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The student slum

Posted by Rona Fischman July 27, 2012 01:34 PM

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This is the time of year when there is a lot of change in tenancies in these student – and single adult – areas. If you are switching apartments and roommate situations, this entry is for you. This weekend, there will be a wave of twenty-somethings looking for rentals for another academic year. Some of them have never lived in their own apartment. They don’t know what to look for, and what to avoid. Can you add to the advice below?

There are student slums, and then there are student slums…
Student slums tend to be places near universities and transit lines where the landlord has maximized the number of bedrooms, usually at the expense of living rooms and dining rooms. They are not so cheap, when you look at the total rent. But, they are cheap per bedroom. That seems to be what students and young working adults care about. Some student slum apartments are in good shape, with good fire safety and decent storage; some are not. Some are in crowded -- but safe – areas; some are not.
If you are a renter who is living in an apartment with roommates -- whether you are a student or not -- your apartment might be a student slum. The hallmark, in my opinion, is the converted living room and/or dining room that serves as additional bedroom(s).
When you enter a new housing situation with strangers, it is like entering a new dating situation. Rule 1 in dating and marriage applies: If you expect that the person will change for you, you will be disappointed.

Take a hard look at what IS at the apartment, in order to choose whether you want to live there. The way to other roommates keep the place is the way it will stay, if you live with them. The way the landlord keeps the place is the way he or she will continue to keep it. Notice these things when you are looking around the apartment:

Retrofitted apartments sometimes take shortcuts in fire safety and ventilation. Check that there are reasonable routes to escape, in case of fire, and that all the windows open. Beware of steep staircases and painted-shut windows.

Check out the neighborhood. Some crowded places are very safe because there is safety in having eyes on the street. Figure out your route from transit to your front door and be comfortable with that route during all times you may use it.

When was the last time the landlord changed the keys? You can ask for a new lock.

Are the smoke detectors disconnected? Because fire alarms detect burnt toast, the kitchen detector is often seen hanging open in the kitchen for emergency battery pulling. Glance at the kitchen ceiling to check.

Is furniture in front of fire escapes?
Are the windows sealed with insulation material or stuck closed with paint? By the end of July, if a window has not been opened, it can’t be opened. Also, if it is sealed against the cold, the window isn’t working all that well in the winter either.


If your roommate’s bedroom looks like the floor of the Garment District, that’s his or her problem. However, if the common area is kept in a way that doesn’t suit you, it can be a problem.
Storage: Make sure there is enough storage for the things you use in the common area. Can the bathroom hold everyone’s toothbrushes, shampoo and razors? Is there enough room in the kitchen for dishes, glasses, and cooking tools? Will you have room for your food in the cabinets and refrigerator?

Hygiene: Cleanliness matters in the shared spaces. If you are out of sync with your roommates, someone will be annoyed. This can go both ways: you could be the lone slob or the lone neat-freak. There are bad things that can happen when common areas are exceptionally dirty. One thing is that it can be smelly, annoying, or otherwise unpleasant. But worse is that you can attract new roommates: mice, ants, moths, roaches, rats, or maggots. Also, I recommend a “no used furniture” rule in any apartment due to the spread of bedbugs in the northeast.

OK, everyone, what did I miss? What didn’t you think about when you moved into your first apartment?

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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