Renting to College Students: 10 Tips All Landlords Should Follow
Renting to college students is an easy way to keep your property occupied. Fifty-five percent of all college students in the U.S. live in rental housing, which means owning property near campus, or in a college town, can serve you well.
However, as easy as it is to have a go-to pool of renters that are always moving in and moving out, there are some important things to remember, as a landlord, when renting to college students.
1. Maintain a standard screening process
Just because you're dealing with college students, likely first-time renters, doesn't mean you should cut corners in your screening process. Make sure you're looking at all the biggies, including:
- Job history
- Rental history
- Credit report
- Criminal background
- Past evictions
Most of the results won't be very long, and some won't exist at all, but what you find will help you decide if this is a college student you want to rent to or one that you don't.
2. Ask for a cosigner
Most college students have never rented a home before. They also haven't had that much time to establish credit and save up. Some don't even work full-time while they're in school. These traits raise major red flags for landlords, but with a cosigner, you can get the security you need to rent to a college student.
Allow a parent or other family member to cosign the lease. Let everyone involved know you'll need to run a credit check on them before signing all the paperwork. Ensure everyone understands what a cosigner is responsible for.
You may even want to ask if the cosigner is actually going to pay rent and go over your process for doing so with them directly.
3. Require a security deposit
Most landlords do this already but check with your state's regulations to see how much of a security deposit is legal. You may want to lean toward the maximum amount to safeguard against those stereotypical college-student-type issues.
You should also make sure to explain to them how a security deposit works, why you're collecting it and the best way for them to get all/most of it back when they move out.
4. Make renters insurance mandatory
To add another level of protection to your landlord-tenant relationships when renting to college students, require renters insurance. Again, as possible first-time renters, college students might not even know renters insurance exists. While it protects their possessions, not yours, it helps you too. Having it can give you a buffer against any headaches should a break-in occur or their personal property gets damaged.
5. Add periodic inspections to the lease
While there are basic rules about when a landlord can enter a rental property, you may want to keep a closer eye on things when renting to college students.
Make it clear in the contract that you're planning on conducting periodic walkthroughs to ensure minor issues get addressed in a timely manner. Explain that you're doing this to verify the property's condition throughout the lease term. Include that you'll always provide notice before entering the home as well. Twenty-four hours is a good amount of lead time.
You should also complete a thorough move-in walk-through when your college students move in. This will make it easier to identify problem areas during these follow-up visits. Should you notice anything, make sure to snap a few pictures and start a file. This gives you a record if you need to deduct anything from the security deposit to make repairs.
6. Create the right set of rules
Removing liabilities to keep your property safe isn't a bad thing when it comes to college student tenants. Most should behave responsibly, but there are always risks. Consider an extra layer of safety by prohibiting:
- Charcoal grills
- Hot plates
- Smoking indoors
7. Set a firm policy related to parties and noise complaints
They're college students. It's a given they'll throw a party of two. Get out in front of the issue by acknowledging it's going to happen rather than hoping it won't.
Put a firm policy in the lease regarding noise complaints, underage drinking and property damage. The consequences are up to you, but setting up a tiered system is the easiest. Provide parameters around warnings, penalties and even eviction.
Include in the lease any quiet hours you want to institute or the neighborhood has set up. Be specific about what happens if the police get called to the property and if you notice an abundance of trash around the exterior of the home. All of the worst-case scenarios, when it comes to partying, should get covered in the lease.
It might also be helpful to have a discussion with your prospective tenants in person so they take the consequences seriously.
8. Say 'no' to pets
Even if your property has been a pet-friendly place before, with the schedules of most college students, pets could quickly turn into a messy problem. They are also another expense that can potentially put a strain on your tenants.
Prohibiting pets may make things easier for you when renting to college students, so it's something to think about.
9. Allow roommates, but rent by the bedroom
Since many college students afford to rent because of roommates, you should expect them to pop up. Allowing roommates as long as they're each under their own lease enables you to root out bad tenants from the good.
Individual leasing lets you essentially rent by-the-bedroom, setting up each roommate with their own set rent to pay each month and holding each accountable for the damage to their area.
This also makes it possible to evict problem tenants without having to remove everyone from a single rental.
10. Include utilities in the rental price
College students are not always the best at budgeting each month for the necessities. As a result, they could face issues managing their money to cover rent, utilities, groceries and more. Including utilities in the rental payment ensures everything gets paid for, and you don't end up dealing with angry tenants when their electricity gets shut off (even though it's not your problem.)
What's more, including things like electricity, gas, trash, water and internet in the rent price automatically makes the property more appealing than one that parses everything out. It could prove an easier way to keep your rentals occupied.
Can I refuse to rent to college students?
Thanks to the Fair Housing Act, the simple answer to this question is, “No." The Fair Housing Act and its amendments prohibit discrimination based on a set of criteria, which include age. Since most college students are between 17 and 25, one could argue that refusing to rent to college students qualifies as age discrimination.
You also cannot set different rent rates or enact different rules when you have college students renting vs. when you don't. You must treat each of your properties the same, regardless of who the tenant is to comply with the rules.
As a result, it's best to tread lightly and never make your property off-limits to college students.
How to market your rental home to college students
Now that you know you need to include college students in your rental pool, you'll need to market your properties to them. The best way to attract college student renters is to advertise where they're already looking. Target:
- Property listing websites, like rentals.com, will come up in a general search on Google. These are great because prospective renters can narrow down results to a specific city or even a single neighborhood.
- Place flyers or posters on campus bulletin boards set up in common areas like quads or within the library or student union.
- Student-based social media pages or the university website itself. See if there's even a social group solely for sharing rental listings.
When preparing an ad for your property, you may also want to highlight different features than what you'd automatically include. College students are often looking for different things, such as proximity to campus and/or public transportation. They also might be more interested in amenities like on-site laundry and on-site fitness facilities.
Any utilities you include in the rental price can also be a big seller since it's one less thing for college students to have to set up and figure out on their own. You may also win big if your rental is already furnished or partially furnished. Mention it all.
Working with your college student tenants
Renting to college students is a little riskier, but not without its rewards. Having an at-the-ready pool of tenants that recycle each year as campus opens is not so bad.
As long you take the proper steps to safeguard your best interests and protect your property, having college students for tenants can easily turn into a very good thing.