold during the term of my lease? Under most circumstances, your lease is still binding if the building is sold. The new owner may want to complete a new lease, but any changes in the terms of the lease (like increased rent) should be negotiated and not arbitrarily imposed upon you. In some cases, the new owner may decide to ask you to move. If this happens, you should be given a leave notice, telling you to vacate the premises within 30-days.
Should I sign a lease in the spring if I won't be moving in until the fall? In the University/Coral Gables area this may be a necessity; however, you should be extra-cautious. Make sure to inspect the unit before you sign the lease and complete an inventory inspection form. Also, be certain you are signing a lease or a holding agreement and not simply an application to rent.
Is the landlord responsible for re-keying or installing new locks when I move in? No, this is not the landlord's responsibility, but you may want to negotiate to have the locks re-keyed or changed.
Is it difficult to sublet a unit for the summer session? Subleasing is never assured, especially during the summer months. In some cases it may not be allowed, so check that your lease allows you to sublet to another person, if necessary. Landlords may be leery of someone new moving in, and often an additional credit/background check will be required.
Is it possible to only stay for a short time period after my lease is up? If you want to remain after your lease is expired, you should talk to your landlord at least one month before the lease terminates about staying month-to-month or for a specific period of time. If you simply stay, you may be considered a month-to-month tenant, and a month-to-month tenant has less legal rights under the law.
Leasing a Property
A written lease is a legal contract and is the most certain means of defining your rental agreement. When signing a lease you should be aware of important specifications that ought to be included in the document:
Unlawful Provisions in a Lease
While the majority of landlords are fair, there may be some who will take unfair advantage of a renter. The following are some examples of lease provisions that are generally forbidden by law:
Even though these unlawful clauses may not be binding, you may be forced to go to court to pursue your rights; therefore, it is much better practice to delete illegal clauses before signing the lease agreement. A landlord who offers a lease containing illegal clauses and refuses to delete them may not be the type of landlord from whom you wish to rent!
Deposit money means any money held by the landlord on behalf of the tenant, including but not limited to, damage deposits, security deposits, advance rent deposits, pet deposits, or any contracted deposit agreed to between landlord and tenant either in writing or orally. A standard to go by in South Florida would be a deposit equal to your first month and last month of rent. It is typical to pay the equivalent of two to three months' rent upon moving into an apartment.
A cleaning deposit is a separate deposit, which allows the landlord to use the money to clean or paint the rental after you move. The landlord usually does not refund a cleaning deposit. The damage deposit must be returned when you leave the premises unless you caused physical damage beyond normal wear and tear. An inspection inventory signed by both landlord and tenant will help determine the conditions of the premises before moving in or out. The original inspection should be used to evaluate the occupancy before moving out. The Florida Landlord and Tenant Act defines a security deposit as any monies held by the landlord as security for performance of the rental agreement including, but not limited to, monetary damage to the landlord caused by the tenant's breach of the lease terms.
Your landlord must inform you in writing, at the beginning of the occupancy, the conditions upon which the deposit will be refunded. Look for this disclosure in your lease. It should state that your landlord has fifteen (15) days after the tenant vacates the premises for the termination of rental agreement to impose a claim against the tenant's security deposit. If the landlord fails to give you notice of such claim within the fifteen (15) days, the landlord waives the right to retain the deposit and must return it to you pursuant to Florida Statutes.
If the landlord imposes a claim against your deposit, it must be written and sent certified mail to your last known mailing address. The landlord forfeits any right to impose a claim if the required notice is not properly sent. The notice must be substantiated as follows:
This is a notice of my intentions to impose a claim of damages in the amount of $____ upon your security deposit, due to _______. It is sent to you as required by section 83.49 (3), Florida Statues. You are hereby notified that you must object in writing to this deduction from your security deposit within fifteen (15) days from the time you receive this notice, or I will be authorized to deduct my claim from your security deposit. Your objection must be sent to______ (landlord's address).
The amount of money claimed must be clearly stated in an itemized list. Be sure the list does not exactly equal the amount of the deposit plus interest and that the landlord is not exacting an illegal forfeiture.
Remember you may choose to object to the landlord's notice. But failure to respond in writing indicates tacit approval to the claim through lack of action. Be sure to keep a copy of your letter, and send the original to the landlord by certified mail with a return receipt requested from the post office.
