Some advice for moving into the off-campus community
As students begin to make their housing plans for fall, Elva Giddings, director of Prevention and Wellness Services, and Lyndie Case, coordinator of the Campus Community Coalition, discuss what students can expect and offer tips for having a positive off-campus living experience.
Off Campus WWU – A Roadmap to Neighborhood 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.
WWU Off-Campus Housing Registry: Find roommates and create a personalized roommate agreement.
Is moving off-campus the best choice?
Living off-campus can provide many opportunities for students to get involved in the community. At the same time, the off-campus living experience brings with it other issues that aren't a concern while living on-campus, such as transportation, parking, and increased living expenses. While off-campus living can enrich your college experience and enhance your independence, it is a significant responsibility. Taking the time to weigh all the pros and cons and compare all the costs will help you make an informed decision about living off-campus.
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:
- 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?
Staying on campus is a great option.
About 35 percent of students in University Residences are sophomores, juniors or seniors. Top choices for older students are Western's Birnam Wood apartments and Buchanan Towers.
Chances are, students' experience living off-campus will translate into many positive memories of their overall college career.
An important first step in becoming part of the neighborhood is meeting your neighbors. The connections you make with your neighbors can provide friendships, safety and security, and even potential job leads.
After moving into a new place, look for opportunities to introduce yourself. This can mean attending a neighborhood meeting, joining a clean-up project or Block Watch, or simply walking across the lawn to say hello, learn each other's name and exchange phone numbers.
When you know your neighbors, it's easier to prevent problems and resolve them if they do arise. You might also consider joining the AS Viking Community Builders Club. Viking Community Builders was created by Western students in 2008 to foster positive and respectful relations between Western students and long-term Bellingham residents.
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.
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 okay 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 suggestions places to start.
- WWU Legal Information Center
- Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center
- Opportunity Council
- Legal Assistance by Whatcom Advocates (LAW)