Some advice for students moving into the off-campus community
As many students move in to their new homes off campus, Elva Munro, director of Prevention and Wellness Services, and Ann Russell, coordinator of the Campus Community Coalition, discuss what students can expect and offer tips for having a positive off-campus living experience.
What are important safety factors for students to consider when looking for a new place?
The way the property management company or property owner conducts business can be one indication of a rental's level of safety. It is just as important for students to screen the property manager as it is for the property manager to screen the students. In addition to feeling comfortable with the owners or property manager, here are a few other safety factors to consider when walking through a potential new place:
Off Campus Living: An excellent resource to learn more about rental agreements, setting up utilities, paying bills, repairs, living with roommates, getting involved in the community, tips about hosting and attending parties, and more. The site was recently updated by Prevention and Wellness Services, Campus Community Coalition and the AS Legal Information Center
- Is the address well-marked and lighted?
- Is the building neat and clean in appearance and well-maintained?
- Are trees and shrubs trimmed to prevent hiding places?
- Is the outdoor lighting (front, back, and parking area) adequate? What about inside the building?
- Are the entry doors solid-core wood or metal? Do they have deadbolt locks and eye viewers?
- Do easily accessible windows and sliding glass doors have secondary locking devices, such as charley bars, pin locks, or dowels?
- Do the locks and latches work properly, including those on the windows?
- Does at least one window in every bedroom open for escape in case of fire?
- Is the laundry room locked and lighted at all times?
Taking precautions with the safety of a living environment can provide a sense of security for the students and their families.
What are the best ways for students to become part of the neighborhood?
Lots of WWU students have found good friends in their neighbors, even though they may be at different stages of life. The connections they make with their neighbors can provide friendships, safety, security, and even job leads! Feel free to share these tips for students on on how to connect with their neighbors:
- Make a point to meet your neighbors. After moving into your new place, take time to notice the folks in your neighborhood and look for natural ways to introduce yourself and opportunities to help (yard work, carrying groceries, etc.). Offering to help someone with a chore is great way to break the ice and connect.
- Be open, genuine, and curious. If you are honestly interested in getting to know your neighbors, they will sense that and return the courteousness! If you feel comfortable, offer to exchange phone numbers, so that you can contact each other in the event of an emergency or other need.
- You can meet and connect with your neighbors by attending neighborhood association meetings, serving on your neighborhood board, or attending a work party/event put on by your neighborhood. For information on what neighborhood you are in and how to get on their contact list click here.
Students benefit from knowing their neighbors:
- If there is a safety or crime issue in the neighborhood, knowing the neighbors can help students find out about it faster.
- If students and their neighbors have a friendly relationship, they can call each other if they need help. Maybe a party is too loud, someone uses a leaf blower at 7 a.m., there is a parking issue, or neighbors need to exchange extra sets of keys in case someone ends up locked out.
- Helping neighbors out with yard work or other projects can potentially lead to some extra cash, a home-cooked meal, or that priceless warm and fuzzy feeling of helping out a fellow human!
What should students consider if hosting a party in their new place?
Whatever the size of your gathering, there are a few things that can be done to make it enjoyable for everyone. In fact, Western's Off Campus Living website offers a stylish, printable infographic on this topic. Hint: It's just the right size to fit on a fridge.
The most important thing that can and should be done is talking with the neighbors ahead of time. A few days in advance, let them know what the party plans are in terms of size and hours. Let them know who they can contact if they have any problems.
Here are other things to consider that can help prepare for any "what-if" situations:
- Keep the party to a smaller size, with less than 30 people.
- Make sure your guests are considerate of your neighbors and don't do things like park cars on lawns or vandalize property.
- Keep the party indoors to cut down on clean-up time and noise. Shut the windows and walk outside from time to time to check the noise level.
- DO NOT charge any kind of fees to party guests.
- DO NOT serve alcohol to minors.
- If your neighbors call or stop by to tell you the party's too loud, cooperate with them. Otherwise, they may end up calling the police.
- Cooperate with the police if they show up. Have a calm, sober person speak with them. If they ask you to break up the party, do it. It's OK to call the cops yourself if the party gets out of hand.
- If guests have had too much to drink, don't let them drive. Call a taxi or Sober Rovers, arrange for a ride with another guest who is sober, or invite them to stay over.
What resources are available if trouble arises?
If students take the time to develop a relationship with landlords, roommates, and neighbors that is built on trust and mutual respect -- and they abide by Bellingham's laws and ordinances -- students will undoubtedly enjoy living off-campus, free from conflict and confrontation. However, we don't live in a perfect world, and they may find themselves in the midst of a conflict. In that case, there are several resources available to students from free legal advice to mediation services. Here are links to a few suggested places to start.
- AS Legal Information Center
- Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center
- Legal Assistance by Whatcom Advocates (LAW)