If the landlord sends you an incorrect itemization of damages, you must object in writing within fifteen (15) days. Send your objection in writing to your landlord and keep a copy. If you do not object within (30) days after the landlord gives you an itemization of deductions, the landlord must remit to you the remainder of the deposit. If you have objected, ask your landlord to respond in writing to each of your objections. If the landlord's response is unsatisfactory, you may then consider going to court. There is not statute of limitations for returning your deposit after you have objected.
If the landlord does not explain the reasons for the deduction, or you cannot agree on the amount to be deducted, you may challenge the landlord's claim. You may file a complaint in the District Court of the city in which you are renting.
Check your lease before making any commitment to sublease your living facilities to verify that it does not prohibit subleases. A paragraph prohibiting subleasing may read something like this:
Tenant shall not assign this agreement or sublet the dwelling unit without consent of landlord. Such consent shall not be withheld without good reason relation to the prospective tenant's ability to comply with the provisions of this agreement. This paragraph shall not prevent tenant from accommodation guests for reasonable periods.
If permission is granted to sublease, a written agreement should be made between the tenant, subtenant, and landlord.
Renter's insurance covers your personal belongings in the rental unit, and your liability to others should an accident occur in your apartment. Your renter's policy coverage includes furniture, clothing, and most other personal belongings. If you want coverage for specific valuables such as jewelry, you should speak to your insurance agent about adding them to your existing policy, or making a separate one specifically for those items.
The renter's policy should insure your household contents and belongings against losses from fire or lightning, removal of property endangered by fire or other perils, windstorm or hail, explosion, riot or civil commotion, aircraft, vehicles smoke, vandalism and malicious mischief, theft, falling objects, weight of ice, snow, sleet, building collapse, sudden and accidental tearing apart, cracking, burning or bulging of a steam or hot water heating system or of appliances for heating water accidental discharge, leakage or overflow from within a plumbing, heating, or air-conditioning system or cosmetic appliance, sudden and accidental injury from artificially generated currents to electrical appliances, devices, fixtures and wiring.
The liability coverage in a renter's policy applies at home or elsewhere to damages or injuries caused by you, a member of your family, or even a pet. It covers any legal cost that you may need to pay if you are sued. The coverage is not applicable to injuries caused by automobiles; therefore, auto insurance may be necessary as well.
Insurance policies are important legal documents that protect you and your property. Therefore, you should carefully choose an insurance company that will provide you with the coverage you need. Compare costs and quality of coverage before making a decision.
If you intend to move out of your unit at the end of your lease, you must give 30-60 days notice in writing to your landlord (the specific time frame will be spelled out in your lease). At that time, you may also want to make an appointment with your landlord to jointly inspect the unit after all of your belongings have been removed. Bring your completed inspection report from your move-in to compare with the current condition of the unit. You may also wish to turn in keys to your landlord during this meeting.
Additionally, utility companies require advance notice of your departure to prepare final bills, to turn-off services, and to return deposits. Your last month in the unit is also a good time to send change of address forms to all relevant individuals and companies.
Landlord-Tenant Rights and Responsibilities
The Florida Landlord-Tenant Residential Act has defined the rights and responsibilities of both landlords and tenants and provides for both parties when one fails to live up to their responsibilities.
The legislation is fairly comprehensive, and it would not be advantageous to quote directly from it due to the possibility of statements being misinterpreted or taken out or context. Below, however, are some general guidelines to protect yourself legally as you enter into a lease agreement.
What to do if there are problems
Despite your best efforts to resolve a dispute with your landlord, there may be a situation where you reach a stalemate over repair responsibilities, safety issues, or the return of deposits. One resource that may be able to help you is:
Miami-Dade County Courthouse
73 West Flagler Street
Miami, Florida 33130
If you think you have been discriminated against and denied housing because of your race, sex, religion, ethnic origin, family status, or disability, there may be recourse for you. To lodge a complaint against a landlord/tenant, contact:
US Department of HUD - Miami Office
909 SE First Avenue, Room 500
Miami, FL 33131-3028
You can also file a complaint online at: http://www.hud.gov/complaints/housediscrim.cfm.
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